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Tuesday Re-Watch: Polster’s play shined in an offensively lackluster match that needed something

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It was drab viewing the first time, Saturday’s 1-0 Revolution win over DC United. And while our Tuesday Re-Watch had a bit of the same feelings running through our brain, we have to be honest: there were a couple of things New England did which were certainly improved from the weekend before last.

Were they things that helped The Boys In Blue claim the three points? Not necessarily… but we’re not turning a blind eye to them, either.

OK, let’s get to the highlights — what there were of them, at least.

The XI

Revs head coach Bruce Arena made a total of three changes to the starting lineup Saturday. Christian Mafla, who played an hour or so with Revs II for the second team’s opener the prior weekend, was at left back, forming a back line of him, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell, and Brandon Bye from left to right in front of goalkeeper Matt Turner. Wilfrid Kaptoum made his first start in a Revs’ shirt following his brief run-out against the Fire, playing alongside Matt Polster. And new signing Arnór Traustason, the Iceland international, made his first start in the attacking half of the midfield with Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa.

DeJuan Jones was unavailable for selection due to his red card suspension, one PRO Referees said should not have been issued. Luis Caicedo was questionable in the Thursday injury report and was not on the bench.

Arena also made three substitutions in the match (minute in parenthesis):

AJ De La Garza for Mafla (54’)
Tommy McNamara for Kaptoum (63’)
Tajon Buchanan for Traustason (81’)

According to the graphic the Revolution posed before the game, New England played in a 4-4-2, at least for starters. Not only that, DC United missed a number of regulars and had 12 players unavailable for selection.

The offense had a ‘mare Saturday

This was a pretty strong XI on paper, and I suspect this will be the main first-choice XI Arena puts out there during most of the 2021 season. The fact this XI has not scored from open play since the first half of the season opener a week and a half ago may be concerning to some. The team defended well, only allowing one shot on Turner, with five more going errant — the Revs had the same number of shots but only mustered two on DC backup Chris Seitz — while the New England midfield did a solid job of slowing United down. In short, this effort was much better than the one from the week prior.

But DC did this, too. DC’s physicality had registered 21 fouls to New England’s 18, but only found itself cautioned three times to New England’s four bookings. And sure, there were a couple of those fouls which the season members inside Gillette Stadium felt were bookable offenses; at the very least, the late foul on Henry Kessler inside the penalty area should have been looked at closer. Had it been looked at closer and the Revolution converted the penalty, I think — only think — that a 2-0 result would have looked a tiny bit better.

The patience problems in New England’s attack — there were a couple of blocked shots, especially by Gustavo Bou; not to mention Buksa’s ill-advised pass “against the grain” that was quickly snuffed out — need to find themselves rectified in a hurry, especially against teams that are going to put upward of six-to-eight men in the box. One block of Bou came as the Argentinian failed to pull the trigger quickly and let United close down on him. There were no subtle first touches designed to give the player space, something Bou is known to do. Gil’s shooting is getting better, but he curled one in front of the Fort, and got under the ball in front of the Banner End.

I also want to point out New England did not really get the opportunity to spring a solid counter on United: there was the opening long ball from Polster to Bou and Bou’s deflected pass that went to Buksa and ended up being too long, but outside of those two, counters were few. The counter, I think, should be a massive part of the Revolution repertoire, given the speed and length of certain players. The fact they didn’t get to use that tool enough, or really at all, shouldn’t be overlooked.

Polster’s positioning and effort were sensational

When you look at Matt Polster’s performance Saturday and compare it to the season-opening 2-2 draw with Chicago, one will find a few similarities. For instance, Polster eventually got back a couple of times to supplement the defending against the Fire, yet his overall body language and commitment to closing down in certain situations — go back and watch both of Chicago’s goals; guess who is in the neighborhood in the build-up, yet didn’t close down effectively or aggressively enough to cut those chances down? — lacked panache. They certainly lacked hustle, and at times, he looked indecisive in passing. He left Robert Beric unmarked on one of Chicago’s corners where the striker was all alone at the back post and ultimately fired wide; Polster reacted and was late to the party, which became something of a theme for him in that game.

In his favor, though, were eight takeaways or interceptions that I saw when I went back to watch that film early Tuesday morning for comparison purposes.

