It happened! The Revs played a game! And we got to watch it! At the rate things were going, I wasn’t sure that was going to be the case. The result was a 2-2 draw on the road for New England’s first return to MLS action since November. The Revs took a first half lead thanks to a Brandon Bye header that glanced off the underside of the crossbar. The Timbers would come roaring back in the second stanza pummeling the New England back line and equalizing in the 60th minute. Less than 4 minutes later, the Revolution capitalized on a lull in energy from the Timbers, working a good counter up the left flank, Lletget finishing to the far post. Unfortunately the lead wouldn’t last. Portland regained the momentum and Chara’s bicycle kick goal became the defining moment of the match.
I don't normally post opponent's goals, but my word….#NERevs #RCTID pic.twitter.com/aDcqShsmgx
— Kurtis Burke (@kburke24) February 27, 2022
With little TV time since November, there were a lot of questions about how the team would look with the integration of all the new pieces. We finally got some answers over the weekend. Here are my three biggest takeaways from the draw in Portland.
Positive Earl-y signs in net
Yes that was a terrible pun. No I’m not sorry.
Bruce Arena has never been particularly forthcoming with injury information, so it shouldn’t have been a huge surprise that we didn’t learn of Matt Turner’s foot injury until last week. In fact, we knew about Brad Knighton’s head injury before news trickled down about Turner. It was first mentioned by Levan Reid with CBS Sports, and apparently is an injury that he sustained while playing with the USMNT in January. Arena, for his part, didn’t want to talk about it.
Bruce had no interest in talking about Matt Turner’s status heading into #RCTID tomorrow night (CC: @SethMan31) #NERevs pic.twitter.com/o9Afo5MB8Q
— Tommy (@TommyQuinlan_IV) February 25, 2022
Fans who have been following the team since last season will no doubt be having flashbacks to Carles Gil’s injury over the summer. Bruce downplayed the injury early before completely refusing provide any updates. It wasn’t until a post on social media showed Gil rehabbing in Spain that we had any indication of the injury’s severity.
So should we be equally concerned here? Perhaps not. Enter Earl Edwards Jr. Edwards got the start, ahead of rookie Jacob Jackson, with both Turner and Knighton out with injuries. He was called into action early and often. Edwards faced 5 shots on goal, most from excellent shooting position. Especially in the second half, Portland were having little difficulty finding lanes into the 6 yard box. Overall, Edwards would post a decent -0.10 GA-xGA, a stat designed to show shot-stopping ability. This included a few strong saves to keep the Revs in the match.
Not bad Earl, not bad at all.
The coaching staff was likely pleased with his performance in net, as they have a bit of a problem to solve this upcoming summer. Matt Turner has signed with Arsenal beginning in late June and now Arena and his staff have the unenviable job of finding a replacement for the best shot-stopper in the league. Rumors have been flying around regarding UMSNT keeper Ethan Horvath, as well as Minnesota United backup Dayne St. Clair. If Edwards keeps doing things like this, that may not be necessary.
Great save by Earl Edwards, Jr. and our model says Matt Turner saves that too#NERevs #USMNTpic.twitter.com/QVTAiyrteo
— Does Matt Turner save that? (@TurnerSavesThat) February 27, 2022
“Bruce’s Guys” Mostly Worked as Intended
It wasn’t just Earl Edwards Jr making his Revolution debut in Portland. Saturday saw a first appearance for each of the Revs major offseason signings. Sebastian Lletget, Omar Gonzalez, and Jozy Altidore all joined the Revs this offseason after having worked with coach Bruce Arena at different points in their careers. Jozy began his career under Arena with NY Red Bulls, while both Lletget and Gonzalez featured for his LA Galaxy teams. Bruce had come under question in the winter for seeming to prefer acquiring “his guys” over other players. With that in mind, did he get these signings right?
While time will tell how they do in the long run, I think the Revs got exactly what they’d hoped from the new additions. Sebastian Lletget had a solid outing, scoring the Revolution’s second goal. Per fotmob, his player rating of 7.8 was third best on the team. He had 85% passing accuracy, including 1 key pass. He did a good job both in the attack as well as recycling possession from the midfield. Omar Gonzalez also performed as well as expected. Outside of a few issues with miscommunications (more on that later), he showed himself to be an asset in the air on both sides of the field. His 2 shots on target lead the Revs, while he did decently well on defense winning both of his tackles, making 4 clearances and making 3 recoveries.
Proud of the boys. Well fought point away from home. Happy to start the campaign off with my first Goal for this club! #NERevs pic.twitter.com/dzFPbIqmK0
— Da Boy (@SLletget) February 27, 2022
Jozy Altidore didn’t come onto the field until the 79th minute and, while he seemed to struggle to link up with his teammates, he showed the strength and power that is a hallmark of his game. His lack of involvement might be expected since he had an abbreviated offseason, even by this years standards. He hasn’t had a lot of time to jell with his teammates yet, but I think as long as he stays healthy, he’ll find ways to contribute.
Quick Passing Undoes Defense
It was a bit of a bloodbath defensively for a 20-25 minute stretch in the second half by the Revs. Time and again the Timbers, who were trying to work their way back into the match, were able to ping pong the ball in behind the back line for clear cut chances. You can see pretty clearly on this chart the Revs were under near constant siege from about the 60th minute through the 80th.
g+ GameFlow: MLS Regular Season @TimbersFC v @NERevolution on February 26, 2022. #RCTID #SomosTimbers #NERevs #VamosNERevs #PORvNER pic.twitter.com/MNv3TbS2w1
— GameFlow (@GameFlowxPG) February 27, 2022
Most of these attacks came by way of quick, one-touch passing from the middle of the field. The wide set 4-4-2 diamond formation that the Revs prefer does leave more space to attack centrally and that’s what we saw on Saturday. On the first goal, Santiago Moreno found plenty of space, with only Polster guarding the back line. He clipped a ball through the defense to the on-rushing Dairon Asprilla for the goal.
Santi's pass. 🤌 Dairon's finish. 🤌 *chefs kiss* #RCTID pic.twitter.com/4B6YwsNJWR
— Portland Timbers (@TimbersFC) February 27, 2022
There’s an element of miscommunication here as well. With Kessler out injured, and Omar Gonzalez there in his place, at times it felt like the back line wasn’t sure who was marking whom. This was especially true in the 72nd minute when both Farrell and Gonzalez were caught marking the same player on a cross, leaving Niezgoda alone in front of net. Fortunately his header flew over the bar.
Brandon Bye, who scored a goal, also had a few instances where he lagged behind the rest of the defense, keeping Timbers attackers onside. All in all, these seem like issues that should sort themselves out as the team gets more experience playing with each other. The coaching staff, players, and fans will certainly hope they can get it figured out before their CCL match against Pumas next week.