Well, Revolution fans, that’s 20 matches in the books! The Revs traveled to Cincinnati this past weekend to take part in one of the marquee matches of the 2023 MLS season.
FC Cincinnati is, by many accounts, the best team in the league; they lead the league in points earned and by a hefty margin.
The team that was most likely to be able to catch them, heading into the weekend, was actually the Revolution.
New England’s 36 points put them second in MLS and 7 points behind the leaders in Ohio.
How are you feeling with how your team looks in the Eastern Conference standings? 🧐 pic.twitter.com/jDZCArPW2v
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) June 25, 2023
As to the game itself, it ended with each team taking a share of the points.
Two goals from FCC’s Dom Badji were canceled out by a pair of goals created by New England’s Gustavo Bou.
There are draws that feel like a win and draw that feels like a loss. For me, this match felt like… both? Neither? I honestly find myself having a difficult time trying to process my feelings about this match.
So instead of dealing with my issues on my own, like a normal person, I’m going to lay out both sides of the argument…
Was this a good draw? Or a bad draw? How should Revs fans feel about earning a 2-2 draw in Cincinnati?
Taking Them Down a Peg
Let’s not mince words. Cincinnati is a very good team. If you’re reading this after jumping in a time machine from 2021, you read that right. These ain’t your… slightly older brother’s FC Cincinnati. Gone are the days of back-to-back-to-back wooden spoons for FCC.
In fact, they’ve been so good that even with the home draw, Cinci may be uncatchable in the Supporters Shield race.
They’ve been particularly good at home in 2023. Before Saturday, they’d played 10 games at TQL Stadium and left with a perfect 10-0-0 record. No losses. No draws. That includes impressive wins against top opponents like Philadelphia, Columbus, and Seattle.
New England ended that win streak on MLS’ behalf on the 11th time of asking.
Getting a draw on the road is usually a good result in this league, especially against a top opponent. But taking into account that FCC was rocking a 3.00 points-per-match record at home, this is a phenomenal result.
With Bou, Revs Can Create From Nothing
You won’t need to search far to find Revs fans (and media members alike) saying Gustavo Bou has lost a step and that he’s old, slow, and inconsistent.
If not for Jozy Altidore and his hefty contract, Bou would likely have been the fan’s no 1 choice for a contract buyout. And, to be honest, I can see why he gets that criticism.
There are a lot of things that make this season different from last.
— Seth (@SethMan31) July 1, 2023
Something that irks many Revolution fans about Bou is that sometimes he will opt to take a low-percentage shot instead of looking for a better angle or finding a teammate. He’s a shooter. He takes shots that sometimes he probably shouldn’t.
But he understands something important; you can’t score if you don’t shoot. He’s constantly a threat to score from anywhere on the field. New England doesn’t really have that in anyone else save Carles Gil.
He can create goals from seemingly nothing, and that’s a powerful weapon in New England’s arsenal.
Before tonight, the #NERevs were 6-1-1 this season when Gustavo Bou started
— Seth (@SethMan31) July 2, 2023
With Petrovic, the Revs Always Have a Chance
Petrovic’s numbers aren’t quite as obscenely “head-and-shoulders above the rest of the pack” as last season, but he’s still an elite shot-stopper.
FC Cincinnati asked plenty of questions of the Revs’ backline, and Petrovic had to come up big on multiple occasions.
— Seth (@SethMan31) July 2, 2023
When things aren’t quite clicking, the Revs have consistently been able to rely on their star players.
Arguably the most important star is the 23-year-old Serbian.
While New England missed Dejuan Jones in this match to Gold Cup duty, Cincinnati wasn’t without its share of absences. Brandon Vazquez and Matt Miazga both joined Jones with the USMNT, leaving FCC without key players. The Stabby Lions were also missing Ian Murphy due to a red card suspension.
Combine those absences with Cincinnati suffering their first loss in 14 matches last week against DC United, and it really felt like there could be something there for New England to get a win on the road. The Revs, themselves, were riding the momentum of a 3-game win streak. There may be no “good time” to play Cincinnati on the road this season, but this may have been as close to that as you are going to see.
After a back-and-forth first half saw New England take a 2-1 lead, things quickly deteriorated for the Revs in the second half.
I spent a lot of time earlier this week talking about how xG can mislead you as to how the game actually played out.
This is not one of those situations. Cincy looked 3.23x more likely to score.
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) July 2, 2023
That momentum chart (courtesy of Fotmob) does a good job explaining how things turned after halftime. New England couldn’t seem to string together any meaningful possession and created just 0.03 xG in the second stanza.
Conversely, Cincinnati was relentless and ruthless in its pursuit of New England’s goal. They would erase the Revs’ lead in the 55th minute and had multiple good opportunities to take the lead.
This was a game that absolutely got on top of New England. Romney and Farrell were constantly defending while running back toward their own goal. Clearances were often made without purpose or direction, leading to an easy reset for FCC.
The midfield, for their part, didn’t help much. On the whole, possession was hard to come by for the Revs. And when they did get the ball, they did a poor job of keeping it.
This has happened to New England a few times, notably against LAFC and Atlanta earlier this season. They’ll need to sort out how to remain compact or how to keep possession against a well-organized press if they hope to lift any silverware.
Outside Back Still a Position of Need
I, among many, many others, have been loudly shouting that New England needs to invest in outside back depth. DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye are one of the league’s premier outside-back duos. But behind them? As of now, it’s Ryan Spaulding and Ben Sweat. The former recently completed a successful loan to USL, and the latter was acquired after getting the axe in Kansas City earlier this year.
With Jones off with the US for the Gold Cup, both saw time in this match.
Neither replaced what Jones brings on either side of the ball. The way New England likes to push their fullbacks forward into the attack, you need elite recovery speed when the ball turns over in transition.
As mentioned above, New England had an issue maintaining possession in this match, and Cincinnati was all too happy to counter quickly and directly.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) July 1, 2023
It’s hard to place too much blame on Spaulding for this goal, but it does come directly down the Revs left defensive flank.
Spaulding is in the attack when the ball turns over and has an opportunity to slow the counter, defending 1-v-1 against Luciano Acosta. Lucho is able to sidestep Spaulding and send a through ball into the acres of space behind him, up the flank, to Yuya Kubo. From there, it’s a simple square ball into the penalty area (that Farrell absolutely should clean up), and it’s 1-0 Cincinnati.
Potential Playoff Rematch?
New England and Cincinnati have now played each other twice this season, with each ending in a draw.
Given that both teams occupy the #1 and #2 spots in the table on points-per-game, both teams seem destined for post-season action.
If New England has to play another game on Cincinnati soil in October, they had better hope they can muster a bit more, or it may spell the end of their year.
Photo: New England Revolution