MLS New England Revolution

Tuesday Re-Watch: Revs defense, Maciel came together to stop Atlanta United

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The Revolution welcomed Atlanta United to Foxborough on Saturday for a rather important early-season Eastern Conference six-pointer. Both entered the match at 1-0-1, with New England having never beaten the Five Stripes in any competition before this past weekend’s 2-1 victory.

It was certainly an historic win. A statement win? No. Atlanta United was not at full strength for the whole game, and truthfully, only were for an 8-minute span in the second half. If AUFC had been full strength for more than a handful of minutes and executed their game plan AND New England still pulled out the victory, then we can talk about statement.

Let’s break it down following our Tuesday Re-Watch.

The XI

For the second straight week, Bruce Arena made three changes to the starting lineup. Gustavo Bou was out with an undisclosed injury ahead of the match, and Tajon Buchanan slid into his spot. Maciel made his Major League Soccer debut in the defensive midfield in place of Wilfrid Kaptoum, and DeJuan Jones returned to the XI following his red card suspension for the home opener, replacing Christian Mafla at left back.

Arena utilized a 4-2-3-1, per the WSBK broadcast, for the first time in 2021.

Matt Turner was in goal, with the back line as follows from left to right: Jones, Henry Kessler, Andrew Farrell (who made his 239th start, surpassing Jay Heaps for third in the club record books), and Brandon Bye at right back. Maciel joined Matt Polster, who made his 100th MLS start, with Arnór Traustason, Carles Gil, and Buchanan in the attacking midfield slots from left to right. Adam Buksa was the lone striker up top.

Teal Bunbury and Tommy McNamara both entered the match in the 72nd minute, replacing Traustason and Buchanan, respectively. Bunbury was a like for like, while McNamara was a tactical switch in order to shore up the win. They were the only substitutions made for the Revolution on Saturday.

Atlanta’s lineup choices were imperative from a competition standpoint — and the Revs out-worked them

Some may want to hurl eggs at me, but I believe in telling the truth, no matter how hard it stings: does anyone believe that if Atlanta United did not have a CONCACAF Champions League second leg to play on Tuesday — essentially, tonight — that it would have played a stronger XI against the Revolution, even on the short turnaround?

Josef Martinez and Ezequiel Barco, two of the Five Stripes’ top performers and the driving forces behind AUFC’s offense, only entered Saturday’s match in the 72nd minute and 46th minute, respectively; Barco played until the 80th before he went down with an injury and forced Atlanta United to play with 10 men for the last 10 minutes of normal time and stoppage time. George Bello, AU’s explosive young left back, replaced Jürgen Damm early. And Arlington’s Miles Robinson came on at halftime alongside Barco.

While Robinson helped to feed the attack, I noticed in the Re-Watch that Bello barely got involved in the attack like he usually does; in fact, Atlanta went down the right quite a bit to the point where the left was ignored. Bello generally makes penetrating runs down the left-hand channel, and that wasn’t done Saturday.

Would it have mattered any if JM7 played the entire match? That, my friends, is the important question. Would Josef Martinez have hurt New England more on the counter? We know the Revolution defensive unit is better than it has been, but that doesn’t mean it’s infallible. Martinez is a smart player, and to not recognize his influence, even after a year away, might be something teams will pay for.

Thankfully, it didn’t hurt New England on Saturday: Martinez only had four touches and registered three passes.

The Revs did, however, neutralize and out-played those players that played most of the match: New England pressed from the outset with a two- and sometimes three-man high line of contention, which mixed and matched throughout — we even saw Polster, a 6/8, get incredibly high in the second half in an effort to confuse and confuzzle — and did so deep into the match; while Buksa did not have the greatest day shooting-wise (and we’ll get to that in a minute), his work rate in pressuring Brad Guzan and the Five Stripes defense was outstanding.

Not only that, the last half an hour saw the Revs defense hold together. A Buchanan takeaway of Barco shortly after a poor ending on a New England counter by Traustason saw the first-round SuperDraft selection come up from behind to make the dispossession. Maciel had a massive clearance in the 68th minute. Three minutes later, Kessler corralled a rebound on one of Matt Turner’s three saves on the night and cleared it.

Then Martinez entered. The Revs did enough to keep the ball away from one of MLS’ most effective goal-scorers:

74’ — Maciel with a takeaway on Barco
75’ — Bye slows Erik Lopez, is cautioned
77’ — Jones shields Marcelino Moreno from the ball in the channel, forcing a goal kick
79’ — Revs push Atlanta out to the flank and midfield to slow it down
80’ — McNamara weaves and slides from behind to slow counterattack and dispossess
87’ — Farrell with a takeaway on Bello
89’ — Moreno with a shot that Kessler deflected, but Bye pounded it away
90+4’ — Polster clears a Kessler header on Atlanta’s last attack

Suffice it to say, the defending did its job in securing the 2-1 win. Outside of the first-half penalty, the Revolution have not allowed a goal from open play since the 11th minute of the Chicago tilt, 259 minutes ago.

