The New England Revolution:
Need to beat the Philadelphia Union at home + Need CF Montréal on the road to beat the Columbus Crew ..
To clinch a spot in the top 4 …
— Caleb Pongratz (@CalebPongratz10) October 15, 2023
As a result of their poor performances in recent weeks (1W-1D-4L over their previous 6 matches), they had fallen from a solid 2nd place in the East down to 5th. On the line for the Revs was a potential top 4 seed, which would give them home field advantage in the first round of the playoffs.
Home field advantage is pretty important to New England who lost just once within the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium this year. Unfortunately for them, a simple win wouldn’t be enough. Given that disastrous month leading up to this weekend, they would either need a 3+goal victory over Philadelphia, or a smaller victory and a Columbus loss, to claim a home-field playoff spot.
In the end, they got the win but little else. Columbus defeating Montreal, however, meant that despite playing their most cohesive game in a long time, New England remained at 5th place. They will have to travel in (potentially) 2 of 3 games in the first round of the playoffs.
Their opponent? A very familiar face, as it turns out, in the Philadelphia Union. When all is said and done, the Revs could end up playing the Union 4 straight times.
This is where I’d normally preview a bunch of stats and charts. But I’m trying to branch out so… it’s narrative time, baby! Here are 3 major narratives for the Revs as they start the 2023 playoffs.
Defense Wins Championships
And right now, New England’s defense is… to put it nicely… not the best.
You’d have to time travel all the way back to August to find the last time the Revs kept a clean sheet. And that came with a different interim manager in charge. In fact, since Clint Peay took the helm (after Arena’s resignation and Williams…reassignment) the Revolution have not kept a clean sheet and have conceded ~2.3 goals per match.
That’s not particularly surprising when you consider how Peay has tested out new defensive formations over the past several weeks. Consistency tends to help defenses, and you’ll find very little consistency in the lineups since Peay took over.
Shaffelburg –> Surridge to make it 2-0.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 15, 2023
It’s not entirely his fault. Brandon Bye suffered a season ending injury in August. Bruce Arena was seemingly steadfast in his refusal to sign quality right-back depth. When Williams and Onalfo took over, they also neglected the position, despite it being a glaring need. Peay, in the end, was handed an incomplete roster just days before the MLS roster-freeze. This meant he practically couldn’t sign any new players to address that lack of depth.
It also meant that he’s had to fidget with formations, and play players out of position, to make things work.
Whether it was playing Matt Polster as a sort of quasi LB/CM hybrid, or playing 3 CBs with Ema Boateng and Nacho Gil as make-shift wing backs, none of it has really worked. The particularly egregious header above came while using the latter system. That system was so overrun up the flanks, that an exasperated Henry Kessler motioned to the sideline for a formation change after just 37 minutes.
It looks like Henry Kessler gestures “4-4-2” to the sidelines in the 37th minute.
— Seth (@SethMan31) October 15, 2023
They looked their best, perhaps, this past weekend against Philadelphia. They rolled out a 4-3-3 formation, and made use of Dejuan Jones and Ryan Spaulding as outside backs. It may be their best formation going forward. They still didn’t keep a clean sheet, but that didn’t appear to be related to the defensive formation.
GK positional battle during the playoffs???
If anything, the blame should likely fall on the shoulders of 23 year old GK Jacob Jackson, making his second ever start with the first team.
They'll take it! @PhilaUnion find their opening goal.
— Major League Soccer (@MLS) October 21, 2023
Wait, second ever start? Shouldn’t the Revs, or any team really, have their goalkeeper sorted out by this point of the season (barring injury)?
Yes… Yes they should.
While it’s more than understandable as to why it came about, the sale of Djordje Petrovic has created a major problem for New England to solve.
