New England Revolution

International roundup: Revolution stars shined abroad, Bruce Arena shared thoughts on MLS schedule

Matt Turner, Tajon Buchanan, and Adam Buksa all produced highlight moments.

Tajon Buchanan
Tajon Buchanan celebrates after scoring for Canada against El Salvador in World Cup qualifying. Photo by Vaughn Ridley/Getty Images

Like other New England teams, the Revolution annually grapple with the inevitable challenges of a long, difficult regular season before the possibility of the playoffs can even be considered.

But unlike other New England teams, the Revolution also have to grapple with an entirely unique difficulty: International call-ups.

Though other sports feature international competition (such as Celtics forward Jayson Tatum’s recent contribution to Team USA’s gold medal performance at the Tokyo Olympics), those events rarely fall during a team’s season.

When an international tournament does happen during the season — such as what will be the case for NHL players trying to play in the 2022 Winter Olympics — leagues generally pause until the competition ends and the players return.

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Major League Soccer, for a variety of reasons, does not always pause when international competitions occur. Because the league’s schedule includes the entirety of the summer (when many other leagues are out of season), MLS periodically plays games even when some of the league’s players are away representing their country.

This was the case during the CONCACAF Gold Cup in July, when the Revolution had to manage without Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan, United States goalkeeper Matt Turner, and (because of a later injury replacement call-up) U.S. defender Henry Kessler. New England marched through five regular season games without key players.

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It’s a concept that Revolution coach Bruce Arena, speaking on a recent episode of “The Call Up” podcast, cited as an ongoing issue.

“I think we need to honor the international windows,” Arena explained while answering a question about how to improve the MLS schedule. “The last weekend, a bunch of us played without a lot of our players. And that’s unfair to the teams. I think it’s unfair to the fans as well.

“I would look at the scheduling and try to make some changes,” Arena added. “I know it’s not easy. We all sound like geniuses saying I would change this or that. When you get into the nitty-gritty of it, it’s not as easy as we’d like to think. It’s real challenge, but the schedule is a difficult thing right now, and right now teams in the league are exhausted. They really are.”

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New England’s 1-0 win over Philadelphia on Sept. 3 was an example of how the league’s product suffers as a result of the schedule overlap. As Arena alluded to, the Union played despite missing seven players on international duty, while the Revolution were missing Buchanan, Turner, and forward Adam Buksa (who was called up by Poland). All of this was due to World Cup qualifying.

The Revolution-Union game ended up being more of a physical battle between two understrength teams. It’s most notable — and polarizing — highlight occurred in stoppage time in the form of Kessler’s creative time-wasting tactic.

Asked if the game’s intensity level was a sign of a resurgence in the rivalry between the two Eastern Conference opponents, Arena disagreed, submitting his own theory.

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“Let’s be fair, this is a point in the season where teams across the league are dead,” Arena bluntly assessed. “The scheduling has not been good, coupled with the international break, an All-Star Game, and playing three games a week. And Philadelphia has been beat up with call ups, they started the year with the [CONCACAF] Champions League, and it’s just a bunch of tired players out there. And it’s been challenging. Players get a little frustrated. I don’t think there’s any bad blood between our teams. I think there’s a lot of respect between the teams.”

And yet, despite the challenges of having some of the team’s best players plucked away for as many as six games during the summer, Arena’s team has methodically plunged ahead with what has been a remarkable 2021 regular season.

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Since losing his first start as Turner’s replacement in July, backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton is 5-0. New England currently holds a 14-point lead atop the Eastern Conference, and playmaker Carles Gil — out with an injury since July — made his return as a substitute in Philadelphia.

International performances

Matt Turner: It’s been hard to find a U.S. player who’s been having a better 2021 than the Revolution goalkeeper. After only recently starting his first national team game in a January friendly, Turner’s rise — already well underway after helping the Revolution reach the 2020 Eastern Conference Final — has continued at a meteoric rate.

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That he was handed starts in each of the U.S. team’s first three World Cup final round qualifiers would’ve been shocking just a few months ago. Yet after his consistently dominant performances with New England in the spring and early summer, coupled with inspiring displays during the U.S. run to victory in the Gold Cup, far fewer questioned his presence in the national team’s Starting XI.

Turner allowed just two goals in the recent three-game run, both of which came from unmarked opponents at near point-blank range. He also made a crucial second half save against Honduras on Wednesday night to keep the game tied prior to a run of late U.S. goals put them on the path to a win:

Turner even popped up in a humorous postgame soundbite, praising 18-year-old goalscorer Ricardo Pepi, another player having a tremendous season:

Tajon Buchanan: Having already signed with Belgian side Club Brugge (who he will officially leave New England to join in January following the end of the MLS season), Buchanan continues to push himself to new levels.

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The 22-year-old scored his first senior international goal for Canada against Mexico in July’s Gold Cup semifinal, and added to his tally on Wednesday.

Playing at Toronto’s BMO Field, Buchanan first assisted and then scored for Canada in pivotal 3-0 win over El Salvador.

Adam Buksa: Buksa’s call-up to the Polish team represented a “dream” fulfilled for the 25-year-old.

And things got off to a fantastical start, as Buksa scored the go-ahead goal for Poland in his international debut (a 4-1 win over Albania).

He then added a hat-trick in a 7-1 win over San Marino, and played 63 minutes in a 1-1 draw against England on Wednesday.

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