New England Revolution

3 takeaways from the Revolution advancing to the Eastern Conference Final

New England heads to its first Eastern Conference Final since 2014.

Revolution goal Orlando City
Revolution players celebrate after Carles Gil's goal against Orlando City. AP Photo/Matt Stamey

For the Revolution, it was another playoff matchup as an underdog against a higher-seeded opponent. And once again, New England proved equal to the task in a 3-1 win over Orlando City in Sunday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal.

Thanks to a penalty kick conversion from Carles Gil, two timely goals from Gustavo Bou, and a penalty kick save from goalkeeper Matt Turner, the Revolution are heading back to the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2014, where they will face the Columbus Crew on Sunday (Dec. 6).

The victory was head coach Bruce Arena’s 35th in his MLS Cup Playoff career, the most in league history.

It was far from a dominant win, as Orlando controlled possession for most of the day, but New England was able to create the better chances. Revolution players were also able to control their emotions more effectively. Six yellow cards were awarded throughout what proved a physical game, though only one (to forward Adam Buksa) went to New England.

In the 60th minute, Orlando midfielder Mauricio Pereyra was shown a straight red card for an aggressive tackle on Revolution midfielder Matt Polster.

When it was over, Revolution players greeted the win with an outpouring of emotion so rarely seen in the team’s up-and-down regular season. As Turner spoke with ESPN in a postgame interview, his teammates rushed in for an impromptu celebratory moment:

Here are a few takeaways from the Revolution’s third playoff win so far in 2020:

Matt Turner came up with a game-changing play.

Though it ended in a 3-1 win, much of the game — specifically the second half — had a distinctly uncertain look to it for the Revolution.

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Even after Pereyra’s red card at the hour mark, New England struggled to keep the ball. For a team that’s regularly enjoyed a majority of possession this season, it was a different experience for the Revolution, managing just 38 percent of possession to Orlando City’s 62.

The disaster moment that seemed to be looming in the second half appeared to strike with just under 20 minutes remaining. New England, clinging with increasing desperation to a 2-1 lead, gave up a penalty kick after a Polster foul in the box.

But in the drama of the moment, the 2020 Revolution MVP lived up to his billing. Turner, who made a habit out of producing world-class saves during the regular season, delivered in the postseason when he stopped Orlando City forward Nani’s penalty kick.

Afterward, he noted that he had studied the Portuguese forward’s tendencies.

“On this particular one, you sort of did the homework. He’s taken a lot of penalty kicks this year, so it’s all statistics and stuff like that,” said Turner. “I picked my side early, went as hard as I could that way, made sure I kept my foot on the line, and made the save so it felt really nice.”

It was a moment that helped swing the game for the Revolution.

“It wasn’t pretty,” Arena said of the team’s overall display afterward. “We had to work real hard. That was a real good team we played today – a very good team. Maybe the best team we’ve faced this year. A great win, obviously. Big play in the game had to be Matt Turner’s save on the penalty kick.”

Tajon Buchanan won the tactical matchup against Nani.

At the start of the playoffs, the usage of winger Tajon Buchanan — particularly in a team welcoming both Bou and Gil back into the lineup — was a quandary for Arena.

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Yet due to injuries in the team’s defense, the 21-year-old Canadian was pressed into service as a right back.

While he’s quickly made the position his own, scoring against Philadelphia in the first round upset of the No. 1 seed, there were still question marks as to whether Arena would deploy him at outside back in a potential matchup against Nani.

“Tajon has got a good future with us wherever he plays,” Arena said beforehand. “We think he’s a good player – that’s why he’s on the field. We have the option of him playing both in the midfield and the back line.”

Though he’s now 34, Nani (formerly of Manchester United) is undoubtedly Orlando City’s catalyst on offense. Drifting off toward Buchanan’s side seemed like a shrewd decision, given the New England winger-turned-fullback’s lack of experience defending.

Ultimately, Buchanan emerged on the better side of the duel. He refused to allow Nani to consistently build Orlando attacks from his side of the field (receiving defensive support from teammates), and his steal in the 25th minute led directly to New England’s second goal.

“Clearly, the two goals in the first half were the result of Tajon getting down the field on the right flank,” Arena explained. “He was outstanding.”

After dispossessing Nani well within New England’s side of the field, Buchanan found Gil before sprinting down the right wing. Gil found him with the return pass, and Buchanan’s cross eventually fell at the feet of Bou, who finished emphatically.

Gustavo Bou provided the finishing touch.

In what was a difficult week for Bou as an Argentine — with the death of Diego Maradona — the 30-year-old responded by producing his first multi-goal game of his Revolution career. He dedicated his first goal celebration of the day to Maradona, pointing to the heavens and kissing his home country’s flag.

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The forward known as “La Pantera” (“The Panther”) pounced exactly when New England needed him to. After Buksa’s sliding finish from Buchanan’s cross glanced off the post, it was Bou who was perfectly placed to dispatch the rebound into the net.

And following Turner’s penalty kick save late in the second half, Bou was again able to find a goal when the Revolution needed it.

Finding the hole in the defense, Bou calmly received Gil’s perfectly-aimed pass and nutmegged Orlando goalkeeper Brian Rowe to give New England some crucial insurance in the 86th minute.

As the Revolution look beyond now to the Eastern Conference Final, maintaining an ability to win on the road — something New England did better than anyone else in the East in the regular season — is a must.

“The team’s very strong both mentally and physically,” said Bou. “We try to leave everything out on the field in every game. We’re enjoying this, being the visiting team.”

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