The Revolution changed things up with a teenage-dominated midfield Saturday night, and the move paid off as 17-year-old Noel Buck’s 88th-minute goal made the difference in a 2-1 win over D.C. United at Audi Field.
Esmir Bajraktarevic and Cambridge’s Jack Panayotou, both 18, joined Buck and Matt Polster in the midfield as the Revolution (4-1-0, 12 points) opened without captain Carles Gil (hamstring).
The Revolution controlled play in the first half, but D.C. (1-3-1, 4 points) opened the scoring on Christian Benteke’s 45th-minute goal. Gil entered in the 62d minute and found Gustavo Bou for the equalizer seconds later.
Benteke proved a threat early, but D.C. struggled to find him. On the opening score, Benteke took possession back to goal at the top of the penalty area, sent a one-touch pass to Ruan on the right, then finished with the outside of his right foot just ahead of Henry Kessler in the goal area. Benteke, a former teammate of Gil at Aston Villa, has totaled 148 goals since turning pro as an 18-year-old in Belgium in 2008.
Bou scored for the second successive game, chesting down Gil’s pass on the left side of the penalty area, taking a touch past Chris Durkin, and finishing low into the right corner.
The Revolution converted the decider after DeJuan Jones picked off a throw-in and earned a corner kick with an impressive left-wing run. Gil’s corner deflected to Buck, whose low right-footer deflected off Derrick Williams and past Tyler Miller for his second MLS goal.
D.C. launched several threatening crosses late, and Benteke had a header cleared off the line by Jones and another saved by Djordje Petrovic in added time.
Observations from Saturday’s game:
Defining moment: Revolution corner kicks are often intended for Bou, standing just outside the penalty area. Just before Gil’s corner leading to the deciding goal, though, Bou departed, replaced by Giacomo Vrioni. That left Buck, a senior at Arlington High School, lined up in Bou’s slot. Vrioni sealed off Russell Canouse, the ball sliding off Canouse directly to Buck, who fired as three opponents attempted sliding stops and Benteke and Miller, both screened, held their ground, the shot trickling inside the right post.
Difference-maker: Jones earned the corner kick for the tie-breaker, then cleared a potential equalizer off the line. With both teams apparently tiring, Jones seemed fresh, as his sprint left two opponents sprawling before sending a cross off Williams.
“I headed the ball to Carles and I know whenever I’m running, Carles can find me,” he said. “So when I saw that space, I’m looking up and I didn’t feel like I had an immediate pass so I just wanted to get down to the end line as far as I could and try to make a play.”
Tactical: The Revolution began in a 4-4-2 setup, with Buck and Polster in holding roles. Bajraktarevic and Panayotou, who played at Georgetown last year — replacing Dylan Borrero (Colombian national team duty) and Gil — contributed possession, but seldom threatened. The Revolution finished in a 4-3-1-2, with Jozy Altidore and Vrioni at forward.
Statistical analysis: Despite being without Gil for most of the contest, the Revolution got off 16 shots. United finished with 14, several in the hectic final minutes, but failed to generate effective offense except via individual moves by Benteke.
Road ahead: Four of the Revolution’s five April games are at home, starting with next Saturday’s match against New York City FC. The Revolution are off to their best start since 2005, when they opened 4-0-1 on the way to an 11-game unbeaten streak.
What they said: Revolution coach Bruce Arena on Bajraktarevic, Buck, and Panayotou: “We’ve seen these guys all year and they’ve been good. We knew we were going to give them an opportunity. Noel, I thought, played a complete game and I think for our first 60 minutes, he was probably our best player.”