On Sunday the New England Revolution will take on the Columbus Crew in the 2020 Eastern Conference Final. The match will kick-off at 3:00 p.m. ET and will be broadcasted nationally on ABC. This will be the first meeting between these two teams since 4/6/19 and the first in the post-season since 11/09/14. Overall this is the eighth meeting between these two original MLS sides in the post-season.
At many points during the 2020 MLS season, it looked like all was lost for the Revolution. New England lost Carles Gil during the MLS is Back Tournament and were without their Captain until the very end of the 2020 season. Not many outsiders likely thought the Revs would be in an Eastern Conference Final after posting an 8-7-8 record. Back when the 2020 MLS season started there were only 7 post-season spots meaning the Revs wouldn’t have made the playoffs altogether had there not been a conference re-alignment due to COVID-19. But here we are.
To get to this point of the post-season the Revolution had to win three consecutive matches on the road in venues they had never won before or had disastrous track records.
Prior To Round 1 at Philly: 3–11-2
Prior to Eastern Conference Semi-Final At Orlando: 0-2-4
Revolution Hot At The Right Time
New England hadn’t won three consecutive matches all season long but in the post-season, they have done just that. Whether it is due to the steady hand of Bruce Arena or the return of Carles Gil that has kickstarted the Revolution one thing is for certain, this team never wavered.
Photo Credit: Conor Kvatek
“I think the players have kept in it the whole time regardless of results,” said Sporting Director and Head Coach Bruce Arena on the ups and downs of an MLS season. “They’ve never quit on each other, or the organization at all. They’ve hung in there and continued to battle in good times and not-so-good times. They’ve always been very consistent about their effort and about their mentality. I guess you could say that’s a reason why they could deal with the highs and lows we experienced during the regular season.”
For those who have followed the team for quite some time, the mentality of this team isn’t a surprise. Even during the lows of the 2019 season, the players stuck together. That mental resiliency has aided the club this season when injuries hit two of their DP’s and the schedule was condensed due to the global pandemic.
“I think it’s a combination of things,” said Revolution midfielder Scott Caldwell on the creation of team chemistry. “One, it’s a combination of personalities and kind of helping bring guys closer together and on-field success, belief, and togetherness. So it’s a combination both on and off the field and I think this team really has it. It’s something that continues to grow as well.”
Revolution Focused On Improving
The term “playing with house money” has been floated around several times at this point but the team not only believes they are where they should be but that they are focused on one thing, getting better. One of the consistent themes brought up this week during media availability was the team’s commitment to improving.
“I don’t think we are at all,” said Arena when asked if the team was looking ahead to the MLS Cup. ” We haven’t talked about that at all, to be honest with you. I don’t think that’s a road block for us at this point. We’re just taking on the next game. That’s been our attitude. I don’t think anyone expects us to be in MLS Cup, let alone win it and all of that. We’re not walking around thinking that we’ve made it now that we’ve won three playoff games. We’re simply trying to get our team better every week, trying to prepare them for the next game, and that’s the way we’re looking at this game on Sunday.”
“There’s definitely a lot of optimism because we’ve won some playoff games, but there’s still a lot of work to be done and it’s something that everyone in our locker room knows about,” said Caldwell on if there is a sense of excitement. “There’s still a very important game we need to get through and we need to win this weekend.”
Photo Credit: Conor Kvatek
Consistency In Starting XI Paired With Return Of Gil
One of the things the Revolution have improved upon in the post-season is their Starting XI. For back-to-back matches, the Revolution have used the same lineup and it appears they will use the same lineup against Columbus. Finding their lineup has aided the Revs from a consistency and familiarity standpoint but it is not the only improvement. For the first time in 2020, the Revolution have a fully healthy Carles Gil. The difference in the Revs attack with Gil is night and day. His return has helped take Gustavo Bou off the ball and improve the service into Adam Buksa.
“He gets Gustavo Bou off the ball a lot more in the middle third of the field, which is not [Bou’s] strength,” said Arena on how Gil aids Bou. “It gets him a little bit closer to goal and, like I’ve said before, Gustavo is a goal scorer and not much more than that if you can understand. I’m not complaining but he’s a goal scorer. We need to get him close to goal and when Carles [Gil] is on the field he can certainly concentrate on getting in good goal-scoring position and he has since Carles returned to play.”
