IT WOULD have been a challenge for the Union to face New England's dynamic attack at any time during the season. Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies form one of Major League Soccer's most fearsome arsenals. For the Revolution to be the Union's third game in a 9-day stretch, though, was especially tough.

Union manager Jim Curtin didn't back down from it. He started all four of his best attacking players as well: Zach Pfeffer and Cristian Maidana in midfield, and C.J. Sapong and Fernando Aristeguieta on the forward line.

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The result was a wide-open and entertaining game, but not a victory. After a sterling Maidana free kick helped the Union to a first-half lead, New England struck twice in the second half to walk out of PPL Park with a 2-1 win yesterday.

"It's been a hard week - we played two difficult games , and we don't want to harp on that, but it does look like it took its toll a little bit on us," Union defender and captain Maurice Edu said.

For as much firepower as the Union's lineup contained, the chemistry wasn't quite there in the game's early stages. That may have been in part because Sapong was playing on the wing instead of his usual role as a central forward. But he, and the team, got better as the first half went on.

In the 42nd minute, the Union (1-4-3, six points) deservedly went ahead. After Jermaine Jones barreled into Edu - a fellow U.S. national team veteran - about 30 yards from goal, Maidana curled in a sensational strike that Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth could only watch go by.

The game started to turn in the 63rd minute, when Curtin made a pair of defensive-minded substitutions: Brian Carroll for Maidana and Andrew Wenger for Sapong.

If Curtin was playing to protect the lead, it backfired, because the lead was gone within a minute. Substitute Teal Bunbury beat Union left back Ray Gaddis soundly and whipped in a low cross to an unmarked Davies, who rammed home the finish from close range.

"I was subbing those two guys [Maidana and Sapong] at around the 60-minute mark with the thought of three games in 9 days - it didn't work out," Curtin said. "Obviously they scored right after the subs were made, so that's what everyone is going to point to."

In the 75th minute, Bunbury got to be on the receiving end, as he scored what turned out to be the game-winner. Diego Fagundez swung in a pass from the right flank, Union goalkeeper John McCarthy hesitated for a moment, and Bunbury made no mistake with a first-time volley.

McCarthy, a product of North Catholic and La Salle, has been a great story since taking over starting duties after Rais Mbolhi was benched. But once Andre Blake is healthy, he'll go to the top of the depth chart. Just when that happens isn't official yet, but don't be surprised if it comes as soon as Saturday's game at Columbus (7 p.m., The Comcast Network).

The Union pushed hard to tie the game. Seconds after New England went ahead, Edu forced Shuttleworth to make a terrific save of a long-range blast at the other end. And on the ensuing corner kick, the Union were twice thwarted by Revs players blocking shots near the goal line. First it was Nguyen intercepting an Aristeguieta header, then it was London Woodberry blocking a shot from Edu.

Eventually, New England (3-2-2, 11 points) ran out the clock. A paid crowd of 18,106 went home quietly - and most hadn't even heard the news about Tim Tebow yet.

On Twitter: @thegoalkeeper (soccer) / @pretzel_logic (college sports)