FOXBOROUGH — There was no fault of vigor or industriousness. No lack of drive or enthusiasm. No indolence.
And those are sometimes the toughest games to lose.
The New England Revolution, first place in the Eastern Conference entering the weekend, fell to the New York Red Bulls, 2-0, Sunday at Gillette Stadium, victims of their own missed opportunities and New York’s opportunism. It was the Revolution’s second consecutive loss and first of the season at Gillette, and the MLS now has a two-week break for the World Cup.
“We had chances to score goals,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said after the team’s first loss to New York at Gillette since 2002. “And we didn’t.”
New England had 22 shots, nine of them on target; New York had eight and two, respectively.
“I don’t think it was about effort or energy tonight,” Heaps said, his face red, words short, and sleeves rolled up. “I think it was about the final ball, the class inside the area.”
It started early. Before many fans had sat down, about 20 seconds after referee Geoff Gamble blew the whistle to start the game, New England’s Lee Nguyen, who created several near-goals with slippery footwork and creative passes, stole the ball along the right wing and slotted a pass to striker Patrick Mullins.
Mullins, a rookie who has scored four times in the last six games, took the pass, made a move, and fired a shot at goal. The strike was saved by New York keeper Luis Robles, a common outcome over the next 88-plus minutes.
Robles, the principal reason for the game’s result, had a season-high nine saves.
“I am a little concerned with how we gave up some of the opportunities we did,” Red Bulls coach Mike Petke said, “but it’s a great feeling to know you have someone back there who, nine out of 10 times, feels like he is going to make those saves.”
In the 17th minute, New York took the lead. After New England committed a foul on the left side of its 18-yard-box, Red Bulls midfielder Lloyd Sam looped a high, searching ball that found Eric Alexander unmarked on the far post.
Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth, in an attempt to parry the cross away, leapt and knocked over teammate Andy Dorman, who was marking Alexander before the kick. Alexander’s nod home was uncomplicated.
“I moved back to try and get out of Bobby’s way,” Dorman said, “and ended up getting in his way. I take responsibility for that.”
It was the Revolution’s first time trailing at home this season.
Aside from the blunder, New England dominated the half.
There was Diego Fagundez, the team’s 5-foot-8-inch engine, combining with dexterous midfielders Nguyen and Daigo Kobayashi in and around New York’s 18-yard-box to fashion several opportunities.
There was winger Teal Bunbury, embarking on inquiring runs down the right flank and sending paced crosses into dangerous zones, testing Robles’s skill. The goalie passed.
There was thrifty left back Chris Tierney, whipping in equally threatening crosses and firing a vicious strike outside of New York’s 18 that made Robles tip the ball over the crossbar in the 24th minute.
Still, none of the shots beat him.
The Red Bulls beat Shuttleworth on their second shot on goal of the game. Sam headed a ball into the 18-yard-box, where it was deflected in the air back to forward Peguy Luyindula, who volleyed it first-time past a diving Shuttleworth in the 76th minute.
“It wasn’t our night,” Fagundez said.
It could have been, maybe, if Fagundez scored just before the half in the Revolution’s nearest miss of the game, when the midfielder combined with Mullins at the top of New York’s 18. Mullins, back to goal, laid the ball to Fagundez, who sped around two defenders and let rip from 12 yards out.
The shot beat Robles, finally.
But it echoed off the left post.