The New England Revolution were without Carles Gil on Sunday when they collected a 2-1 win over the Philadelphia Union. Let’s take a closer look at how the team operated without their playmaking midfielder.
1. Gustavo Bou played as a target
Bou frequently found himself checking back, hoping to receive the ball before shifting his body to find a forward pass. He found success with this because his movement and vision is so good. Joseph Lowery’s article about the best playmakers in MLS provides a great example of Bou performing his magic.
Bou is a creative player, who can certainly pick out a pass. The big issue with this strategy is that it forces him to play with his back to goal. There were also times, especially in the first 45, when he was dropping deep into his own half. Ideally Bou is roaming freely in front of the net, ready to pounce and score.
2. The center midfielders looked to hold possession while moving the ball side to side
The Revs went with Matt Polster and Maciel as their starting center midfielders in the game against the Union. Both players have season-long passing percentages of almost 90%, which highlights their ability to keep the ball. It’s worth noting that Polster has had 369 accurate forward zone passes and 349 accurate backward zone passes. Maciel has made 244 accurate forward zone passes and 196 accurate backward zone passes.
The moments before the Revs’ opening goal highlighted the effectiveness of the center mids. In the 10th minute, the ball moves quickly from Brandon Bye to Maciel to Polster. Polster then marched forward to combine with Tommy McNamara before scoring his first Revs goal.
It’s worth recognizing that every Revs player had a passing percentage of over 75% against the Union (hat tip to Sean Donahue of Revolution Recap), but the center midfielders were particularly influential.
3. The Revs used the wide players
This isn’t a new strategy for the Revs, who like to get Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones forward. Jones was particularly dangerous on Sunday, as he had a 108 touches and two key passes.
Another wide player who found success was Tajon Buchanan, who often drifted to the right to challenge defenders. He was fouled five times against the Union.
The foul that led to the penalty kick is worth highlighting because it reinforces point number two. Andrew Farrell passed to Maciel, who found Buchanan in space. Buchanan was able to bait his defender into committing a foul in the box, which led to Bou scoring the game-winning goal.
4. The Revs transitioned quickly
Again, this isn’t a new strategy by the Revs, but it was clear that they wanted to get the ball forward quickly in order to catch Philadelphia by surprise.
One of those moments happened in the 22nd minute when the Revs gained possession after a failed Union corner kick. Adam Buksa eventually sprung Buchanan, who took his space before forcing the Union to commit a foul.
Something similar happened in the 49th minute, which led to the Buchanan chance mentioned in the first point. Another good example happened in the 71st minute when Maciel collected a misplaced Union pass. The Brazilian played Bou, who connected to Buksa.
As mentioned a few times, none of these strategies are completely new for the Revs, but they became more pronounced without Gil. Bou needed to be more of a facilitator, the center midfielders had to move the ball quickly as they looked to exploit space, the wide players needed to take advantage of their 1v1 opportunities, and transitions were as important as ever.
The final note here is that Matt Turner (five saves) was instrumental in preserving the win. The Revs like to get their players forward, but that opens up space behind their back line. The USMNT goalkeeper was clutch in terms of neutralizing the threat of onrushing Philly attackers.