The offense comes alive… then sputters

So far, New England has scored three goals from open play this season, has been the recipient of an own goal, and found themselves awarded a penalty that Gil buried on Saturday.

And we’ll be fair and say that it’s only 270 minutes into a long season, and that Bou and Gil and Buksa haven’t really found their stroke yet; Gil’s shot is hooking right, so he needs to start firing from just outside the right side posts from distance and slightly squared to the net. Add in that Bou missed Saturday’s match.

And while we bemoaned the lack of anything substantive during the second half outside of Traustason’s counter and the penalty, we have to tip our hat to the massive flurry between minutes 15 and 20 that really had us gasping for breath.

While New England had a couple of opportunities in the first quarter hour — the give-and-go between Jones and Traustason, plus the off the ball run by Jones to get into position to make a potential opportunity possible, plus a long ball to Buksa which was a tad too long — it wasn’t until Chris Penso reached into his pocket to produce a yellow card to Jake Mulraney in the 15th that something switched on for the Revs. Gil’s ensuing free kick picked out Kessler at the top of the 6-yard box, but his header caromed off the post. That rebound went to Buksa, 17 yards out. Atlanta deflected his shot over for a corner, which the Revolution ultimately converted into the opener.

Gil looked to target Buchanan, but his header went in the wrong direction and out to Polster.

Polster’s positioning and the ensuing pass to Farrell was critical in keeping the 18-second sequence going. He moved a couple of steps to his left to knock it down while shielding Brooks Lennon, then firing back to Farrell.

Farrell, who missed on three long balls over the top Saturday, didn’t miss on this one to Gil. It was pinpoint accurate, and Gil sent it hurtling into the penalty area.

Enter Brandon Bye, who made a neat cut in with his off the ball run, and cracked it in to give New England a 1-0 lead in the 19th minute.

And while we’ll get to the penalty in a moment, if there’s one thing I’d like to see the Revolution do — and I believe I’ve asked for this on bended knee — is after getting that first early goal they not ease up on the accelerator. After that excellent few moments of attacking, New England had two more decent attempts in the first half while headed toward the Banner End: a Jones drive into the penalty area that saw Damm go down with him, as well as a counterattack started by Gil in the 37th minute that saw Buksa played into space, only to have the big Pole take an extra touch or two before trying to shoot.

This has been a concern of mine, the too many touches, but not only that, Buksa’s attempts look a touch weak. Those need to be stronger. With his size and length, he should put a whole triple ton of more power behind his shots.

And as we wrote, there was only one shot on-target in the second half. With 11 chances created, this team is capable of so much more. We’re just not seeing it bear fruit yet.

Maciel’s effectiveness

While we did not give Maciel a Who’s Hot nod in the Match Report — that would have been five Hots — we cannot deny the job that the Brazilian debutante did Saturday night. By our count, Maciel had six takeaways, three of which in the first 15 minutes, to go along with the official count of 100 percent passing accuracy on 33 passes, with 44 touches of the football. I also had him for one interception.

To be quite frank, Maciel was so subtle in his play. He moved effortlessly to move into space to provide another passing option on a number of occasions, and used calmness to keep sequences going.

But not only that, he was instrumental in keeping the sequence going leading into the penalty award in the 50th minute: after Bye sent in a second cross, Atlanta had claimed the ball near the top of the penalty area, but the Brazilian came up with a critical takeaway, and then shielded Atlanta to give Gil additional time to move toward Buchanan’s position.

Gil made a flicking pass, and Buchanan was taken down. Penalty won. Match won.

There weren’t too many errors by Maciel Saturday; the only one would be a nit-picky thing, where Moreno made a neat move which had the Brazilian move to his right when Moreno went straight; the shot went for a corner off Turner’s fingertips.

It was only one match, but Maciel showed his quality. And with Polster and Kaptoum and Luis Caicedo, when he returns, those three may be hard to displace.

Hodge Podge

— Bye’s surrendering of the penalty was unfortunate. Moreno had him beat. Bye was unfortunately out on an island: Farrell was 10 or more yards away, and Buchanan had no chance of getting there in time. Farrell didn’t move, either. Buchanan even eased up just before the contact, so I don’t think Bye had really any options.

— Polster played his ass off. The aggressiveness in the attacking third, plus the pressing, really stood out.

— I mentioned the three over-the-top balls that Farrell lost. From what I saw in the Re-Watch, he had six takeaways, four interceptions, and six giveaways.

— Jones had three giveaways in the first half, but a takeaway and three interceptions. In the second half, four takeaways, an interception, and by my count, a chance created. If anything, that does wonders for his confidence, especially after the Chicago game.

Final Thought

This was a good Revolution performance, outside of the fact the offense really did not challenge Brad Guzan in the second half. This is a team that hasn’t scored from open play yet in the second half of games — the 48th minute goal against DC was the aforementioned own goal — and while this isn’t me pressing the panic button just yet, it should be cause for alarm. Add in the fact that referees are starting to card for fouls on Gil — well, once is a start — the Revs should get going sooner rather than later.