Despite losing to them four times this season, the Revolution were able to knock the Union out of the playoffs on Tuesday night. In what will ultimately be regarded as a great team effort, performances from the outside backs and Carles Gil will stand out. After this win, it appears Bruce Arena has figured something out with his team's formation - and the personnel - to earn two playoff wins and put them in position for a third on Sunday in Orlando.
Let's look at the starting 11...
[caption id="attachment_593538" align="aligncenter" width="400"] Headshots from revolutionsoccer.net.[/caption]
One change in the lineup after the play-in game. Scott Caldwell replaced Tommy McNamara in the center midfield alongside Matt Polster. Gustavo Bou played in front of them in the attacking midfield position. Carles Gil and Teal Bunbury played on the wings as Adam Buksa ran the lone forward position. Across the back, from left to right, it was DeJuan Jones, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell, and Tajon Buchanan. Matt Turner started in goal.
I felt this was important to cover because of the way the formation was advertised on the broadcast. The formation was a 4-5-1, and sometimes morphed into what looked like a 4-4-2. On paper, the personnel in the midfield consisted of Teal Bunbury on the left wing, Matt Polster/Scott Caldwell in the center defensive midfield, Gustavo Bou in the attacking midfield role, and Carles Gil on the left wing; as pictured above.
But things became cloudy in the run of play. Bou ran high when the Revolution were on the ball, and when the ball turned over he didn't drop all that deep into the midfield to help defend. In fact, as you can see below, you could distinguish New England's defensive shape with the front six from the start of the game. Take a look at this screenshot from the second minute of the game.
Defensively, the 4-4-2 allows Bou to go on and press the center backs when they're on the ball. This aids the midfielders in cutting off the opponents' midfielders from freely receiving the ball from the back line; and it worked. The connection between the back line and the midfielders wasn't as strong as it could have been from the Supporter's Shield winners.
It's a little busy, but you can see the overall shape of the passing from the Union back line in the first half below.
[caption id="attachment_593540" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Passing map from mlssoccer.com.[/caption]
And this is the passing map from the second half, under the same filters.
[caption id="attachment_593541" align="aligncenter" width="350"] Passing map from revolutionsoccer.net.[/caption]
As you can see, the Union back line was able to generate more passes into their midfielders in the second half; and that can be attributed to the fatigue of the Revolution. Through the first 20 minutes of the second half, it was evident that some of the Revolution midfielders were showing signs of slowing down. The pressure occurred less and the defensive shape became less organized.
But after the substitutions came on the field and they were able to integrate into the speed of play, the team became more condensed and compact in their own half of the field. At that stage of the game, the Revs - players and coaching staff - had done everything they needed to prepare to kill the game off.
Outside back involvement
This was one of the most important parts of the Revolution's game on Tuesday night. It was the clearest difference between the two teams and it made all the difference for the white shirts.
The impact on the game was more significant on the right side of the field (Buchanan and Kai Wagner) for 90 minutes. And I think part of it had to do with the isolation that Buchanan received when Carles Gil slid into the middle - and left side - of the field; which left all kinds of space for Buchanan to work with on the right.
The screenshot below is of a segment of play that occurred a minute or so before the Revs' second goal. It's an example of how far Gil would float to get on the ball and make plays.
As a result of him vacating that side of the field, Buchanan was left with all sorts of space when he got on the ball; and when he did, he was in a great situation to beat Wagner 1v1.
The second goal of the night was a great example of that movement/pattern paying off. The play actually started with a throw-in from DeJuan Jones as Carles Gil pinched to the middle of the field. Buksa did a great job of getting up to head the ball down to Bunbury. Bunbury - very luckily - played the ball forward to Bou, who played down to Gil. And the rest is summarized by what I explained above. See the whole thing unfurl below.