Highlights from the Revolution's 2-0 loss to Atlanta United

Highlights from the Revolution's 2-0 loss to Atlanta United

FINAL SCORE: Atlanta United 2, Revolution 0

IN BRIEF: The Revs were held scoreless for the second straight game Saturday night as they fell to Atlanta United 2-0. 








@ NY Red Bulls, Saturday, 7:30 p.m., NBC Sports Boston

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Bruce Arena turns the Revolution from MLS bottom dwellers to playoff team in a few short months

Bruce Arena turns the Revolution from MLS bottom dwellers to playoff team in a few short months

You say you want a revolution?  Well, you got one. With Bruce Arena. In Foxboro. It started when the New England Revolution hired him as sporting director and head coach back in May.  At the time, no other MLS team was in a worse position. The Revs had the league's worst record (2W-8L-2D, 8 points), the league's worst goal differential (minus-19), and they were below an expansion side, FC Cincinnati, in the standings.  In its first year in the league this season, FC Cincinnati broke the MLS record for most goals given up in a single season.  Things were bad, bad, bad.  The club didn't want to see if it got worse. Enter Bruce Arena to save the day, well the season. 

Five months later, the Revs are preparing for an improbable MLS Cup Playoff appearance.  Their first-round matchup next Saturday, Oct. 19, won't be easy as they visit Atlanta United FC, defending MLS Cup Champions.  It'll be a tough team to play in a difficult environment.  Playing against defending MLS Cup Champions in front of 70,000-plus fans at Mercedes-Benz Stadium is a challenge, to say the least. Still, regardless of the outcome, the Revs have already won.  Their playoff berth marks an amazing turnaround for this team. 

What happened in between their league-worst start/the hiring Arena, and their playoff-clinching win vs New York City FC on Sept. 29 is nothing short of remarkable.  The team went 9-2-10 in their next 21 games, including an 11-game unbeaten streak this summer.  In that span, they collected 37 points, behind only LAFC (42 points) and NYC FC (41 points).  They earned impressive points on the road against LA Galaxy, Seattle Sounders, and Portland Timbers.  They showed they can play with the top teams in the east (NYC, Philadelphia, D.C. United, and Toronto). They dominated the teams they were supposed to beat up (Vancouver and FC Cincinnati).  

The two losses in that 21-game stretch under Arena need some context.  I've excluded the regular-season finale loss because it really was a meaningless match.  The Eastern Conference playoff field was already set on Decision Day with just seedings left to be decided.  The 2-0 defeat to LAFC in August came against the league's best team who set the single-season record for points in a season (72).  There is no shame in losing to LAFC.  The Revs joined a long list of teams - 19 of 23 - who couldn't beat Los Angeles Football Club in 2019.

The other loss was a bitter one to swallow.  It goes down as a 2-1 defeat to New York City FC on paper but doesn't seem like a defeat to me. Toni Delamea, who was originally issued a yellow card for a challenge 9 minutes into the match, was sent off after VAR changed it to a red card.  The league's Independent Review panel rescinded the red card four days later and wiped it completely away.  But the damage was done. The Revs, leading for most of the game, played 80-plus minutes down a man and gave up two second-half goals.  The game-winning goal was a 96th-minute penalty.  

The "Bruce Bump" is real and spectacular and it goes beyond the standings, record and points.  What he's done with the roster is impressive. The group of players he inherited back in the spring is almost identical to what he has now.  Of course, they added Gustavo Bou this summer. La Pantera has been a game-changer since coming to the Revs in a reported club-record signing on July 17. In the past 14 games, he's buried nine goals, fourth-most in MLS in that span. 

Bou's strike rate (0.64 goals/game) is sixth-best this season.  But Arena started New England's revolution before Bou arrived.  He's gotten the most out of Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla while helping Carles Gil and Matt Turner elevate their games and name around the league.  Gil was already making an impact as a dynamic player in their attack but now he's in the conversation for MLS Best XI and a finalist for MLS Newcomer of the Year. Gil is one of two MLS players with at least 10 goals and 10 primary assists this season.  Turner, who showed flashes of National Team material before Arena arrived, has pushed his name into the conversation for Goalkeeper of the Year.  Before that regular-season finale, the Revs goalkeeper ranked third in save percentage. Arena has gotten the absolute most out of this roster.

Off the field, the club has made significant investments this season.  They are set to open up a new state-of-the-art $35 million training facility.  Just this week, the club announced they'll field a USL League One Team, Revolution II, in 2020. 

It's wasn't just a change for the Revs.  It's a revolution for the Revolution and you can count me in. 

