MLS New England Revolution

Sweeney: The loss is, of course, too close… but we shouldn’t let a moment’s hesitation deflate the good feelings of 2020

A week ago, everything looked rosy for the Revolution. Admit it, you looked forward to Sunday. I sure as hell did. I for one was pumped.

A 3-1 win over Orlando City marked New England’s third successive win in the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, the most wins the Revs had in successive fashion in this topsy-turvy year. The last two wins were the first over Philadelphia and Orlando in their home venues in quite some time — it was the first win in central Florida for, like, ever — and, after the other Eastern Conference semifinal went full time, that meant a trip to another stadium that has been a veritable House of Horrors for New England’s soccer team.

The last time the Revs won at MAPFRE Stadium happened during the 2014 run to league runner-up status. The thought process was simple: The Boys In Blue were due for a win here, weren’t they? They had exorcised two demons… the third one had to be a biggie, right? Six years… that’s a long time to go without a win in one venue. But this is 2020. If there was any point in time that New England would break that particular funk, this was it.

Alas, we saw what happened on ABC Sunday afternoon.

Columbus was undoubtedly Columbus. It carried out the game plan and did what it does: it sent long ball after long ball to try and get to Gyasi Zardes or Pedro Santos. When the Crew lost the ball, they did what they do: get in your face and try to win it back.

And when the Revolution tried to get something going, Columbus cut the passes down. Blocked shots in a relatively timely manner. Flummoxed the absolute hell out of New England — and its fan base.

In all, the Revolution posted four shots on target Sunday — the same number it had against Philadelphia nearly two weeks ago in victory. It wasn’t enough.

Yet why does a team lose games in this sport? They turn off for a split second, a moment’s hesitation. That happened when rookie Henry Kessler found himself ball-watching as Artur steered the match-winning goal — and the season-ender for New England — into Matt Turner’s net. If Kessler or Matt Polster, who was practically in front of Artur, close down faster, even half a second faster, they block the shot and this match is into extra time and possibly penalties.

Up until that point, New England’s back line did what it had to do to keep Columbus at bay. Andrew Farrell threw himself all over the place to thwart the Crew. The hosts did, however, go right up the middle almost at will.

In short, outside of Farrell and Turner, there wasn’t much of an answer for Columbus on this cold, gray Sunday afternoon in the Buckeye State. The offense was, as I wrote, practically non-existent for the first time in a while. The defending, especially in the midfield, tentative.

The timing for things to go against the Revs wasn’t what anyone wanted. It happened, and unfortunately that happens in sports.

And that’s what it was. Bad timing. It was a moment’s hesitation which brought the good feelings from most of this crazy season crashing down into a heap, another L in a long line of late-season L’s that seem to thwart this Original Ten side.

Should we let a moment’s hesitation bring down those feelings? No, we shouldn’t.

Yes, there were plenty of good spots in 2020, some of which I will outline here. For a time in 2020 — and in particular, the three matches which preceded Sunday — the answers were clear: a healthy diet of Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and at times Adam Buksa. On Sunday, Columbus neutralized all three. How do the Revs counter that in 2021?

The defending in 2020 was top notch, and that moment’s hesitation Sunday cost them everything. How does the New England coaching staff coach up Kessler and Polster to avoid that from happening again, especially with the opportunity to keep such an important match scoreless?

And of course, the goalkeeping of Matt Turner was, far and away, some of the best goalkeeping we’ve seen in these parts in some time. Say what you will about Cody Cropper and Brad Knighton, and even Bobby Shuttleworth before them, but Turner opened a lot of eyes in 2020. How many goals in 2020 were actually on Turner? How many were on poor defending? Not too many, until Sunday.

While we recall the great things of 2020, we have to look to the immediate future: who will go from the club as it looks to improve? There are a few players who have played their last games for the Crayon Crest, and we should know Bruce Arena’s roster decisions within the next week, week and a half.

And now, we look to the future. The 2020 Revolution season is complete, and sure, there were times where the team had the fan base scratching their heads. They had the media wondering. But there were good spots. There were. The pain of this loss is too close, and we will, eventually, get over this.

When we do, we’ll have a new season to look forward to, all at our Route 1 home.

See you then.