Just as Revolution fans were beginning to enjoy the team’s return to the field, the games came to an abrupt end.
A 1-0 defeat to the Philadelphia Union in the MLS is Back Tournament Round of 16 sent New England packing from the league’s Disney World bubble. Through three games of the group stage and one in the knockout round, Bruce Arena’s team departed Florida with more questions than answers.
With that in mind, here’s a quick snapshot of where the Revolution currently stand, and where the team might be headed.
The final takeaways from the MLS is Back Tournament
At the outset of the Revolution’s experience in the tournament, fans were given a taste of something they had long dreamt of. The starting lineup against Montreal in the July 9 opener featured three designated players: Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa.
It was the first time in club history that three designated players had been on the field together, and the benefits quickly became clear. Though the game against the Impact finished with only a 1-0 win, New England created numerous chances and could have scored a few more goals had the team’s finishing been collectively sharper.
All three designated players are attacking-oriented (Gil, nominally a midfielder, is still best when New England is in possession and he is able to create). Yet despite the emphasis on higher-profile attacking ability, it was actually the Revolution defense that had a better tournament overall.
Aside from allowing a well-placed finish against Philadelphia and a terribly-timed turnover goal against D.C. United, New England’s defense were effective in stymying quality opponents, including 2019 Eastern Conference champions Toronto FC (who they held to a 0-0 draw).
The most obvious benefit of New England’s performance in the tournament are the five points accrued in group stage games that will count in the regular season MLS standings. As part of the league’s effort to give its unprecedented summer tournament increased stakes, it decreed that a team’s group stage performance would have longer-term implications.
As midfielder Kelyn Rowe pointed out after the defeat to the Union, “We got points in every game that counted toward regular season play,”
Especially when contrasted with Atlanta United’s unforeseen tournament collapse (exiting without scoring a goal), Rowe — in the long view — has a point.
Will the regular season resumed after the tournament?
Ever since the MLS is Back Tournament was announced, the league has had a stated desire to resume the regular season and hold the playoffs following the end of its Florida competition.
In his announcement of the tournament to the press in June, MLS commissioner Don Garber said that the plan to begin the regular season would be “developed at a later date.”
And the carryover of group stage points to regular season standings is another clear indication that MLS definitely still wants to push forward with some form of its normal season, culminating with the crowning of an MLS Cup champion.
Exactly how the league — composed of 26 teams located all across the United States and Canada — plan to coordinate games during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic is not officially known.
A report from Jeff Rueter and Sam Stejskal of The Athletic indicated that the league might be planning to resume the regular season as soon as Aug. 22 (the tournament final will be played on Aug. 11).
According to The Athletic, the league would proceed cautiously under two phases, with the first spanning Aug. 22 through Sept. 13. A second phase (Sept. 16 through Nov. 8) would include 12 games. Travel would be limited. For example, the three Canadian teams playing strictly in Canada during Phase One.
The top nine teams from each conference would make the playoffs, which would begin on Nov. 20 after a FIFA-scheduled international break. MLS Cup would then be played on Dec. 12.
Still, the league must answer many questions in terms of testing and safety before it can go ahead with any plan it designs. As Major League Baseball’s attempt at a non-bubble season resumption has recently shown, the risks are constant and ongoing.
If the season restarts, what can fans expect from the 2020 Revolution?
If the regular season is able to get back underway, games would come back to Gillette Stadium.
What’s unclear is if fans would be allowed in under any capacity. The Patriots released a plan for the stadium to fill to “about 20 percent” of the usual capacity for NFL games, but state and local authorities still have to approve the concept.
Earlier in July, Revolution president Brian Bilello responded to a fan’s question on Twitter about the attendance possibility.
“We are still waiting for MLS as well as State (which will take precedence) guidelines,” Billelo wrote on July 14. “That being said our expectations are that our capacity numbers will likely be similar to the [Patriots]. We will communicate with fans once we have the guidelines.”
As for the team’s on-field prospects, the Revolution proved in the MLS is Back Tournament that they possess more than enough quality to make the playoffs.
The major concern remains the status of Gil. A crucial playmaker, his presence is as conspicuous as his absence. Against Montreal — his only full game of the season so far — Gil created 12 chances for teammates, a club record since Opta began tracking the stat in 2010.
Yet he was forced off in the 62nd minute of the second match (a 1-1 draw with D.C. United) with the same foot injury that kept him out of preseason and New England’s first two matches of the 2020 season in March.
Without him, New England was a noticeably different team when in possession. It’s not a coincidence that the Revolution were unable to score in either of the two tournament games he missed.
If the injury lingers and limits Gil’s capacity to remain on the field, it’s a major blow for the Revolution’s ability to not merely make the playoffs, but have a chance at a lengthy postseason run.