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Five reasons the New England Revolution can beat Atlanta United FC in first round

Five reasons the New England Revolution can beat Atlanta United FC in first round

The Revolution face a tall task in the first round of MLS Cup Playoffs when they visit Atlanta United FC on Oct. 19.  On paper, it sounds like a daunting matchup for the Revs.  Yes, they are facing defending MLS Cup Champions.  Yes, they are playing in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in front of 70,000 fans.  Yes, they have never beaten Atlanta. They have an all-time 0-4-2 record, including 0-3-0 mark at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Yes, the Revs are underdogs.  But throw that all out the window.   Here are five factors why the Revolution can win.

New playoff format

MLS has moved away from the two-legged affairs and has adopted the single-elimination format.  This format helps the underdog.  The better team usually won in the old format.  Anything can happen in one single match.  It's harder to pull off an upset over the course of two matches.  I am curious to see how things play out this postseason.  I think you will see more upsets in the MLS Cup Playoffs.  

Road Scholars

The Revs' road form is much improved under Bruce Arena with a 3-2-5 record.  Their 2 losses with Bruce on the touchline need some context.  I'm protesting the 2-1 defeat at New York City FC on Sept. 7.  The Revs had to play unfairly down a man for 80-plus minutes.  Toni Delamea got sent off for a challenge that was initially ruled a yellow card but VAR changed it to a red.  Four days later, the league's disciplinary board rescinded the red card completely.   Now, what would have happened if the Revs got to play the rest of the match with 11 players?  Nobody knows but the Revs were leading most of the match before surrendering two goals late in the game.  The match-winning goal came in the last moments of stoppage time.  The loss deserves an asterisk.  

The other road loss was in the regular-season finale against Atlanta.  Neither team had much at stake by the time this one kicked off.  The Eastern Conference playoff field was set.  All that was left to decide was the seeds and matchups.  I don't think either team went all-out in playing this match.  I don't put much stock into the 3-1 loss to Atlanta on the final day of the regular season.  

As for the Revs' road wins and ties, it should give the players confidence going into the postseason.   Here are the teams they've earned points against this season:

LA Galaxy, Colorado Rapids, FC Cincinnati, DC Untied, Orlando City SC, Seattle Sounders, New York Red Bulls, Portland Timbers.  Five of them are playoff teams. Three of them play in challenging environments for the opposition.  Earning points on the road against LA, Seattle, and Portland is nothing to overlook.  The Revs beat Zlatan and company in Bruce's first match as head coach.  The club earned hard-fought draws against the Sounders and Timbers. I say the Revs have earned their road stripes.  They are a much better team on the road with Bruce running the ship than under previous head coaches.  The Bruce bump is a real thing.    

So we meet again

As mentioned above, the Atlanta-New England first-round playoff game is a rematch of the regular-season finale.  This absolutely benefits New England in so many ways.  The Revs got the Mercedez-Benz experience out of the way.  It's a challenging place to play for an opposing team.  The fans make it a hostile environment for the opposition.  It can be an overwhelming experience for a player.  But after you do it once, it changes the next time around.  The fans don't sound as loud.  The atmosphere isn't as rocking.  Everything becomes more familiar the second time you do it.  You get a better feel for the artificial turf.  You get the learning curve out of the way.  The Revs will be more comfortable the next time they step inside Mercedes-Benz Stadium. I also think it's hard to beat a good team two games in a row.  Atlanta won last time out.  It'll be harder for them to get two wins in a row.  The Revs will be more comfortable this time.  The intangibles come into play and that should benefit the Revs.

Three Stars

Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Matt Turner have been pivotal in the team's success this season.  Where does that trio rank in MLS?  If you take the three best players from every team and hold a draft of which group to take first, I think the Gil-Bou-Turner trio is at or near the top of everyone's list.  Maybe the Revs' roster top to bottom isn't as talented as some around the league.  But those three stars have been among the best at their respective positions this season.  Where they play on the field might be just as important as their production on it.  When you have a versatile striker up top, a dynamic playmaker in midfield, and a match-winning goalkeeper in net, it really helps cover up mistakes on the field or shortcomings on the roster.  If I were to pick the three most important positions to build around, it would be where Bou, Gil and Turner play on the field.  Give me great performances from those three in the same match and I don't like my chances.  I love them.

Arena Football

Bruce Arena is known to have a trick or two up his sleeve when it comes to tactics. Atlanta head coach Frank de Boer said as much after Sunday's match.  "I've heard that Bruce Arena is a coach that suddenly can make changes and we have to be ready for that and prepared for that, and we have two weeks to do that," said de Boer.  Arena has only gone with the same lineup in back-to-back games once this season.  The duplicate starting XI only happened after the Revs clinched a playoff spot and were playing Atlanta in the regular-season finale with little at stake.  So, was he testing out his possible playoff lineup?  Did we see a blueprint for what Arena would do in the next match? Was he just punting on the last game of the season and wanted his players to get some work in before the playoffs start in two weeks?  Nobody knows. And that is the point.  Watch out.  Bruce keeps you on your toes.

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