New England Revolution

3 takeaways from the Revolution’s Eastern Conference Final loss

New England may have built a strong foundation for the future thanks to a surprising 2020 postseason.

Revolution Columbus Crew ECF 2020
Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner and forward Justin Rennicks react after the final whistle in Sunday's 1-0 Eastern Conference Final loss. Photo by Emilee Chinn/Getty Images

The Revolution’s unexpected and thrilling postseason run ended with a thud in Sunday’s 1-0 loss to the Columbus Crew in the Eastern Conference Final. After three playoff wins in a row, head coach Bruce Arena’s team finally found an opponent who was able to shackle its creative players.

For New England, an eighth seed in the Eastern Conference, the loss is disappointing given the thin margin. But taken as a whole, the trio of playoff wins — including the round one upset of the No. 1 seeded Philadelphia Union — finally showcased the team’s full potential after a plethora of injuries to key players during regular season.

Still, it was a tough final act for a team that had developed such strong chemistry.

“We’re disappointed since we didn’t win, didn’t bring hardware to our club, but enjoyed this run with these guys and this coaching staff,” said center back Andrew Farrell. “It’s been a lot of fun. We won three games where not a lot of people had us winning.”

Here are a few takeaways from the game:

Columbus won the tactical battle.

Ominous signs appeared for the Revolution early in the game, as Crew passers found time on the ball and dictated most of the events of the game early.

Columbus midfielders Artur and Darlington Nagbe were able to get a hold on the game early, and kept New England — who had scored at least once in the first half of each previous playoff win — on the defensive.

“Columbus is a great team and they put you on the back foot,” Farrell explained. “They kept us under pressure but again, we did well. Obviously, we didn’t play really well in the first half but at halftime we came in 0-0 so we were excited about that but we just didn’t make the plays that needed to be made.”

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Nagbe in particular was effective, completing an astounding 39 of 41 passes.

It was no coincidence that it was a Columbus midfielder (Artur) who scored the game’s lone goal. The Brazilian may not be known for his scoring, but he was able to find a crease in the Revolution’s marking (from which he applied a skilled finish).

“We had some chances,” said Arena. “The one good one [Gustavo Bou] had, he cut it back to his right foot. He probably should’ve shot with his left foot. But on the day Columbus was the better team, I think. I think they deserved to win the game. Give them credit for the goal they created. Just better at anticipating chances than we were. I thought on the day, in the middle third of the field, they were good. Not that they did anything that goes into highlight reels, but they won tackles, they anticipated plays, and they were a little bit sharper in the middle of the field.”

An interesting footnote (which is all it remains since New England didn’t ultimately score) was the final period of the game when the Revolution — for the first time in the match — were the consistent aggressors.

In the last 15 minutes, New England enjoyed more than 70 percent of possession, and created more than enough chances to carve out a goal.

“Columbus had a difficult time keeping possession of the ball,” Arena said of the game’s latter stages. “They gave away the ball a little bit too easy in the last 10 minutes of the game and allowed us to get forward and be a little bit more dangerous. But we weren’t able to get a clean chance and try to equalize.”

The Revolution’s stars didn’t shine as expected.

After multiple playoff wins in which the Revolution’s established stars (Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou) and an emerging one (Tajon Buchanan) all played up to their considerable capacity, Sunday was a disappointment.

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Gil was kept from his usual influence in the game for almost 75 minutes, and Bou’s shots were frequently far off target.

Buchanan, having been such a tactical revelation as a right back in previous postseason games, was contained by Columbus.

“I thought they did a good job against him,” Arena said of Buchanan, who was subbed out in the 70th minute for midfielder Kelyn Rowe. “He didn’t play his best today, but he was okay. He looked a little fatigued as well. We just had to make some changes, get in some fresher players, and see if they could give us a bit of an edge. I thought the guys that went in the game helped us.”

When the Revolution were able to finally generate consistent pressure in the game’s closing moments, the finishing touch Bou had so deftly applied against Montreal and Orlando was lacking. The Argentine missed multiple late chances in a flashback to his midseason inconsistency.

Is this ultimately the start of something special, or a false dawn?

While the 2020 season is officially over, its full legacy is still to be defined. The exciting New England team that emerged in the playoffs — creating chances with a multifaceted attack — differed from the underachieving one that Revolutions fans saw for most of the regular season.

Yet when designated players Gil, Bou, and Adam Buksa finally got consistent time on the field together in the playoffs, the results spoke for themselves. New England far exceeded their playoff seeding, and was a thin margin away from becoming Eastern Conference champions.

Arena also noted that the 2020 regular season was far from normal due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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“I think the regular season was not a good judgement of teams because of the nature of it, the scheduling,” said Arena. “I would say we didn’t play, my guess would be 18 teams in the league in a 26-team league. Figure that out. How can you even look at the regular season and try to see what kind of sense that made.”

Naturally, the next step for observers of the team will be about 2021, and the promise it holds. On paper, the Revolution should be able to bring back all of the team’s most important players, and possibly add a few more.

As Arena admitted about the upcoming offseason, “we’re looking to bring in two or three players that can solidify our first 11.”

Yet as recent history has shown, the promise of the future and its reality are often very different things. Fans excited about 2019 had to wait most of 2020 to see a true progression from the team. And those who watched the Revolution’s 2014 run to MLS Cup waited in vain for the team to take another step forward a year later.

Still, the fundamentals of the club appear stronger than they’ve been in any recent measurement. The Kraft ownership appears happy and willing to continue investing in Arena’s project. And the players have formed a strong bond, which they credit as one of the reasons New England performed so well amid such a difficult year.

“The team is in good hands,” Farrell concluded as he thought about the future. “And I know Bruce will do the right things.”

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