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The Bent Musket roundtable: Wrapping up the 2020 New England Revolution season

Now that we are more than a week removed from the Revs disappointing defeat to the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals, The Bent Musket staff gives their thoughts on New England’s 2020 season.

MLS: New England Revolution at Columbus Crew SC Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The 2020 MLS season was probably one of the most intriguing and wild seasons in the history of the league. The fact that a midseason tournament took place in Disney shows what a rollercoaster the season was. New England Revolution fans were not left out of the fun.

Down in Disney we got to see the best of the Revs when Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa were all on the field together. Even though the Revolution were eliminated in the Round of 16, they showed some promise.

After that the team had their struggles without Gil, but once he returned they were a complete team and made a run towards the end of the season. That run continued when New England made it all the way to the Eastern Conference Finals.

So let’s get to our thoughts on how the Revs did in 2020.

Sam

New England’s season can be broken up in two parts. You could notice the difference when Gil was not on the field. As a fan of both the Bruins and the Revs he reminds me a lot of Patrice Bergeron in that fact.

The start of the season was rough with New England failing to register a win. Then in the MLS is Back tournament there was some hope when fans saw Gil, Bou, and Buksa on the field together. That quickly ended when Gil got injured.

Looking at the positives, this allowed for Tajon Buchanan to burst onto the scene. He used his pace to blow by defenders and was able to score his first goals as a member of the Revs. He had a breakout season in 2020.

Also Teal Bunbury helped out a lot on the attacking front. He was the leading goal scorer for New England and showed how valuable of an asset he is on the attack.

Finally Matt Turner allowed the club to compete even without Gil. If it wasn't for him the team could have been in a lot of trouble.

Heading into 2021, Revolution fans should be hopeful. The club’s performance in the MLS Cup Playoffs with the three DP’s playing showed just how talented they can be. With a few additions, Revs fans could see their favorite club competing for a trophy sooner rather than later.

Josh

With the establishment of their USL League One affiliate, Revolution II, along with a multitude of signings, including DP Adam Buksa, Kelyn Rowe, Alexander Büttner, that had an instant impact on this Revolution squad, the 2020 season was a success for the Revolution organization.

Although the Revolution were plagued throughout the 2020 season with various injuries, like Cristian Penilla, Luis Caicedo, and Carles Gil, Burce Arena was able to make the most out of everyone available throughout the 2020 season.

We were also to see some significant moves throughout the 2020 season. The first being the acquisition of midfielder Matt Polster from Rangers. We also saw new faces arrive as Kekuta Manneh and Tommy McNamara arrive as part of deals with F.C. Cincinnati and Houston Dynamo, respectively.

Towards the end of the trade deadline, we also saw the return of Lee Nguyen, which allowed the club legend to become the first player in Revs history to score 50 goals and 50 assists.

Although the Revolution dropped crucial points towards the end of the season, they were still able to earn a spot in the knockout stage of the 2020 playoffs, which led to an unforgettable run. A run that saw the Revs punch their ticket to the Eastern Conference finals.

After having a club go from a 6-year playoff drought to earning a spot in 2019, to making it to the Eastern Conference finals. That’s honestly something to be proud of.

Another highlight of the 2020 season was seeing the utilization of Tajon Buchanan. Buchanan had primarily been used in a winger role up top. That was until the end of the 2020 season where we saw the young Canadian become a regular sight at the right-back position.

At first, I was a tad skeptical that this would work. Yet after seeing his run throughout the playoffs, I am all for Tajon taking over the right-back position for the time being.

After what can only be described as a hectic year on and off the field, there’s only one word thing I can usay to describe the Revs 2020 season, I’m proud.

Blaise

Before the 2020 campaign kicked off, I wrote a preview piece for the season. Here’s an excerpt:

“After a wildly successful offseason, the Revs are well-positioned to make their mark this season. Significant output can be expected from Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil. Meanwhile, questions fester in the midfield and defensive lines, which will play huge roles in determining the success of the team in 2020. Both lines are full of homegrown players, draft picks, and offseason acquisitions, and thus success is hard to predict.”

Let’s start with the first sentence. The Revolution entered 2020 “well-positioned to make their mark” and I think they did just that. Making an appearance in the Eastern Conference finals is no easy feat, and I think most Revolution fans feel happy with that achievement. Knocking out Philadelphia Union—the 2020 Supporters’ Shield winners—in the tournament was an added bonus.

Significant output was expected from Bou and Gil, and I think they delivered—sorta. Obviously, Gil’s injury sidelined him for a while, but when he was on the field, he was undoubtedly the Revolution’s best player (Matt Turner was consistently #2.)

Bou is trickier to analyze. Sure, he was great in spurts—take his game-winning goal against Montreal in the MLS Cup play-in game, for example.

But he also was wildly inconsistent and honestly underwhelming when it came down to finishing. I mean, this is a guy who ranked third in the MLS in shots (64 total), yet only notched five goals—that’s a rate of 7.8%. With the DP tag that he carries, I’d like to have seen more production from Buo this season.

