For years, the Revolution front office and fan base have been waiting for a roster full of designated players to take over the team and bring them into the playoffs with confidence, and it finally happened for them on Friday night against the Montreal Impact. Strong performances from Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou paved the way, with smaller contributions from Adam Buksa. There were notable performances from other Revolution players, but at the end of the day, the designated players were the ones to make it happen.
Let's look at the starting 11...
[caption id="attachment_592959" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Headshots from revolutionsoccer.net.[/caption]
Coming into Friday, we knew that there was going to be a piece from the first team missing after the positive COVID test. We weren't sure if it would be someone who normally dresses for games, but there were some familiar faces that were left out of the starting 11 on Friday night. Alexander Buttner was replaced at left back by DeJuan Jones, and Diego Fagundez was left out of the 18 entirely. Henry Kessler and Andrew Farrell played at center back, with Tajon Buchanan sliding down into the right back spot. In the midfield Carles Gil played in front of Tommy McNamara and Matt Polster. Teal Bunbury and Gustavo Bou played on the wings, while Adam Buksa ran the lone forward position. Matt Turner started in goal.
Note: The game was nationally televised, so I don't have access to the game film.
Handling Montreal's pressure
From the very first minute of the game, it was obvious that Montreal wanted to make a high line a part of their strategy. The first note that I made in this game was at the 0:26 mark of the game, and it said, "MTL high press." There was no question. In several different situations throughout the game, Montreal would press their front three/four all the way up on the New England center backs, and even to Matt Turner.
And for the first quarter of the game, the Revolution struggled to build out of it. McNamara and Polster struggled to get on the ball deep and build forward. I'm not saying they didn't drop deep to get on the ball, because they did. During that window of time when Montreal was pressing, those two midfielders were able to get on the ball a combined 39 times; not bad.
But the problem with their play was their inability to make purposeful passes that result in attacking chances. Take a look at Tommy McNamara's passing map during that time window below.
[caption id="attachment_593010" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Passing map from mlssoccer.com.[/caption]
And take a look at Polster's passing map below.
[caption id="attachment_593011" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Passing map from mlssoccer.com.[/caption]
You'll notice that neither of those players was able to log many passes that were of a vertical nature and broke the opposition's lines. I noticed this in the game (I wish I had the film to share) and I'm glad that these passing maps help to reflect that observation. As the center midfielders below the attacking midfielder, their job is the key to building out of the press.
They needed to find ways to get on the ball, take a look over their shoulder, turn on the ball, and distribute into the attacking players. But they weren't able to do that very well, and it resulted in the team's worst window of time in this game.
It wasn't until Gil's goal in the 38th minute - which took the wind out of Montreal's high-pressure game - that the Revolution's play began to open up, and there was a clearer connection between the defenders and the front six.
Playing to strengths
If I'm being honest, I was pretty shocked by the starting 11 when it was released. I was surprised Bruce Arena wanted Tajon Buchanan on the field bad enough that he was willing to start him at right back. Not that Buchanan is a terrible option at right back, but he has been a true winger/forward on this roster.
But it turned out to be a great call. As we know, Arena allows his players to break their traditional positions and float into different areas to play their strengths. The best example of that is the movement of Carles Gil. He will often