Something felt different about the New England Revolution’s late push at an equalizer on Sunday. Facing a 1-0 deficit against the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Finals, the Revolution piled men into the box, and it seemed like somehow, something would happen.
Carles Gil would pull another magic trick out of his hat, or Gustavo Bou would laser a shot into the top corner. Maybe Adam Buksa would find the end of a cross. Something would happen.
Why not invest faith in this Revolution squad? If the MLS Playoffs had shown anything, it’s that the Revolution were capable of achieving the improbable. Bou’s last-minute winner against Montreal is an example, as well as the Revolution’s triumph over the Union—the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners—and Orlando SC.
This newfound optimism surfaces on the backdrop of mediocrity. The Revolution, who finished the regular season 8-7-8, barely qualified for the playoffs. Holding the eight seed, Bruce Arena’s side finished second in the league in ties (8), only behind Houston Dynamo (9). Their goal differential was +1.
But in the playoffs, something snapped. After months of tinkering, Arena finally found his starting roster. Tajon Buchanan was the answer at right back. DeJuan Jones offered consistency at left back. Matt Polster and Scott Caldwell were the right tandem to anchor the midfield, and the three DP’s— Buksa, Bou, and Gill—began to show signs of chemistry.
With a blink of an eye, brilliance replaced mediocrity. The Revolution tapped into the potential that we all knew was there, and they began to turn heads.
But despite their ever-growing momentum in the playoffs, when the first whistle blew on Sunday in Columbus, something looked different.
In the first half, the Revs cowered in a defensive shell, narrowly evading the suffocating attacks of Columbus’ offense. All of the sudden, the three DP’s showed little, if any, chemistry. Gil and Bou struggled to find the ball, and Buksa’s opportunities were infrequent. Worst of all, the team looked like a version of their older self; once again, they were mediocre.
In the 59th minute, the Crew broke the deadlock, with Artur sliding a well-oiled strike just inside the post. Arena’s side, once indomitable, were on the back foot for the first time in the playoffs.
It took eighty minutes for the Revolution to transition to the exciting style-of-play that hypnotized Revolution fans in the playoffs. For the first time all game, they looked potent, capable of scoring a goal with each blitz. Gil dominated the ball, and the wing backs flew into the attack on either channel. Buksa and Bou eagerly searched for the ball.
Sure, Columbus’ compaction into a defensive shell helped Arena’s men enjoy an attacking spell, but this attacking episode felt different, because with their novel, invigorating attack, something could happen. The potential of an equalizer was there.
Mediocrity, then excitement. It encapsulates the Revolution’s season, and it summarizes their final dance in the MLS Playoffs.
No goal came for the Revolution, but it took until the final whistle to capitulate. For the first time in MLS history, the Columbus Crew had beaten the Revolution in the MLS Playoffs.
All was not lost in the Revolution’s defeat. Matt Turner had a career year, finishing second in MLS Goalkeeper of the Year voting. Gil, when healthy, showed why he’s a top-five player in the MLS. Henry Kessler’s rookie season earned him the team’s Defender of the Year award.
What’s more, Buksa and Buchanan broke out of their shells toward the tail end of 2020, as well as Jones.
There were many positives to draw from the 2020 season, especially in terms of roster development. Here’s what Arena had to say postgame about the roster, their progress, and the team’s future:
“We made progress last year. We made progress this year. I think we want to continue that. In the offseason, we’re looking to bring in two or three players that can solidify our first 11. We got to get a little bit better there. Technically, we’re not as good as we need to be. We need to bring in a few better players to help us in the attacking end of the field. And we can use help in other positions. We’ll do our best to try to make our roster a little bit better.”
Before we turn our heads to the offseason—which, according to Arena, should include numerous acquisitions—let’s hand out some awards to this year’s roster.
Without further ado, here are my New England Revolution year-end awards. Thanks so much for supporting my work this season; it’s been an incredible rookie year on the Revolution beat.
MVP: Matt Turner
Best Defender: Henry Kessler
Best Attacker: Carles Gil
Most Improved: Tajon Buchanan
Goal of the Year: Gustavo Bou vs. Montreal Impact, MLS Cup Play-in Round