As I also pointed to in the excerpt, the season would truly be decided by the production of the midfield and defense, where a lot of question marks festered. Here’s what I saw:

The first player I’ll point to is Henry Kessler, who was a shrewd acquisition in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft. Bruce struck gold with this stud, who outplayed the entire defensive unit all season. I hope he stays on the Revolution for a long, long time, but something tells me he might be attracting some teams overseas.

The Revolution also signed Matt Polster this season, and I think he earned his starting role in Bruce’s lineup. He wasn’t a standout player by any means, but with the former Chicago Fire player, you knew you had consistency. I think he was superior to Caldwell in that role, and should the Revolution bring in another CDM, I think Polster is the one who retains his position.

I also don’t think anyone would have predicted Buchanan and Jones to be our two starting wing-backs in the MLS Playoffs, with Bye and Buttner entering the season as the favorites to hold those positions. But I’m glad it ended the way it did.

Buttner was fine this season, but I was admittedly disappointed to see the former Manchester United player just “fit in” with the rest of the MLS crowd instead of standing out. I also think Bye’s stock fell this season, as it was another season punctuated by poor crossing ability. In Bruce’s system, wing-backs need to get forward and be effective in doing so, and Buchanan and Jones fit it best. Period.

Overall, if Bruce brings a few other pieces onto this team, I think you see a side that’s a legit MLS Cup contender next season. Particularly, I would love to see Bruce bring in a winger, defensive midfielder, and a center back.

Obviously, our success will also hinge on staying injury-free, but if next season brings good health to our top players, I think we’re a lock as a top four seed in the East.

Jake

How much can you learn from a year that so disjointed and nonsensical that it might have been better to not play sports at all?

If you’re the New England Revolution, actually, quite a lot. Carles Gil is really good at soccer, the Revs actually have a stable defensive unit and center back pairing for the first time since probably Jose Goncalves and AJ Soares. That’s how amazing Henry Kessler’s rookie season was and he’s only going to get better and now my annual SuperDraft ranting about taking a center back feels very justified. Tajon Buchanan apparently is a ridiculously good right back because why not, we’ll add it to the list of things that we didn’t expect this year.

There was no reason for the Revs to rattle off three playoff wins in 2020. Count me in the group that didn’t want Carles Gil to come back at all in 2020 and not just because of his Achilles injury. But when he did come back the Revs showed that they are a much different team and a threat in the Eastern Conference. All year the Revs struggled to create chances but seemingly turned it around in the playoffs thanks in no small part to Gil pulling the strings in the middle and Buchanan’s absolute rampage on the right flank.

Is there still work to do? Of course there is. The Revs still struggle with possession as a team but might have finally found an identity in the playoffs with a countering style of play. Whether or not they stick to that all the time remains to be seen next year.

Will Buchanan be the starting right back next year? Who will be playing holding midfield with Luis Caicedo returning from his own injury woes? Is Adam Buksa a legit DP striker? Did this team learn enough in 2020 with and without Carles Gil to improve in 2021?

While the Revs have a lot more questions to answer, there is one thing that we do know thanks to this playoff run. We know this team can be good if they stay healthy.

But can they be great? Bruce Arena’s tactics recently have always largely boiled down to put your best players in the best spots and let them play.

But with the versatility this Revs roster has, I’d like to see them be able to deploy different looks to start and close out games with and the few tinkers we saw in 2020 (Penilla at CAM) left a lot to be desired.

If the Revs stay healthy this is absolutely a playoff team again next year. But how much better could they be when firing on all cylinders? We’ll have to wait and see.

Seth

The 2020 season highlighted that the Revolution have a pair of winners in Carles Gil and Bruce Arena.

Let’s start with Gil. The midfielder is critical to how the Revs want to play. When he wasn’t available the team played with wider wingers and used Cristian Penilla as a CAM. When that didn’t work, they brought in reinforcements in the form of Lee Nguyen, Tommy McNamara, and Kekutah Manneh. These players helped, but it wasn’t until Gil returned that the Revs looked like legitimate MLS contenders. His two goals and three assists in the playoffs are enough to make any Revs fan excited for next year.

Arena’s return is another source of jubilation. The coaching legend’s actions have made it clear that he’s here to win a championship. Within six months, Arena had all three of his Designated Player slots filled. The rest of the roster had plenty of depth, but he appears to always be looking for upgrades. In his final two press conferences, Arena mentioned that he’s hoping to add 2-3 starters, noting that he’s been in discussions with some foreign prospects.

The Revs held on for most of the 2020 season before everything fell into place for the playoffs, which is a trademark for Arena. An active off-season, which will hopefully include bringing in a new wide midfielder and defensive midfielder, should lead to a successful 2021.

That’s not to say that the Revs will be an automatic favorite to win the Cup since many teams in the East are projected to have strong sides next year. But you have to have confidence in what the team will accomplish as long as Gil and Arena are in Foxboro.