By IAN HOLLIDAY
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution supporters groups organized a walkout in the 17th minute of Sunday night's game against the Philadelphia Union at Gillette Stadium in protest of the so-called "Fortgate" incident. Aside from a red card to Benny Feilhaber, they didn't miss much in the remaining 73 minutes.
The visitors got goals from Carlos Ruiz and Carlos Valdez in the 11th and 24th minutes, respectively, and never looked back, cruising to a 3-0 win and sole possession of first place in the MLS Eastern Conference.
Philadelphia (8-4-7, 31 points) played its usual solid, defensive game. What set the teams apart wasn't so much the Union's quality as it was the Revolution's ineptitude. The Revs (3-9-7, 16 points) had no shots in the first half, and roughly 40 percent of the possession in the game. The loss extends the Revolution's winless streak to nine games.
The Union's first goal came before the protesting fans departed. Justin Mapp's 11th-minute cross found Keon Daniel at the far post, and the midfielder headed the ball back across the 6-yard box, where Ruiz delivered it home with a leaping kick.
Philadelphia's second goal looked a lot like the first, except that it came on a set piece in the 24th minute. Union midfielder Kyle Nakazawa found a diving Sebastian Le Toux at the back post. The Frenchman headed back toward the middle, where another Carlos, this time the defender Valdes, karate-kicked it home.
New England's poor first-half performance led head coach Steve Nicol to quip that his team was "playing like a bunch of schoolboys," during his in-game interview on the Revs' TV broadcast.
Nicol reiterated his assessment of the first half after the game.
"I think the first half was maybe the worst since I've been here, to be honest," he said.
The Revolution switched to a 3-5-2 formation at the start of the second half and were looking better until the 66th minute, when Feilhaber received a second yellow card for a hard foul on Ruiz. The game was more evenly matched from that point on, with the Revs continuing to play improved soccer, and the Union returning to their consistent first-half form.
Defender Sheanon Williams added a third for the visitors with the last kick of the game, running onto a Danny Mwanga lead pass behind the Revolution defense and firing a low shot past goalkeeper Matt Reis into the far corner of the net.
A New England native, Williams said he had hoped to score a goal for some of the members of his family who were in the stands.
"It was definitely a great experience for me," Williams said after the game.
More important than achieving his personal goal, however, was moving closer to achieving the team goal of winning the Eastern Conference, Williams said.
"In the East, anything can happen," he said. "We've got to get points. We're in a tight race at the top with New York and Columbus, and we want to separate ourselves. All year we've been saying that we want to be number one, and right now we are."
Both clubs will be back in action on weekdays this week. The Revolution travel to D.C. United on Wednesday night, while the Union will return home to for friendlies English club Everton on Wednesday and Spanish giants Real Madrid on Saturday.