During a Q&A summit with Revs supporters, Brian Billelo summarized the situation they found themselves in with All Star keeper Djordje Petrovic:
“We were willing to leave, frankly, millions of dollars on the table to have Djordje for the rest of the season … But when the Chelsea offer came in, like frankly, we were toast”
Premier League giants Chelsea came in with a huge offer for the Serbian GK, an offer that they simply couldn’t refuse. Not least because Petrovic had already sat out of practice and a match due to lower offers earlier in the summer. In the end, letting him go was not only what was best for him, but also what was best for the locker room.
Only one problem: who is going to start in goal?
Veteran Earl Edwards Jr. and draft pick Jacob Jackson were certainly capable backups, but replacing the best goalie in the league is no small task. Edwards was deputized first, with the veteran handling the load immediately following the sale.
He allowed 14 goals in 9 league games including 3 goals in the first half against Orlando City. None were really his fault, per se, but to play the way New England does you need a goalkeeper that can outperform expectations. As such, Jacob Jackson was handed the reins for the last 2 games of the season.
Despite conceding 4 goals in 2 matches, he’s looked alright. Even though he conceded 3 goals against Nashville, he actually outperformed his 3.4 expected goals against, making an insane 7 saves. If he can clean up the mental lapses like we saw above, he looks like the real deal.
So he’s the guy going forward, no?
That would be my guess, but there’s also the matter of recently acquired goalkeeper Tomáš Vaclík. The Czech netminder arrived in New England with considerable pedigree, having started in Switzerland, Spain, Greece, and England. His most recent gig bore an uncanny resemblance to the Revs’ situation. He joined Huddersfield Town of the EFL Championship midway through the 2022-2023 season and asked to fill in for their standout GK, out with injury. The former champions league starter availed himself admirably, helping save Huddersfield from relegation.
Under normal circumstances that type of history would warrant at least a run-out as the starter. Unfortunately, Vaclik has apparently arrived to New England out of shape and unable to move quickly enough to earn any minutes.
Multiple sources have said the #NERevs still signed Tomáš Vaclík despite knowing his persistent mobility issues. Once source said of Vaclik, “he can’t walk straight.” Jacob Jackson will make his second straight start tonight versus #DOOP.
— Tommy Quinlan (@TommyQuinlan_IV) October 21, 2023
Long story short? It’s kind of a messy situation in net for the Revs. The likely scenario is Jackson continues to get the call, but (given Vaclik returning to fitness) any of the 3 of them could be the presumptive starter heading into next year.
Bou’s Back – Can He Be the Difference?
It maybe shouldn’t be a surprise that when the Revs desperately needed a win to get any momentum going, it was Gustavo Bou who provided the spark (and 2 goals) for New England.
Since joining the Revs in 2019, Bou has been a threat to score from anywhere on the field. His 2 goals against Philadelphia vaulted him into the top 5 goalscorers in club history.
Match Recap: Gustavo Bou leads New England to victory over Philadelphia Union
Article Below: @ProstSoccer…
— Caleb Pongratz (@CalebPongratz10) October 23, 2023
The only issue with Bou and his time in New England, has been availability. He’s often labeled as ‘streaky’ because on the surface he appears to score in bunches, before prolonged periods of goalless drought. A major contributing factor under the surface is, as it usually is, injuries. When he’s healthy he scores for fun, and when he’s coming back from injury… not so much. He just hasn’t been able to stay healthy over the past few seasons, and the recovery times seem to be getting longer and more protracted.
As such, the prevailing thought seems to be that the club will not be renewing his contract at the end of this season.
— Hayden Bird (@haydenhbird) October 22, 2023
If you’ve read my columns before then it will come as no shock that I really like Bou, as a player. I think we’d all love to see him continue scoring goals for the Revolution. That said, there’s a real chance these next 2 games could be his last in a New England jersey.
When asked about that possibility, Bou said that if these are his last games, then he wants to “play them in the best way possible”.
He’s off to a good start, grabbing a brace against Philadelphia. Maybe he’ll continue to feed the ‘streaky’ narrative by scoring a few more times now that he seems fully healthy.