During that broadcast, it was mentioned that Chicago utilized a tighter, narrower midfield, and that Polster and Tommy McNamara couldn’t handle that. That’s an excuse that holds no water here. They didn’t really adjust to it until the second half, where the midfielders were better and stronger in getting back to the back line.

But against DC on Saturday, Polster flipped the script.

His positioning against United was superb: early on, you can see Polster checking down and seeing Brandon Bye going out to defend against Erik Sorga, just before he sank further back to keep four in the back line. He did that three times in the first 25 minutes of the game.

Not only that, his situational awareness was fantastic: he slid back between Andrew Farrell and Kessler to give them another passing option when playing out of the back, as both Bye and Mafla were up on the wing. His touches and passing were both positive.

After the Revolution went up a goal to nil on the Brendan Hines-Ike own goal, Polster motored up into the back in order to give the defending a hand. The same thing happened in the 64th. But in the 75th minute, Polster closed down hard to dispossess the visitors for the final time, albeit giving the ball right back in a situation that eventually came to nothing.

In all during my Re-Watch, I had Polster for nine takeaways and two giveaways. Last Saturday, Polster registered eight takeaways and interceptions with three giveaways.

And obviously, he was all over the place, and his heat map showed that.

A much better performance from Polster, which we’d obviously like to see continue.

Buchanan’s insertion burned United to a crisp when he got the chance

There were only a handful of chances for Tajon Buchanan, who entered the game in the 81st minute after Arnór Traustason, who played well in his debut, took a late knock.

And as expected, the third-year midfielder — and it really looks like Arena is serious about keeping Buchanan there — went to work.

He went to work straightaway on Julian Gressel, keeping him in his sights on the flank before a cross went into the box and cleared. Then he was off to the races, where his shot on Seitz was blocked.

He also drew a free kick in a dangerous area late.

In short, Buchanan did what pace-y wingers do off the bench: they go in and cause chaos for those defenders who have rather tired legs. See also: Romelu Lukaku against the US in 2014. Same thing here. The only difference here was Buchanan did not score.

There are some who think that performance by Buchanan should really put him into starting XI contention, and to a point, I agree. He will start, at some further point in the season, whether it be injury or need of rest due to fixture congestion. That will happen. However, Buchanan is the perfect super sub. He’s got great pace, his head on a swivel, and a high footballing IQ. And again, he can burn a defense to cinders if he has fresh legs. We saw that Saturday.

Hodge Podge

— We loved the sliding move by Andrew Farrell and the subsequent clearance by Henry Kessler in denying Sorga service on what would have been a tap-in goal and a 1-0 DC United lead in the 34th minute. That gets nearly washed out by the fact that Farrell almost — ALMOST — put in an own goal of his own in the 68th minute, instead making the termites scurry for cover as he made the woodwork shiver. Admit it, though: two years ago, that is an own goal, and the Revs share the points.

— Everyone found themselves on the stat sheet in terms of Takeaways/Interceptions and Giveaways. Outside of Polster’s nine, Kessler had five takeaways/INTs by my viewing count, Buksa had three takeaways — and while he didn’t score, he did a lot of the little things in terms of defending that strikers generally don’t do — and Bye and Gil had three interceptions each.

— Arena mentioned in the post-match interview on WSBK about trying to get Kaptoum and Mafla — both of whom had good games in terms of locking down their parts of the pitch and, in Kaptoum’s case, breaking the DC lines with above average passing — off and replacing them with De La Garza and McNamara together, but that didn’t happen. That doesn’t necessarily concern me too much looking back, as there weren’t any injuries. He did leave two sub slots unfilled for the second consecutive match. That said, I think his substitution patterns need to be better.

Final Thought… before we violently delete the match from the DVR

The Revolution have a unique opportunity in front of them this week, which is getting that first-ever win against Atlanta United. The Five Stripes play in the CONCACAF Champions League at Philadelphia Tuesday night before traveling to Foxborough this weekend, and then back to Atlanta to host the Union in the second leg. We’re not expecting the same XI for AUFC that plays tonight to play Saturday; the midweek continental competition is more important than a meaningless Week Three league tie. That being said, if Atlanta puts out a scaled back lineup on Saturday and the Revs do not take this opportunity to get on the front foot and put the way they played the DC game out of its misery, then I think it will be fair to question the players about why it feels like New England has to move Wachusett Mountain in order to score goals against depleted teams.

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