Analysis

This time, Revolution’s push forward backfired

Barry Chin/Globe Staff
New York City's Valentin Castellanos (right) puts his team up, 2-1, in overtime.


FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution went out the way they came in this season, going for goal right to the end. But the team’s attacking emphasis failed Tuesday night in a penalty-kicks playoff loss to New York City FC.

The Revolution appeared vulnerable defensively, but coach Bruce Arena made a bold move in extra time, adding Arnor Traustason in place of holding midfielder Tommy McNamara. The change failed to pay off, as NYC FC took a 2-1 lead. But Arena doubled down, adding Teal Bunbury as a third striker, plus Emmanuel Boateng on the left wing in the 114th minute. Four minutes later, Tajon Buchanan equalized off a Boateng cross, and the Revolution seemed on the verge of winning.

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Playing with a man advantage, the Revolution stayed on the offensive, but failed to break through.

Arena could be questioned for holding off on substitutes until after the 90-minute mark, but his moves nearly worked. Adam Buksa went in alone on Sean Johnson in the closing seconds, but Johnson tipped the shot over the bar, and Gustavo Bou fired high off the corner.

“We fell behind a goal, we had to get a goal back, got it, and had good chances at the end, and had good chances to win it in the second overtime,” Arena said. “And penalty kicks are penalty kicks.”

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Arena made similar changes all season, opting to be proactive, rather than reinforcing the defense. The strategy often succeeded because the Revolution have been able to change the dynamic, capitalizing on possession and turning the tables. Adding attackers when the team seems to need back-line reinforcements can be considered counterintuitive, but moves like that can put the opposition under pressure.

And that is what might have happened, had the Revolution been able to get into a flow offensively. But NYC FC disrupted the Revolution’s passing game, bumping and tripping Carles Gil off the dribble early and often.

In the eighth minute, Alexander Callens’s two-footed slide tackle upended Gil near the touch line, referee Drew Fischer calling the foul. A minute later, Gil lofted a free kick for Buksa to score the tying goal. But the Revolution failed to make NYC FC pay for fouling after that.

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“I think the referee struggled to take control of the game,” Arena said. “There was a lot of fouling, I don’t know how much. They did a good disrupting us with most of the time with fouls . . . Carles Gil probably got fouled 10 times in this game. But that’s not an excuse.”

The Revolution’s offense might have been effective enough, had they not surrendered a third-minute goal off a throw-in. That score appeared to be partly the result of the Revolution defenders being caught flat-footed as NYC FC moved the ball outside the penalty area, then scored as Santi Rodriguez finished a Tayvon Gray cross. Among the reasons the Revolution seemed vulnerable on that sequence might have been a 23-day layoff since their final regular-season game.

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Arena said before the game that conditioning would not be a problem for the Revolution, since they had played two intrasquad games since Nov. 7. And the break might have helped Buksa recover from a foot injury. But the Revolution were not as sharp as they had been in compiling a league-record 22-5-7 (73 points) mark in the regular season, at least not until the final minutes of extra time.

But by then, it was too late.

The Revolution set the tone early this season, qualifying for the playoffs Sept. 22, and running away with the Supporters’ Shield. It might have been a lot to expect for them to maintain momentum more than two months later.

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Their success means the stakes will be raised next season, starting with Champions League games. Arena, 70, said he would be talking to the Kraft family about whether to continue coaching the team. There will not be much time to prepare, since the Champions League draw is scheduled Dec. 15, and the first matches will be in mid-February.

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