The New England Revolution blanked the MLS Is Back tournament’s leading scoring combination, but struggled offensively in playing to a 0-0 tie with Toronto FC at the Wide World of Sports Complex in Florida Tuesday morning.
Ayo Akinola (5 goals) and midfielder Alejandro Pozuelo (5 assists) produced several chances, but Akinola was twice stopped by Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner and had a penalty kick decision reversed by referee Jair Marrufo in the 89th minute.
The teams concluded Group C play tied for first place with 5 points and will advance to the knockout round. The Revolution (1-1-3, 6 points), who have not lost since the MLS season-opener on Feb. 29, will next play on Saturday or Monday. Toronto (2-0-3, 9 points) holds the tiebreaker over the Revolution via goals scored (6-2) and will be seeded first or second in the elimination series. Third-place D.C. United, which has earned 2 points, and the Montreal Impact conclude Group C play Tuesday.
“Any game that’s a one-goal game or an even game, it can go either way. We had some opportunities in the second half. They had a couple as well. I think the result is fair,” Revolution sporting director/coach Bruce Arena said.
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) July 21, 2020
The Revolution rallied in the second half, and appeared to have earned a penalty kick when Gustavo Bou went down in the penalty area in a clash with Michael Bradley. But Marrufo waved play on and cautioned Revolution assistant coach Richie Williams, apparently for dissent.
In the 87th minute, Marrufo whistled a penalty kick for Toronto, but reversed the call after a VAR review.
Revolution captain Carles Gil (left foot) sat out, and Arena made six changes to the starting lineup following a 1-1 tie with D.C. United Friday. The changes took a while to produce.
The Andrew Farrell-Henry Kessler central defense pairing, which functioned well four months ago, failed to click in the early going. Tajon Buchanan was ineffective on the right wing. Right back DeJuan Jones did not start contributing to the offense until the final seconds of the half. Diego Fagundez combined with Kelyn Rowe to settle the midfield, but failed to threaten in attack. Teal Bunbury’s touches were off and he did not develop chemistry with Adam Buksa.
Toronto produced several first-half chances, the best a Pozuelo chip onto the top of the net (15th), followed by Pablo Piatti (18th) and Akinola (19th, 41st) going in to the penalty area alone. Kessler twice kept Akinola onside, but the Revolution defense recovered.
In the second half, the Revolution added Wilfried Zahibo to the midfield and pushed forward. Jones’ cross produced a corner kick in the opening seconds, an indication the Revolution could set the pace. The Revolution nearly opened the scoring when a Fagundez shot blooped off Chris Mavinga wide left (54th) and a Brandon Bye header was deflected wide right off the ensuing corner. But the Revolution’s aggressive attacking left them exposed, and only a Jones clearance defused a 4-on-2 Toronto counter before Akinyele shot wide (56th).
— New England Revolution (@NERevolution) July 21, 2020
Both teams tired in the 85-degree heat, and the match was interrupted by three water breaks.
Bou and Cristian Penilla refreshed the Revolution attack, and a Buksa stab of a point-blank shot off a Bye cross was saved (74th). The Revolution back line seemed to have found synchronization, but Akinola went one-on-one with Kessler before Turner stopped his left-footer (79th).
In the final minutes, both teams went all-out for the win, Toronto adding Jozy Altidore, making his first tournament appearance. Penilla had a close-in shot saved by Alex Bono, and Altidore claimed a penalty against Penilla, but Marrufo seemed to make the correct non-call on the play.
”They claim they went to VAR and they said it wasn’t a clear and obvious mistake. If that’s what VAR said, then they used it properly,” Arena said. “They also used VAR on the foul we had on Toronto and they put the ball outside the box. Hopefully both decisions were correct and if they were, then VAR is a valuable tool. I really can’t tell (on the Bou-Bradley collision). There was a little bit of contact. The referee is right there. He said he saw the play. They reviewed it. I’m sitting far away. I think the referee and VAR should be better positioned to make that call than I, so I’m to go by the call.”
Other takeaways from Tuesday morning’s game:
▪ The choice of Marrufo to officiate the match was questionable, since he had refereed Toronto’s 4-3 win over Montreal five days previously, awarding two penalty kicks to the Impact. Bou went straight at Bradley, going down after making contact, and it appeared Marrufo either had to award the penalty kick or caution Bou for diving.
Then, Marrufo was simply behind the play and unable to discern that Jones had fouled Akinola outside the penalty area – two minutes later, after viewing a replay, he awarded Toronto a free kick.
In tournaments, assignments take into account how referees have performed, and also if they have been placed in a possible compromised situation. Event officials usually try to vary assignments, so referees are not working games involving the same team.
MLS officials made a curious decision to assign Rubiel Vazquez to the Orlando City SC-Philadelphia Union game Sunday, his first action since the tournament opener, in which Inter Miami defender Andres Reyes Andrade was hospitalized following a non-call collision with Orlando City’s Dom Dwyer. In Sunday’s game, a 1-1 tie, Vazquez was involved in another controversial non-call, allowing play to continue despite a possible handling violation by Orlando City defender Ruan in the closing seconds.
▪ The Revolution have proven resilient defensively. They had not used the Farrell-Kessler central defender pairing since March 7, a 1-1 tie with the Chicago Fire, the final game before league play was suspended because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Revolution surrendered only one goal in the first three games of the tournament.
But the Revolution attack depends greatly on Gil, who sat on the bench, his left foot alternately exposed or encased in a compression boot.
“His foot’s not OK if he’s in a boot, right?” Arena said. “We’ll see. We’re going day-to-day, see how he’s reacting and whether he gets himself ready to play over the weekend.”