FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution performed under a new coach and, possibly, revived their playoff hopes with a 2-1 victory over Toronto FC before a crowd of 19,303 at Gillette Stadium on Saturday night.
Kei Kamara’s 87th-minute goal made the difference as the Revolution (11-14-5, 38 points), playing without Jay Heaps at the helm for the first time since 2011, moved within 4 points of sixth place in the Eastern Conference.
Assistant coach Tom Soehn, who replaced Heaps after the Revolution lost road games to Atlanta United (7-0) and Sporting Kansas City (3-1), returned to the lineup the team had tried late last month. That meant bringing in Lee Nguyen off the bench, and Nguyen sparked the offense with his 50th career goal before setting up Kamara for the deciding score.
“We worked hard for each other, we played for each other, we defended,” Soehn said. “That’s what games are made of and teams are made of and tonight I saw that. We can’t rest on it, though. We’ve got to turn around and do something we haven’t done all year in Orlando.”
The Revolution, who visit Orlando SC on Wednesday, increased their home winning streak to six games and have an 11-2-2 home mark, a point off the team record (11-2-3, 36 points) set in 2005. But the team is also on the verge of setting a team mark for road futility with an 0-12-3 away record.
This was the third time the Revolution have won their first game following the firing of a coach during a season. Steve Nicol guided the Revolution to a 2-1 win over the MetroStars after replacing Walter Zenga on an interim basis in 1999 and also took a 3-2 win over the Los Angeles Galaxy after taking over for Fernando Clavijo in 2002.
“There’s still a lot of emotion, there’s something missing when we go in the locker room to celebrate a win and Jay’s not here,” Soehn said. “We’re still really tight as a staff, but pulling together on the field and kind of living off that moment — it’s a great moment. You can look at a million jobs in the world, you don’t get too many highs like that, when you pull out a result like that, especially when we needed it. We took that moment to reflect on it, to remember how good it felt, so we can replicate that. So, that’s our mentality going to the next one. We’ll celebrate it but it’s back to work on Monday.”
Asked about his prospects to be hired permanently, Soehn replied:
“Of course. But right now we’re living one game at a time. I told the guys that, for five games we’re going to enjoy ourselves and be the best team we can be. When we came together as a team you saw how dangerous that can be. Again, big obstacle on the road that we haven’t done that yet. But if we show up as a team I like our chances.”
All the goals were scored in the final six minutes. Nguyen took a Chris Tierney through ball, one-timing a left-footer through a sliding Clint Irwin in the 82nd minute. Toronto (18-5-8, 62 points) equalized as Nicolas Hasler volleyed in a Michael Bradley feed two minutes later.
The Revolution then increased their urgency, earning a corner. Tierney touched on the corner kick to Nguyen on the edge of the penalty area, then Nguyen found Kamara, who powered in a header for his 12th goal of the season.
“It was, ‘Kei can jump so put it up in the air, I’ll go get it,’ ”Kamara said. “It was simple. I just got lucky. Right place, right time, again.”
Kamara, a 6-foot-3-inch former volleyball player, has scored 21 goals, only six on headers, in all competitions in two Revolution seasons.
Toronto, two wins shy of clinching the Supporters’ Shield and home-field advantage in the playoffs, played without leading scorers Jozy Altidore and Sebastian Giovinco, plus defender Chris Mavinga, leaving Panamanian international midfielder Armando Cooper on the bench until the late going.
Toronto, setting up in a 3-6-1 alignment, stifled the Revolution in midfield for most of the match, but seldom threatened, using Tosaint Ricketts in a single striker role.
Juan Agudelo threatened for the Revolution on individual runs and combinations with Diego Fagundez, but seldom was able to penetrate into the penalty area.
The Revolution coaching staff had planned to use Nguyen as a substitute in a visit to New York City FC (a 2-1 loss on Aug. 20). But Nguyen was injured during a pregame drill, snapping a streak of 62 successive starts. This time, the strategy worked.
“[Soehn] just said ‘game’s opening up,’ ” Nguyen said. “ ‘This is a game you’re going to enjoy yourself, so have fun.’ ”
Nguyen replaced Teal Bunbury in the 64th minute, 19 minutes before scoring his 10th goal of the season. Bradley then lofted a pass for Hasler to finish from close range, snapping the Revolution’s 456-minute home shutout streak.
“That just shows how resilient the guys are,” Nguyen said. “We could’ve folded any moment. That’s a tough way to go out, two away losses like that [against Atlanta and Sporting Kansas City], we didn’t really give ourselves much of a chance. Our heads could’ve gone down, but credit to the boys, fought hard [against] the best team in the league right now.”