The Revs had a plethora of absences and perhaps planned rotations for a midweek game but the key for this match was replacing Matt Polster at central/holding midfield. So the Revs did a fairly logical thing and went simple: two banks of four, two strikers, and workhorses Tommy McNamara and Arnor Traustason out wide as box to box players with Wilfrid Kaptoum and Maciel in the middle.
Very quickly it was apparent that this formation was not going to work. The central midfield pairing in particular was ineffective at moving the ball, not helped by the static and passive movements of the team around them. Inside of 15 minutes, DC caught Maciel on the ball and a quick counter had Paul Arriola slotting the visitors into an early lead.
Now the Revs did play better after giving up that goal, but the formation still struggled to move the ball between the lines. The forwards were isolated, and Gustavo Bou dropping very deep to get involved in the game, which allowed the rest of DC to collapse and pressure the ball without a threat to hold the backline at the top of the Revs formation. A flat 4-4-2 can be a great formation, it’s the only one I use in FIFA, but it requires a lot of quick, short passes to break lines and big crosses to switch and move up the field and New England wasn’t getting those. But, aside from the big turnover, it wasn’t like DC was generating a lot of chances on their own and the Revs possession was pretty solid as they grew into the game towards halftime.
While Matt Turner was called into action a few times, including a fingertip save on a long shot in the 70th minute. DCU never really generated any more big chances, and their best chance after Arriola’s opener might’ve been Abila’s last minute banger. I think overall that’s not a bad defensive performance considering you handed the opening goal to the other team.
But for the second time this year, the other being the 0-2 loss in Nashville where Carles Gil played right mid and Buchanan played right back in a 4-4-2, the Revs looked horrible in this formation and Bruce Arena put a stop to the madness. I think these changes were likely to happen in the second half regardless, maybe around the hour mark, but the poor first half showing forced Arena’s hand and not a moment too soon.
CLEANING UP THE LINES
Okay, I don’t know for sure if this ended up being the Revs formation, but it certainly seemed a lot more like a 4-2-3-1 after the break. Bou was dropping off Buksa at times, Traustason and McNamara were the center mids, and of course, the speedsters in Tajon and Ema Boateng out wide. This still could have looked like a 4-4-2 at times, including on the first goal, but this personnel group was just more effective in these roles both individually and in an overall team shape.
On the Revs first goal, we have a clear first line of attack with Boateng crossing in from the left towards Bou/Buksa/Buchanan stacked up in the box. Now, even though the cross is overhit, the spacing occupies the DC defense and allows the Revs second line to come up in support and there’s no one around to pressure them.
AJ DeLaGarza picks up a low key secondary assist with a simple recovery, passes over to Traustason who simple touches it over again for Tommy Mac to smash into the net from distance. Also note DeJuan Jones (who was also great again yesterday), also crashing towards the top of the box after feeding the initial ball to Boateng on the left side.
These lines were very muddled and static when the Revs were getting forward in the first half. Bou and Bunbury weren’t getting the ball to occupy the DC backline, the center mids weren’t aggressive enough with the ball, and the wide players didn’t have the wide open spaces to work in like they did in the second half. This sequence, just minutes after the halftime restart, was a clear indication that the Revs seemed out of their comfort zone in the first half and that immediate adjustments were needed.
SPEED KILLS AND COUNTER ATTACKS
I think the Revs should score at least one of these types of goals every game. If not two. Because I don’t know how any team in the league can defend this, especially late in games with fresh subs going against tired legs. I mean, this is just patently unfair and I love it.
Bou works a good back check, steals the ball, and immediately turns upfield. Buchanan and Buksa are with him, but it’s the wide, trailing run of Boateng that completely breaks DC here. No one steps out to pressure Ema significantly, the DC backline is just running backwards, and don’t really pick up anyone, and Buchanan crushes a volley near post. It didn’t matter that Jon Kempin had decent position and got two hands on it, that ball was destined for the back of the net because the soccer gods wanted to see a backflip.
