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The New England Revolution played 2 matches this past week.  One as a part of the recently returned US Open Cup and another in league play.  The former certainly went better, as the Revs cruised to a 5-1 win at home over FC Cincinnati.  Designated players Carles Gil and Adam Buksa would account for all 5 goals (with Gil earning his first hat-trick) before being subbed off early in the second half.  Those same players would prove crucial over the weekend as part of a 2-2 draw at Atlanta United.  Adam Buksa continued his red hot form and scored both New England goals to help the team earn a point.  While not the result the team hoped for, it was an entertaining match for the neutral fan.

The draw now gives them a result in 5 of their last 6 matches (all competitions), but a rough March/April means the Revs are still outside the playoff picture looking in.  During that difficult stretch, the Revs had to rely on their depth while their star players missed time with injuries.  It… uh… didn’t go well. Their poor run of form from March 12th through April 9th marked the first time a Bruce Arena coached team had lost 4 back-to-back matches in regulation play.

The team often looked lost.  They would miss easy passes, not communicate well, miss their assignments.  While there are certainly still some kinks to work out, and the team hasn’t fully gelled yet, little by little the team is getting healthier.  As some of the star players return to action, we’re seeing just how important they truly are.  This week was a good example.

Carles Gil

Last year’s MLS MVP Carles Gil lit the league on fire last season, creating chances for his teammates at a blistering pace.  This year, however, he’s not widely considered to be an MVP candidate.  In a recent article on the MLS league site, he didn’t receive a single vote in their MVP power rankings. Has his production dropped off that much from last season?

It has not.  Not substantially, anyway.  After a slow start to the season, he now leads the league in successful crosses, passes in the opposing half, penalties scored, as well as second in assists, second in key passes, and fourth in successful dribbles.  He’s living up to his DP price tag, to say the least.

Through 11 matches he has 3 goals and 6 assists, which puts him on pace for an 8 goal, 17 assist season.  One of those assists came on Sunday at Atlanta.

Gil does such a good job here of recognizing where the space is, switching the ball to his left foot, and playing an inch perfect through ball to Adam Buksa for a one-time finish.  That kind of vision has been a hallmark of his game, and it’s been needed this season.  His 6 assists lead the team by a comfortable margin, and his 37 key passes are nearly double the next closest Revolution player.

It is partly because of Gil’s ability to find the right passes at the right moments that, while the defense has been a mess, the Revs offense has continued to hum along nicely.

 

Adam Buksa

Another reason why the attack has continued to produce is Adam Buksa.  Over the past month he’s been on a tear.  He’s scored 6 goals in his last 5 league matches.  If you include CCL and the US Open Cup, he’s managed a staggering 10 goals and 2 assists from 13 appearances.

Buksa has been producing.  And he’s needed to.  I’ve written recently about how, without Gustavo Bou and Tajon Buchanan, the Revolution have become somewhat predictable in the attack.  Bou has been out for a few months now with an injury, but when he’s available he provides the ability to score from anywhere on the field.  Before Buchanan left for Europe, he was a frequent spark when New England needed it, often taking on an entire defense by himself.

Without those two attackers New England has relied heavily on crossing the ball to Adam Buksa and hoping he can make something happen.  Fortunately for Bruce Arena, Buksa has delivered.  This included a brace midweek against Cincinnati, and another brace at Atlanta.

While Buksa leads the league in headed goals, he does admirably with his feet here, roofing his shot after chesting the ball into a good shooting spot.  The tall, Polish center forward has been one of the best in the league, and New England are lucky to have him.  If he leaves over the summer, and there’s evidence to suggest there is interest, he will be very difficult to replace.

 

Matt Turner/Henry Kessler

It may seem odd to highlight two defensive players on a team that has conceded the 5th most goals in the league.  Especially after conceding multiple goals in each of the last two draws.

Well, as it turns out, only conceding 2 goals per game, is somewhat of a step up for this team.  They have conceded 3 goals on 4 separate occasions in 2022, all occurring while Matt Turner was out injured.  The future Arsenal keeper showed exactly what he was capable of on Sunday, denying Thiago Almada’s free kick in the first half.

Upon Turner’s return to the lineup, Bruce Arena was quoted saying “he plays with a lot of confidence and he gives the guys in front of him a lot of confidence”.  I think that’s been plain to see over the past few weeks.  The goals they’ve conceded are better taken, as the defense seems less frantic.  It’s no coincidence that the Revs haven’t lost since getting Turner back.

Perhaps as important to the defense, however, has been the return of center back Henry Kessler.  The former first round draft pick has been in and out of the lineup with injuries, and only just this week managed to string together 3 consecutive starts.  In his absence the Revs have had to rely on the 33 year old Omar Gonzalez alongside Andrew Farrell.  This hasn’t gone well for New England.  Gonzalez has been a bit too slow to keep up with the pace of MLS for a little while now, but he’s also been making really baffling fundamental mistakes.  These mistakes have been costing the Revs points.

Kessler is not only less mistake prone and better at cleaning up messes, he’s useful in the build up as well.  Oh, and he’s capable of things like this.

At first, I felt a bit odd including Kessler as a “star player”, but he really looks the part this year.  These kind of recoveries, along with his other interventions, provide a good foundational stability to the Revs defense.  For the time being, Revs fans will need to hope that Kessler (and the other players mentioned here) remain in good health, and the team can begin to build confidence and chemistry heading into the summer.

Photo credit: New England Revolution
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