“We didn’t practice together a lot, we haven’t played that many games together, but playing with Carles is much easier because he creates space,” said Revolution Striker Adam Buksa on playing with Gil. “He’s a great player, one of the top players in MLS, and as I was saying before I really missed him because having such a number-10 midfielder on the team is simply much easier for the striker to create chances and finish them.”
Revolution Starting XI Forecast
Revs: Matt Turner, DeJuan Jones, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell, Tajon Buchanan, Matt Polster, Scott Caldwell, Teal Bunbury, Gustavo Bou, Carles Gil, Adam Buksa
Revs Bench: Brad Knighton, Michael Mancienne, Seth Sinovic, Alex Buttner, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Tommy McNamara, Kekuta Manneh, Justin Rennicks
Columbus Crew Scouting Report
Last Sunday the Crew defeated Nashville SC with the first goal coming in the 99th minute of play. The game-winning goal was off the foot of USMNT striker Gyasi Zardes. Zardes ended up scoring four minutes later for some insurance. Prior to the match with Nashville, the Crew had seven players test positive for COVID-19. Rather impressive they were able to fend off Nashville.
Photo Credit: Major League Soccer
“It was a very challenging week in a very challenging year,” Crew Head Coach Caleb Porter after the match. “I never had a week like this in my life, in my coaching career. But we have had some moments this year that were similar. And so I think the mentality of the team, I just can’t say enough about this group, how resilient they are, how they’re able to adapt, how they’re able to just keep focused. And I’ve never been more proud of a group.”
Porter and the Crew are also not underestimating the Revs. During Porter’s media availability he understands the 8th place finish was driven more by mid-season injuries than anything. Columbus has been highly successful at home and has an above-average attack paired with a stout defense.
Zardes & Company A Lot To Reign In
Outside of Zardes (12 goals, 4 assists), the attack has players like Pedro Santos (6 goals, 8 assists), Lucas Zelarayan (6 goals, 5 assists), and the reliable midfield play of Artur. Defensively the Crew has good players in center-back Jonathan Mensah and outside backs Harrison Afful and Milton Valenzuela.
“[Columbus Crew SC] is usually very well prepared tactically and emotionally for a game. They like to play and build-out of the back, they like their attackers to have some freedom in their movements, and they like to transition quickly – that’s typically what [Columbus Head Coach Caleb Porter] likes to do,” said Revs midfielder Scott Caldwell on the Crew. “I’m sure there’s different nuances and tactics for this particular game, but they’re a good team and it’s something we’re going to prepare all week for. It’s something that we’re excited about and really looking forward – our locker room and our team – to the challenge of the upcoming game to get that much closer to MLS Cup so we need to win and we’re going to prepare for it this week.”
Columbus Has Serious COVID Concerns Lingering
One of the big questions heading into this match is player availability. In total there have now been eight Crew players who have tested positive but have had four straight negative test screenings since Monday. Columbus does expect to have some of those players to clear for the EFC. But they are declining to name names at this point. One snafu is the players who did test positive and then are medically cleared wouldn’t have trained for over ten days.
The major question mark will be if starting goalkeeper Eloy Room will be cleared. Room made 41 saves and posted 7 shutouts in the regular season and was one of the best keepers in MLS. In Room’s stead, the Crew used back-up, Andrew Tarbell, against Nashville. Tarbell made four saves en route to a clean sheet.
It is only fitting that in the 25th season of Major League Soccer that two original teams would be facing off. There is an actual history between these two sides. This is New England’s fourth post-season match this year but only the first time they are playing a team that they have faced before in the post-season.
At the end of the day, this will be a tough match for the Revolution but what else is new? A road match in frigid temperatures against a tough opponent is just another stop on the bus for the 2020 Revolution. This has the makings of being a classic type of match for the Revs and MLS as a whole. A lot of potential for brilliance (the type MLS brings). So, who wins? Why not the Revs?
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