The Revolution fell 2-1 to the Columbus Crew on Wednesday night, bringing an end to the team’s 15-game home unbeaten run in 2023 league games.
The defeat dropped New England to fifth in the Eastern Conference, one point behind Columbus (though the Revolution have a game in hand).
Despite essentially winning a frenetic midfield battle, New England was still unable to overcome a Columbus team that — like the Revolution — has already clinched a postseason berth.
A Diego Rossi goal put the visitors into a first-half lead in the 20th minute. The second half brought a flurry of a chances for both teams, with New England appearing to gain the upper hand. Revolution winger Tomás Chancalay tied the game in 48th minute, latching onto a DeJuan Jones cross.
But just as it seemed the contest might end in a draw, Columbus defender Malte Amundsen lashed home the winning goal in the 86th minute off a corner kick.
Here are a few takeaways:
Revolution remain vulnerable in defensive transitions.
Just as has been the case for much of the season, New England appear to be particularly susceptible to conceding either on counterattacks or defensive transitions.
This has been conspicuously true in recent weeks, and Columbus’ opener occurred off a similar situation.
After recovering the ball inside their own box, Crew players managed to pass around the attempted counter-press from Revolution defensive midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye. With Jones also caught upfield, New England was unable to properly mark Rossi after Columbus midfielder Alexandru Mățan carried the ball down the left wing.
Rossi intelligently dropped off the Revolution defensive line, forcing New England center-back Dave Romney to either commit forward to mark him or remain in a position to help defend Mățan’s run. Romney chose the latter, and Rossi happily received the ball in space despite being inside the box. Given ample time and room, the skillful Uruguayan promptly tucked the ball into the far corner of the net.
Revolution interim coach Clint Peay was asked if he felt the recent struggles on defensive transitions has had anything to do with his tactical usage of midfielder Matt Polster in the role of an inverted fullback.
“I don’t necessarily know that it’s the system,” he replied when asked about Blazing Musket reporter Sam Minton. “I think regardless of how you play, counterattacks are part of the game.
“I think it first starts with how you take care of the ball,” Peay added. “Too many times tonight, we lost the ball too easily, and when you do that and you’re not prepared to lose the ball, it surprises you and you get caught out.”
Considering that the goal resulted from a run down the opposite side Polster is responsible for, Peay’s logic makes sense. It appeared less to do with a specific system than New England’s (albeit admirable) commitment to getting numbers into the attack. The Revolution’s aggressiveness going forward would later lead to a goal, but it always runs a risk on the defensive side.
In the second half, Columbus played a more direct style, trying to catch the Revolution defense too far forward. It almost worked on multiple occasions, though it only happened as a result of the second theme from the night: New England’s press.
The Revolution gained an upper hand in a tough midfield battle by applying (mostly) well organized pressure.
Facing a Columbus team that is talented in possession and possesses several quality players in the middle of the field — Noel Buck specifically praised Crew veteran Darlington Nagbe’s performance after the game — Peay’s squad performed reasonably well in terms of winning the ball back higher upfield.
New England pressured the visitors and consistently generated turnovers, necessitating a few desperation stops from Crew defenders. Columbus goalkeeper Patrick Schulte was intercepted in his own half repeatedly. Still, the Revolution were unable to leverage this success into a goal.
In the second half, Columbus switched to the more direct approach, tacitly acknowledging the effectiveness of the Revolution’s press.
Notably, Peay’s team was able to essentially outperform the Crew at their own game (possession flowing from midfield dominance), yet still lost in the end. It was a frustrating outcome amid what was otherwise — in that specific regard — a promising performance.
If there is a positive takeaway, this would be it. And in the context of a potential playoff rematch in a few weeks time, Peay can still build on it.
“We made some adjustments, about 20 minutes in, and were able to really turn them over in the second part of the first half,” Peay said afterward. “In most of the second half, I thought they had a real hard time playing out. So they became more direct and I thought we needed to deal with those moments a little bit better, a little cleaner, so that they didn’t have opportunities to turn us and get the goal.”
Tomás Chancalay continues to impress.
Now eight games into his Revolution career, it’s clear that the 24-year-old Chancalay possesses a level of quality that is rare in MLS. Columbus appeared unable to take the ball from him, and the Argentine cut inside to dribble across field seemingly at will.
His passing was also on point: In the 35th minute, Chancalay spotted Revolution winger Emmanuel Boateng alone at the back post and threaded a quality diagonal pass to him. Unfortunately for New England, Boateng’s finish (despite being on target) was saved by a quality block from Schulte diving to his right.
In the second half, Chancalay started and finished the move on New England’s goal. Collecting the ball on the right wing from Jones, he cut inside before finding Revolution playmaker Carles Gil. The Spaniard played a customarily well-weighted pass down the right wing for Jones, who whipped in a first-touch cross.
Chancalay, having ghosted into the box unmarked, called for the cross before striking it with his left foot on one hop, sweeping the ball inside the near post for the equalizer.
Less than 10 minutes later, he almost scored again when — finding no available passing options — he suddenly smashed a blistering shot that grazed the crossbar.
He seems to grow into a more prominent role with each game, as do the chances of the Revolution exercising the team’s option of making his current loan move from Argentinian club Racing Club a permanent switch to New England in 2024.
Revolution need more from the center forward position.
After starting veteran striker Bobby Wood against Charlotte, Peay opted for Giacomo Vrioni on Wednesday. Neither has done enough to make a clear case to become the regular starter.
At times, both have contributed in 2023 (with Wood’s return after two years of injury-related limitations being a heartening development). Yet neither has been in good form lately. Vrioni’s last goal came on Aug. 30, while Wood hasn’t found the net since June.
The seemingly obvious alternative is veteran Designated Player Gustavo Bou, who came on as a substitute against Columbus. That said, Bou isn’t ideally used as a center forward, and is also just returning from injury.
Vrioni, himself one of the team’s three Designated Players, should be the clear choice as a physical presence (both theoretically and literally a classic No. 9 center forward). Yet he has often found himself less involved in the play, and not quite able to finish crosses or through balls sent in his direction.
After being subbed off for Bou in the 70th minute, he was visibly frustrated.
Whatever the reason, New England has been unable to coax scoring performances from its forwards in recent weeks. For the team to have any chance of making a playoff run — or possibly win the remaining regular season games in the short term — goals need to start flowing again from that position.
The Revolution will have little time to process the defeat, as New England will be back in action on Saturday at Exploria Stadium to face Orlando City (yet another team that has also clinched a playoff berth). The race for playoff seeding — still extremely tight — will continue over the final three games.
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