I don’t know how anyone can defend this. The Revs can play this ball on the counter with their wings or on the overlap in possession with the fullbacks and still create these kinds of numbers in the box. Also side note, Tajon is going to make all the money very, very soon and I could not be happier for him.
Back to larger problems for the rest of MLS, because the Revs can put out a starting lineup, run you to exhaustion, AND THEN sub on Teal Bunbury and Ema Boateng to press and counter you for the final like 25 minutes or so among other things and still create good chances in front of goal. This was the idea I think going into the season but Boateng hasn’t been at full health to part of the year but if he’s going to have this kind of an impact he’s going to be getting more minutes which can only be a good thing for the Revs down the line.
When I say that I’m surprised/disappointed that the Revs don’t win more games by one goal, this is kind of why. They should be able to score more goals like this, especially late in games with pretty high frequency. I know, I’m nitpicking the highest scoring offense in the league, I’ll stop for now.
ADAM BUKSA IS THE TARGET MAN AND HERO THE REVS NEEDED
This was tweeted but a mere two minutes before the Revs third and eventual game winning goal. The thought process was not that Buksa or the Revs were going to score, but that Buksa’s presence as a gigantic pain in the you know what occupying the DC backline by himself, was going to be decisive.
Adam Buksa is gonna win this game for the #NERevs...not with another goal, just by being a really, really annoying target man on a very lonely island the next like 10+ minutes or so.— Jake Catanese (@JCatanese43) August 19, 2021
And yea verily it came to pass:
This is nothing more than cleaning up the garbage from a broken play/rebound but it was absolutely deserved on the efforts of the loneliest striker on the field for the final fifteen minutes. Down to 10 men the Revs were basically just hoofing the ball forwards and asking Buksa to do what he could.
This full sequence (not in the highlight above) begins with DC corner kick and a half clearance from Andrew Farrell picked up by Buksa in his own 18 yard box. A 40 yard run on the ball to midfield leads to a through ball to a streaking Boateng, and a then a return ball to Buksa inside DC’s penalty area. Time between Buksa getting the ball in his own box to getting it back from Boateng inside DC’s box - 10 seconds. Maybe 11 seconds tops.
Now at this point, it’s a 1v4 in the DC box, with three defenders in white shirts and Kempin in green. Buksa needs help, so he waits, dribbles across the top of the box, and the reinforcements arrive. Eventually, it’s DeJuan Jones isolated on the left wing, who plays a magnificent ball to Buchanan on a back shoulder run going towards the endline. This is where the chaos begins, as Buchanan and Buksa crash the near post, the ball never gets cleared because Buksa’s fighting for it the whole way, and Jones - for the second time today after sending a ball into the box - has curled around to the top of the area and rushes forward to pounce on a loose ball near the penalty spot for a side foot finish.
Buksa will not get credit for an assist on that play, but that goal was all his. From the moment he picked up the ball in his own penalty area to his presence inside DC’s six yard box, that sequence was all his. He does this all the time, and I know he wants to score goals and he never gets frustrated, but was the best individual play/sequence for the Revs last night.
There are situations where this team needs a true #9 and tonight was one of them after the red card. I know Adam wants to score but especially at full strength there are other ways to help the #NERevs win.— Jake Catanese (@JCatanese43) August 19, 2021
Down to 10 players after Traustason’s deserved second yellow, the Revs needed a hold up man up top to release pressure on a stretched backline. That’s why Buksa, who also entered at halftime, was the logical choice to finish the game and Bou was sacrificed for Scott Caldwell to restore balance to the midfield. Tactically and energy wise, Buksa was the man for the job and it paid off in spades for the Revs as they needed that additional goal in the end.
Buksa’s entrance into the game at halftime was just as key if not more so than the addition of the two speedy wingers. His presence affects the central defenders in DC’s backline, opening up more space or others to operate in and his singular determination in the closing minutes was the deciding factor in the match.
That doesn’t show up in the box score, but it does get you a call up for Poland.