In what proved to be a disappointing season opener, the Revolution fell to the Impact, 2-1, in Montreal on Saturday.
Despite taking an early lead and having multiple chances in the second half — including a goal that was ruled out after review — New England was unable to come away with any points.
The Revolution, who were searching for their first season-opening win since 2013, found the net first when Teal Bunbury fired in a cross from Cristian Penilla after a corner kick in the 13th minute. Yet Montreal, which played a scoreless draw in the CONCACAF Champions League just Wednesday, displayed no signs of fatigue. The Impact were led by Thierry Henry in his MLS coaching debut.
Pressing New England repeatedly, Impact players dominated possession in the first half and eventually found an equalizer on a corner kick of their own. Montreal forward Romell Quioto headed in the tying goal at the back post after it was deflected his way in the 37th minute.
In the second half — following some strong words from coach Bruce Arena — the Revolution responded with better periods of possession, but were unable to break down the Impact defense.
Still, New England threatened on several occasions. In the 73rd minute, substitute Wilfried Zahibo appeared to score a go-ahead goal off a free kick whipped in by Revolution forward Gustavo Bou, but the goal was ruled out after a VAR review showed Zahibo had been offside.
Moments later, Montreal took the lead when Maximiliano Urruti played a perfectly weighted chip over the head of Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner from just outside the penalty area in the 80th minute.
A late press from New England came within a fraction of finding a tying goal when Brandon Bye’s cross picked out Tajon Buchanan at the back post, but the 21-year-old’s header harmlessly smashed off the post.
Here are a few other observations from the game:
■ New England struggled to establish a rhythm or retain possession, but nonetheless found itself up through the first 15 minutes.
While New England wasn’t able to play many passes through the center of the midfield, success was discovered on the wings thanks to incessant runs from Penilla, Bye, and left back DeJuan Jones.
This led to the first goal, as a Turner goal kick was flicked on to Penilla, whose cross was cleared out for a corner kick. Following a short corner from Bou to Penilla, Bunbury was found unmarked to volley in the season-opening goal.
■ The midfield struggled in the absence of Carles Gil (foot): As if anyone needed reminding, Gil — the 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year — is a crucial piece for the Revolution. This was on full display against Montreal.
Without Gil’s vision and calmness on the ball, the Revolution struggled against an aggressive first half press from the Impact. After surrendering 71 percent of the possession in a midweek Champions League match against Costa Rican side Deportivo Saprissa, Montreal finished Saturday with a 58-42 percent possession advantage.
What will be interesting to see when Gil returns is who heads to the bench. Will it be a winger (either Bunbury or Penilla) or midfielder Diego Fagundez? Try as Fagundez and fellow central midfielder Scott Caldwell might Saturday, they were frequently outnumbered in their part of the field by Montreal (playing a 3-4-2-1 formation). This will give Arena something to think about ahead of next week’s home opener against the Chicago Fire.
■ Revolution rookie Henry Kessler was impressive. The team’s top draft pick was the 6-foot-4-inch center back from the University of Virginia. Afterward, Arena acknowledged that New England would have taken him first overall had it had the chance.
Despite the loss, it was clear why Arena thinks so highly of the rookie. Kessler made his professional debut without incident, showing poise in an away environment that wasn’t the easiest of circumstances (the game was played on an imperfect turf surface inside Montreal’s Olympic Stadium).
If the 21-year-old can establish himself as a regular starter — which will become clearer when Antonio Delamea returns from injury — it could be a major boost for one of the biggest question marks regarding the Revolution’s 2020 season. The team’s defensive structure needs to prove it can withstand the type of pressure it succumbed to on Saturday.