We knew going into the game the Revolution were taking the field without Carles Gil, and the team expectedly performed to a level far below what they're capable of with him. The Philadelphia Union play as a disciplined and organized unit that's hard to break down. Both of those themes held true enough for the most predictable and boring result to develop in front of our eyes as the Revolution exited the MLS is Back tournament.
Let's look at the starting 11...
[caption id="attachment_573856" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Headshots from revolutionsoccer.com.[/caption]
Bruce Arena changed back to a starting 11 that has more experience, with Cristian Penilla starting back on the wing, and Antonio Delamea starting at center back instead of Henry Kessler. Adam Buksa remained at the lone forward spot and Gustavo Bou started at the attacking forward hybrid position. Below Bou, Kelyn Rowe and Wilfried Zahibo started in the midfield; while Tajon Buchanan started on the other side of Penilla on the wing. Across the back it was Alexander Buttner at left back, Antonio Delamea at left center back, Andrew Farrell at right center back, and Brandon Bye at right back. Matt Turner got the nod in goal.
I figured I'd start with this since it was probably the most fundamental and obvious negative aspect of the Revolution's game on Saturday night. In the first half alone, the starting 11 combined for 16 true giveaways. As Bruce Arena stated before the game this week, the Union aren't necessarily the heaviest pressing team. And on Saturday night the Revolution still struggled the break down the little pressure that the opposing team did apply.
By the end of the game, only two players that played more than 30 minutes held a passing percentage higher than 85%, and neither of those players received more than 50 touches on the ball. I should also add that neither of those players are midfielders. Neither Kelyn Rowe or Wilfried Zahibo was all that effective in making the players around them better on the ball by combining play through the midfield.
On top of that, the possession through the right side of the field wasn't even remotely close to contributing to the team's possession build on the ball. Tajon Buchanan and Brandon Bye posted passing percentages of 66% and 58%, respectively while combining for six giveaways in the first half (10 by the end of the game).
It's tough to put a result on the board when you can't dictate any part of the game. It leaves you chasing the game (I think Taylor Twellman used this phrase at least three times in the broadcast) and gives the opponent more options to wield strategically going forward.
Since I've been covering the team, spacing is something that the Revolution haven't been all that good at. They tend to struggle in games that are more direct and fast-paced going up and down the field. With players like Cristian Penilla and Teal Bunbury on the wings (players with more athleticism than finesse and wit), they have tended to play more direct and skip the build with possession. But against the Union on Saturday, the team was mature in their positioning which spaced them out well during the game.
Take a look at the clip below...
Philadelphia was playing in a condensed 4-4-2 (of sorts) and stayed disciplined throughout the entirety of the game. That made things difficult for New England to work through the middle. It forced the blue shirts to play on the outside of the pitch and try to break the Union down in different ways. To my surprise, the Revs adapted well and transformed into patterns of play and positioning that spaced the game out.
In the clip above, Brandon Bye did well to not pinch to the middle of the field despite that the ball was packed at the bottom left of the formation with Bou on the ball facing his own goal. He picked his head up and found Bye by switching the field, who played Rowe in the middle of the field. Rowe then switched the ball back to the left side of the field to Buttner.
This theme was fairly consistent throughout the game, but it wasn't prevalent enough to have a big enough positive impact for the Revolution. A good glimpse of this would pop up here and there and give me hope that it would eventually swing momentum in their direction; but it never came to fruition.
Alexander Buttner - I'm not convinced how many minutes the veteran has in him at this stage in his career, but whatever he can garner to offer this team will be beneficial. Buttner just gets it. From what I've been able to read on his play so far, he has a great mind for the game. He knows when to get forward and when to get off of the ball.
It looks like his legs may not give him the best chance at shutting down quick wingers for 90 minutes. But I think his mind for the game makes up for what he lacks in physical ability.
I look forward to what Buttner can give the team this season. For now, it looks like Bruce Arena has solved the left back problem that this team had; if he can stay healthy.
Cristian Penilla - Penilla was perhaps the only true dynamic attacking option for Arena's side in the Round of 16. He generated three solid chances and gave the Union's left back something to worry about on that side of the field.
When he's on, he could be one of the most impressive wingers in the league. It would make the coaching staff's job of deciding on the starting wingers easy, if he could find a way to become more consistent.
Also, MLS Pass of the Week, anyone? I'm not sure if you can tell in the clip, but he shaped this one with the outside of his foot to fit perfectly in between the Union's left center back and left back; extremely impressive.
Matt Turner - Without a doubt, Turner was one of the best players on the pitch for New England on Saturday night. His best contribution to the team might have been his distribution coming out of the back. He practically earned a key pass when he pinged the ball out to Gustavo Bou early in the 61st minute off the volley.