It Hurts: Revolution 2 (3) NYCFC 2 (5)
This one hits differently. This result in the playoffs hurts differently, and as I sit here, I find it hard to figure out what this pain is. As a Revolution fan, we typically expect the other shoe to drop eventually. For the most part, during the regular season, the typical summer slump or finding a way to throw away results at the tail end of the season when needed. This Revolution side was different; this Revs team always seemed to have an extra gear or an extra step to get them across that finish line.
Maybe the expectations from everything that had been seen this year made it hurt more. Winning the Supporters Shield was a high, a first MLS trophy for the club, a monumental step. But as has been seen in recent seasons, having that first-round bye can be detrimental. But this team was different; this team had always found a way. I expected this game to go another way, and maybe those expectations are why this hurt so differently.
A lot has been made over the time the Revolution had between their last game of the season and their first game of the playoffs, especially since after the fact, it became known that it was self-inflicted. While 23 days is a long time, the team should have been ready to go. The players looked somewhat flat, but the Revolution did not look like themselves even as the game wore on, and the rust would have come off. They looked like a team that was not ready for the roughness of a playoff game and a team looking for calls from the referee.
Going back and thinking about how they played against Inter Miami, the team looked relatively the same while they were missing Adam Buksa. They were not making as many chances as they should against a defense they should have breached more often. It took them being under the gun to find that gear that got them level. It was not the 23 days that ruined the Revolution’s playoff game, and to make that a big deal would make me feel less of myself.
The Game Plan
The Revolution put out what many, myself included, perceive as their strongest eleven. Most of the pundits saw this as a 4-2-2-2 formation; with how Buchanan and Bou have lined up when Buksa is on the field, the formation looks and feels more like a 4-2-3-1, but the three behind Buksa floating and being interchangeable. McNamara always has more license to roam and play the role of a box-to-box midfielder to try and give the Revolution both support in attack and defense. Polster then rounds things up more as a holding six who drops back to cover and allows the center-backs to spread out when trying to maintain position and transition from defense to attack.
Starting Extra Time
Going into extra time, Bruce Arena made two changes. Tommy McNamara first withdrew for winger Arnór Traustason, and Maciel replaced Matt Polster. The changes brought a different sense to the Revolution attack and defense. By removing Polster and McNamara, there was less holding defensive structure to the Revolution 11. Traustason was brought on to add width and a change of direction from the outside left and compliment Buchanan.
Also, taking out both defensive midfield had the effect of dropping Gil deeper into the midfield. This hopefully would have allowed him more time on the ball as he was crowded out and not able to pull the strings as well throughout the opening 90 minutes of the match. The hope was also to have Traustason pull defenders wider, with the additional width to offer Gil and Bou more space in the middle to create and shoot.
After NYCFC scored to go ahead in extra time, Bruce Arena played what turned out to be his final two cards of the match. Teal Bunbury replaced substitute Arnór Traustason, and veteran winger Emmanuel Boateng replaced Henry Kessler.
These substitutions completely changed the Revolution formation. It caused them to drop to 3 in defense and bring two at the top. Using Jones and Bye as the outside of the back three was more of what Sheffield United showed when they first came up to the Premiership with overlapping center backs since they still drove forward. The addition of Boetang also added more pace on the wing, which helped cause problems significantly after NYCFC was reduced to ten. Teal added support to Buksa in the form of an attacker that played next to him, freeing up some more space in the 18.
The Big Moments
3′: Goal: Revolution 0 NYCFC 1: Santi Rodriguez
NYCFC was able to get an early advantage thanks to a goal from Santi Rodriguez. Jesus Medina carried the ball towards the Revolution’s 18 before finding a ball wide to a cutting Trayvon Gray. Trayvon Grey then sent the first-time ball across the 18 where Rodriguez buried it in the top of the net. In real-time, it was frustrating as giving up a goal this early helped to settle NYCFC into the game and show them they could create against the Revolution defense. Watching it back made it even harder to swallow.
Initially, McNamara is slow to close down Medina, allowing him to run freely at the Revolution defense. This also allows him the time to pick out the pass to Gray. While Jones sees the pass coming due to initial position and how close together the back four of the Revolution are, he cannot get out to prevent the cross. Also, the angle he takes to Gray prevents him from getting further down to the byline and does not prevent the cross. Gray then gets to the ball to a wide-open Rodriguez, whose run is not tracked by Buchanan. Farrell also cannot get out to block the shot attempt, Polster cannot clear it with his head, and due to the speed, Turner has little chance to stop it.
9′: Goal: Revolution 1 NYCFC 1: Adam Buksa
After winning a free kick in a dangerous area, Carles Gil floated a beautiful ball between the penalty spot and the edge of the 6-yard box. With NYCFC falling back with more of a zonal marking approach, this left Adam Buksa free to rise and head a corner into the bottom corner giving Johnson little change but to stand there. Real-time, it looked like Buksa just outjumped everyone, but while he did this, Buksa also had about a yard between him and the nearest defender. I thought this would propel the Revs to push for more after seeing that they could get wide on the NYCFC defense.
This goal was all of the Revolution players’ making. An overload down NYCFC’s right side caused them to commit a foul against Gil. From there, it was just a brilliant piece of delivery met with a header into a unreachable place. Like Buksa’s goal against Philadelphia in the 2020 playoffs, he showed his strength in the air. The replica free kick was a good solid plan, and he showed his strength time and time again this season. His reaction to the goal said a lot about what the goal meant to him. Also, coming back from an injury, he looked sharper than many of his teammates.
