Bruce Arena and Bob Bradley are, kind of, the godfathers of American soccer.  Both have been involved as MLS coaches on and off since the league’s inception.  Both have won MLS cups, US Open Cups, and Supporters Shields.  They both coached the USMNT, Arena doing so twice.  They’ve been a fixture of MLS and American soccer, in general, for over 25 years.  That’s what makes this fact so hard to believe: Saturday marked just the 7th time they have squared off head-to-head as managers.

How can that be?  Well, starting in 1998, they took turns with the US managerial job.  Bradley then left to coach the Egyptian NT and in Europe. From 1998 until 2019, only one or neither of them were coaching in MLS.

It would be Arena’s Revolution getting the W this time around.  Prior to that, the series had been all squared up, with each coach having 2 wins, 2 losses, and 2 draws in the series.  Bruce Arena’s last victory came in July of 1998.

Both managers are coaching in the Eastern Conference, so we will likely see more of these matchups in the coming years.

With that in mind, let’s take a look at how this matchup played out from a tactical perspective.

Revs Continue to Roll With Wingers

I made an appearance this week on the Revolution Recap podcast, where I made my “key takeaway” about the Revs’ tactical shift in the aftermath of Dylan Borrero’s season-ending injury.  Specifically that there was no tactical shift.  From a formation standpoint, the Revs went out using the same shape as the previous week.

The tweet shows up as a 4-3-3, but everyone has enough flexibility in this formation that, in possession, it can look more like a rotating 4-2-3-1.  It’s the same strategy the Revolution have used for large stretches of the season.  It makes use of a single center forward, in this case, Bobby Wood, and generates chances by pushing the ball up the wings through the full-backs and wingers.

Even without Borrero, arguably their best wing player, the Revolution kept trucking along with that same strategy.

They continued to play wide, using Jones and Boateng, in particular, to significant effect.  It’s the interplay between those two that set up the Revs’ second goal of the match.

 

Toronto’s Press Gives New England Trouble

The first Revs goal, on the other hand, comes straight from a turnover.  TFC center-back Sigurd Rosted mishandles the ball during their buildup, and Bobby Wood does well to take it and hustle ahead for a breakaway goal.

That’s an individual error by Rosted, but it doesn’t lead to a goal if Wood isn’t pressuring the back line.

Shortly after that, now down a goal, Toronto decides to play more aggressively defensively.  Their line of confrontation, an imaginary line on the pitch where the defending team starts to apply their pressure, had been set around mid-field for Toronto to start the match.  After conceding the first goal, they press their forwards further and further into New England’s defensive half.

The Revs were slow to adjust to this tactical shift.  In possession, they continued to work the ball side to side, probing for an opening up the wings.  If you’re going to play that way against a high press, you can’t afford to make mistakes.  Mistakes like this one:

In this case, it’s Boateng, but there were numerous missed passes in the 20-30 minute range that left the Revs vulnerable.  New England is lucky not to concede here and on a few other poor giveaways.  A better team might have found a way to be more dangerous in those positions.

Wing-Backs Neutralize the Italians

Two big reasons Toronto wasn’t as dangerous as it could be were Brandon Bye and Dejuan Jones.  TFC’s marquee players are their Italian wingers.  Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne both have impressive resumes, coming from Juventus and Napoli, respectively.  Toronto signed the duo, at great cost, to Designated Player contracts last season to provide Bob Bradley with two unstoppable forces on either side of the field.

They fell a bit short of unstoppable in this matchup.

Toronto took 20 shots on the day, and well… here’s the shot-map of how that went.  Insigne is number 24, and Bernardeschi is number 10.

Most of the Italians’ shots are taking place from well outside the box.  The pair took a combined 11 shots, with just one of those being from within the penalty area.  A lot of that is thanks to tireless defensive work from Bye and Jones, who, mind you, also needed to contribute to the attack.  They had to be able to track back defensively and did well to impede TFC’s ability to work their way into the box.

The overall lack of close-range shots says a lot about how organized New England was in this match.  Give credit to Romney and Farrell in central defense; I thought they played very well positionally.  Together with the midfield, they effectively corralled Toronto and, with their pressing actions, made it difficult for Toronto to get into the spots they wanted.  New England communicated well, shifted to cover for each other, and took advantage of TFC’s lack of patience to make it a relatively easy day for Petrovic in goal.

You’ve no doubt noticed a heavy dose of Seth Macomber’s tweets in this week’s post, primarily because he does a great job of clipping and posting relevant replays beyond what you’d get from the highlights package.  If you’re into tactics and want to see more like this, he also posted a great video this week for the Blazing Musket that’s well worth a watch.


Photo: Timothy Bouwer/ISI Photos

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