The Revolution traveled to the nation’s capital on Saturday to take on DC United. Both teams were experiencing some injuries to star players, which made it hard to predict a clear favorite ahead of the match.
New England has been on a hot start to the season, with a 3-1-0 record through their first 4 matches. That said, DC United has looked good at home this season, and scored the matches first goal just before half-time. Ruan lost his defender inside the box, and fizzed a cross across the face of goal where Benteke was able to tuck the ball inside the near post.
The Revs looked good for large stretches of the match, but it wasn’t until Carles Gil made his substitute appearance, in the second half, that New England found their answer.
Gustavo Bou levels it with a smooth touch and finish. #NERevs
Carlos Gil subs on and finds the assist within a minute. 👌 pic.twitter.com/CJY9OWjI2J
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 26, 2023
In the face of building pressure from the hosts, New England managed to stay resolute and eventually Noel Buck would provide the match winner in the 88th minute.
The win brings the Revolution to a 4-1-0 record on the season and sees them atop the Eastern Conference Standings. Here are 3 takeaways after the match.
The Kids are Alright
The biggest talking point for the Revolution in this match was determined before anyone kicked a ball. With injuries/absences to Carles Gil, Latif Blessing, Tommy McNamara, and Dylan Borrero, head coach Bruce Arena opted to use a youth heavy lineup in The District.
According to Elias Sports Bureau, tonight at D.C. United is the first time in #NERevs history they feature three players aged 18 or younger in the starting XI: Esmir Bajraktarevic (18), Noel Buck (17), and Jack Panayotou (18).
📷: @DSPics pic.twitter.com/4OVjNYD6Ss
— Jeff Lemieux (@jeff_lemieux) March 25, 2023
Those three homegrown players have slowly been building buzz amongst Revs fans. Buck has garnered acclaim for his exploits through the first 4 matches of the season, but it was a first start of the season for Esmir Bajraktarevic and Jack Panayotou. For the latter, it was his first ever MLS minutes after signing with the first team over the offseason.
With all the youth and inexperience, you might reasonably expect a drop in quality from New England. Especially on the road in front of an unfriendly crowd.
After promising, but limited, minutes in 2022 Bajraktarevic found himself waiting for his first start until this weekend. With Carles Gil and Dylan Borrero out of the starting lineup, the Revs relied on a flat 4-4-2 formation with Bajraktarevic and Panayotou playing on the outside.
Bruce Arena showed quick trust in Esmir, giving the 18 year old leeway on set pieces.
#NERevs homegrowns doing it themselves on this corner.
Esmir ➡️ Buck ➡️ Jack P pic.twitter.com/AZ41zAhsBr
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) March 26, 2023
He had a nice match, playing 62 minutes, contributing 0.2 xG, and completing the most successful dribbles of any player on the field.
Panayotou only signed with the Revolution a few months ago, in January. He quickly, however, made a name for himself in preseason.
We haven't been able to watch any of it, so it's hard to say how good he's actually looked, but it's encouraging that every time Panayotou has been on the field we get an update like this.#NERevs https://t.co/4AnBjlWPYM
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) February 10, 2023
Given how he looked in preseason, it seemed a forgone conclusion that he would find some minutes as early as week 1. Unfortunately a bout with mono would sideline him until recently.
He ended the evening playing 78 minutes, completing 82% of his passes and creating a pair of chances.
The man of the hour, however, was 17 year old Noel Buck. It was his 88th minute shot that found the back of the net, giving New England a 4th win in 5 matches.
17-year-old Noel Buck gives #NERevs the lead in the 88'. 😲 pic.twitter.com/EJ1lQORBdk
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) March 26, 2023
Noel Buck has been slowly gathering the attention of players and media alike. He’s been a consistent force for Bruce Arena’s New England this season, appearing in every match. His positioning and soccer IQ put him well ahead of his peers. That skill, however, may mean he doesn’t stick around New England for long.
Spoke briefly to matchwinner Noel Buck: "I'm ecstatic right now … That's a fantastic win."
On his future: "I have a UK passport … I could go now. I have those aspirations. It's hard to say what's gonna happen. I just take it game by game and try to keep performing well."
— Charles Boehm (@cboehm) March 26, 2023
Gaining, not Losing
Through 5 matches something is becoming very clear. This isn’t the Revs of last year. It’s early, of course, and any Revolution fan worth their salt will tell you to “wait for the disappointment”, but it just feels different.
Case in point:
#NERevs have won 7 of their last 8 #MLS matches when facing #VamosUnited. New England is the underdog despite this, given a 31.3% chance to win
— Thom J. K. Cunningham (@_TJKC_) March 25, 2023
That one “non-win” for New England came as a 3-2 loss last season. Getting back into the win column vs DC helps paint last season as more of an outlier than a new normal.
Perhaps the biggest indicator that things are back on track, however, is that New England is picking up points late in matches.
Last season the Revs dropped an appalling 31 points from a leading position. So far this season, it’s been the opposite. So far through 5 games they’ve gained 4 points with late winners at Charlotte and DC.
Home Stretch Incoming
A few weeks ago I wrote that picking up points early in the season, while not truly necessary, are certainly helpful come the end of the season. So far so good on that front for New England.
Their 12 points through 5 matches it puts them on 2.4 points, well above the 1.8 ppg average of the last 10 supporters shield winners.
New England will get a chance to build on that point total with 4 of their next 5 matches taking place at home, where points are typically easier to come by.
Adding to that, the upcoming opponents earn points at a lower clip than New England have faced so far. It’s still early, so points earned won’t correllate 1:1 with team quality. That said, the Revs opponents up until now have averaged 1.4 points per game since the beginning of the season.
Their next 5 opponents average just 1.03 points per game, presenting something of an opportunity for the Revs. NYC will present a stiff challenge, as will Toronto. Columbus presents the toughest challenge, as it’s a road match and the crew have… uh… looked good recently.
If New England can rise to the challenge, though, they could find themselves sitting pretty and atop the standings, come May.
Photo Credit: David Silverman New England Revolution