109′: Goal: Revolution 1 NYCFC 2: Taty Castellanos
Maxi Moralez splits two Revolution defenders with a pass between them to the byline. Gudmundur Thórarinsson can chip a cross into the 18 from the end line. Castellanos reads the flight better after getting the run on Jones and heads the ball into an open net. It is a well-worked goal from NYCFC, and in real-time, it took the air out of the stadium. I saw Jones get beat in real-time, but watching it back was worse than I imagined.
This goal hurts to watch back. The defending from the Revolution is horrible again. Maxi Morales should be contained with Maciel and Buchanan marking him down the right. His pass through them splits the Revs and finds the streaking Thórarinsson, whom Farrell is pulled out to cover. When he clips in his cross, both Brandon Bye and Henry Kessler are drawn to the near post run of Santi Rodriguez, taking them both out of coverage. Jones then loses Castellanos on his initial run and misjudges the flight of the ball. He over commits leaving Castellanos to head it into an open net.
The biggest calamity here is Bye and Kessler marking the same player. If one stays and holds or drops back into the middle of the goal to help Turner, there is a chance one can clear it off the line. Jones also gets beat, but he breaks late with the double coverage to the front post.
113′: Red Card: NYCFC: Taty Castellanos
Stupid play by a player on a yellow card. With the Revolution pushing to try and get an equalizer, he comes in late on Brandon Bye, not even in his half. He receives a second yellow for the challenge and is sent off, leaving his team short a man. He also protested and refused to leave the pitch, which caused him to get fined after the match by MLS.
This is a complete bone head moment for Castellanos. Not only did it potentially leave the team short if they got through, but there was also no need for the tackle. Bye was in his own half, and there were covering defenders. There was no need for him to make the tackle. The red card also helped re-energize the crowd, which aided the Revolution push for that equalizer.
118′: Goal: Revolution 2- NYCFC 2: Tajon Buchanan
Taking advantage of being a man up, the Revolution could capitalize and use the width to get the equalizing goal. A beautiful one-two between Gil and Boateng saw the latter free outside of NYCFC’s 18. His floated ball found a wide-open Buchanan, who volleyed it back across goal and past a diving Sean Johnson. Real-time, it was beautiful, the crowd, the moment, it honestly looked to have fully deflated NYCFC. Watching it back, I see the same thing and wonder how they couldn’t press on in the following 6 minutes to find that winner.
This play all comes down to the beautiful interplay between Gil and Boateng to find the open space out on the left side of the attack. By using the 1-2 and using the extra attention Gil draws, Boateng was able to find himself free to put in the cross. The cross itself was inch-perfect for Buchanan. I still don’t know how he was that open in the box. You see that the three central defenders for NYCFC were occupied by Buksa and Bunbury. No one picked up Buchanan.
Volleys are not easy. Buchanan signed off his Revolution career with peach of a goal. There is no doubt that it was easily one of, if not the best of his time in New England.
Save: NYCFC: Sean Johnson on Adam Buksa
Was it a good penalty? No. Was it a good save? Somewhat. Should Buksa have done better? Yes. The defining moment of the penalty shoutout was Johnson’s save on Buksa. There was nothing to say except it wasn’t in a corner and not hit with enough pace if that’s lofted somewhat or hit the other way; who knows if we are talking about the same result.
Some Final Thoughts and Rants
Matt Turner was beating himself up after the penalty shootout. Anyone watching should know he was not why the team did not get through this round. Penalities are a crapshoot, and when he went the correct way, he nearly got to two inch-perfect penalities. His play this season was nothing but fantastic.
If that was Adam Buksa’s last kick as a Revolution player, it would be tough to swallow, but his play this season was fantastic. Especially in this game, when some of his teammates looked off. Buksa rose to the challenge, scored a goal, and nearly got an extremely late winner, albeit denied by a fantastic save. He was my player of the match for his effort and tenacity and what he brought to the team. Of note, against Columbus in the Conference Final last year and this game against NYCFC, he was brighter than the other two DPs.
Finally, a special note about Matt Polster and his performance against NYCFC: while he may not have had the same cavalier performance we had seen, he was a rock when the Revs needed him. I have had friends have children and see how energy-draining it was for them. The fact that he put in that amount of work with a newborn daughter at home (he probably has help) is still incredible. I hope this offseason is nothing but joy with his new daughter and time with his family.
For most of the year, Bruce Arena had pushed the correct buttons. Who am I to second guess his decision and substitutions? I have seen a lot of comments asking why he did not make substitutions earlier. At the same time, we will never know what would happen when he had a game plan and tried to stick to it.
As stated earlier, this team has found a way to grind out a result even when not on their game this year. Keeping your best eleven out there and hoping they would find the gear to take you through in ninety minutes makes sense. Perhaps his Traustason sub starting extra time could have been Boateng, as his pace against a tiring backline could have been helpful. Still, otherwise, this game came down to penalties, and ultimately at that moment, they faltered.
While this game and result sucked, there are a lot of positives to take away from this season. This season saw the Revolution win their first piece of MLS silverware. They showed strength and consistency to have the most points in a single regular season in MLS. Individually they had the league MVP and Comeback Player of the Year in Carles Gil, goalkeeper of the year in Matt Turner, and coach of the year in Bruce Arena. While we would all trade these accolades for MLS Cup, take joy in what was achieved, and know this will light a fire under this team.
Next year, there is a new competition, and the team’s depth will be tested in other ways this coming season. There will hopefully be more joy and more success in the future seasons. Here’s to 2022 and the potential for more silverware.