I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, dear reader, that it hasn’t exactly been a flawless month for the New England Revolution.  They crushed Pumas 3-0 at home on March 9th, and since then they’d done nothing but lose.  What’s worse?  They weren’t just losing.  They were finding new, more embarrasing ways to lose.  The Revs blew multi goal leads against RSL and Pumas.  They lost due to own goals and goalkeeping errors against RBNY and Miami.  They just plain old lost 3-1 against expansion side Charlotte FC a few weeks back.

Saturday provided the team with a chance at revenge for that 3-1 loss in Carolina.  That’s why it was so important for the Revs, and their fans, to see their team show some fight.  A bit of vengeance? Sure.  But, really, fans wanted to see this team learn from all of those mistakes and put together a complete performance.  No team in MLS has given up more goals in the final 15 minutes of a game, than New England.  Worse, they gave up late winners in 3 of their past 4 league matches.  Conceding late like that can kill a teams confidence. Momentum had been swinging the wrong direction for a while, and they desperately needed something, anything, to begin the pendulum swinging the other way.

Hopefully Saturday’s 2-1 victory will accomplish just that.  It wasn’t perfect (spoiler: they conceded in the last 15 minutes again), but sometimes just getting 3 points is enough to stop the bleeding.  For a while it’s seemed like anything that can go wrong for this team DOES go wrong.  That’s why I think it’s worth analyzing the things that went right, and why they were important.

Buksa gets on the end of a cross

Part of what has been plaguing the Revolution through this stretch of games is that the attack has simply not been producing as many goals as they had last year.  Up until this weekend, the Revs had 2 goals from their strikers, and neither of them was from their dynamic DP duo: Bou and Buksa.  Altidore got a goal in a substitute appearance vs RSL, and homegrown Justin Rennicks got his first MLS goal last week at Miami.

Last season, the striker pairing of Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa was nearly impossible to stop.  They, along with Carles Gil, formed one of the most productive DP trios in MLS.  But this year, only Carles had been able to impact the box score.  This has lots to do with player availability.  Bou has been injured since March 5th and Buksa has spent time in and out of the lineup with injuries, international call ups and, recently, a red card suspension.  Combine those absences with the sale of attacker Tajon Buchanan, the Revs have struggled to create chances in the run of play.

During last year’s run to the supporters shield, the Revs had myriad ways to hurt opposing back lines.  They could rely on Carles Gil (el magi himself) to whip perfect crosses into the box for the towering figure of Adam Buksa to get on the end of.  If that didn’t work, they had Buchanan, who would gladly dribble past multiple lines of defense to create havoc for himself and others.  Failing that, Gustavo Bou has shown he’s lethal from just about anywhere on the field.

The Revs have basically had none of those options available this season.  At least not consistently.  Buchanan, and his pace and dribbling ability, left for Belgium over the winter.  While Sebastian Lletget, his nominal replacement, has been good, he doesn’t unlock defenses the way that Buchanan did.  Meanwhile, Bou has only played in 2 matches so far this season.  There may be some hope on the horizon, as Bou looks to get back to training soon and New England has shown interest in a young Colombian attacking midfielder in the Tajon mold.

Until those players arrive, however, the attack remains formulaic.  Work the ball up-field, find Carles or an outside back, and whip in crosses.  No team in MLS attempts more crosses per 90 minutes than the Revs (18.7 crosses per 90).  It sort of makes sense, as it plays to the teams strength, but it has become all to predictable.

That continued this week, with the Revs sending a whopping 24 crosses into the penalty area.  What worked this time around was Buksa finally connected with one.

And connect he did.

Knighton does enough to keep the lead

On the defensive side of things, a lot of the Revolution’s troubles have stemmed from a hairline fracture to the foot of star goalkeeper Matt Turner.  Or was it frostbite?  Or both?

Regardless, Turner was the MLS Goalkeeper of the Year in 2021 for a reason.  He simply makes saves that others can’t.  Among those “others” have been Revolution backup goalies Brad Knighton and Earl Edwards Jr.  New England was a force to be reckoned with offensively last season, but didn’t post the stout defensive numbers that you’d expect of a record setting juggernaut. In fact, by the numbers they were a wholly average defensive side.  That appears to still be the case this season, with a few added wrinkles: Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler have both missed time with injurues, and Matt Turner isn’t available to bail them out at the moment.

Turner is on the mend and should return by May, but it will end up being a brief return to action as he’s set to join English giants Arsenal in June.  The Revolution have also gone out and signed Serbian international goalkeeper Djordje Petrovic, who seems to fit the bill as a Turner replacement.


So what worked this week?  For starters, everyone played tighter defensively.  Rennicks and Buksa began pressure high up the field, and the Revs did a good job of continuing to apply pressure at each line of defense.  They forced Charlotte into relying on long shots and crosses (18 for CLT) to create their offense.  This left them with pretty low xG on the night and made for an easier night for Brad Knighton.

While it may have been easier for NEs backup goalkeeper, it wasn’t without it’s moments of drama.  After all, a low xG shot can still go in, and those are exactly the types of goals that New England has made a habit of allowing.  With the exception of a possibly deflected shot, Knighton was up to the task.  A few of the saves he made were of the spectacular variety, including this one on a well taken free kick.

Hard work breeds luck

Perhaps the biggest gripe many Revs fans have had over the past month is this: the Revs really shouldn’t be this bad.  They are missing pieces but they, on paper at least, have one of the deepest rosters in the league.  Jozy Altidore, old as he may be, is the 3rd (maybe 4th) best striker on the roster.  Jon Bell was a serviceable center back last season and Omar Gonzalez has been a starter everywhere he’s played throughout his career except for here.  The roster is not at it’s strongest, but it shouldn’t be coughing up late goals and losing on a weekly basis.

After last week, Bruce Arena called out a lack of quality among certain players as the likely root of their woes.  I think that’s a fair assessment in places.  More than that, however, it’s due to players losing focus.  With all the late concessions, the Revs seem to lose sight of their roles and responsibilities late in the match.

This is why it was so great to see Matt Polster put in an absolute shift on Saturday.

All too often last season, Polster was tasked with doing it all.  As the base of the diamond, he was required to protect the back line in transition, fall in between the center backs in defense, contribute to the build up, and generally cover all the ground on the pitch.  It’s a lot to ask of one player, but Polster did it all with aplomb.  We saw perhaps his best performance on Saturday.  In addition to doing his usual work in defense, he also contributed an assist and diligently followed up a rebound on a free kick, scoring what would be the game winning goal.

Photo credit: Andrew Katsampes/ISI Photos/Getty Images
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