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MLS | Revolution 0, Nashville SC 0

Revolution extend home-field futility

FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution’s home-field frustration continued Saturday night, as they played to a 0-0 tie with Nashville SC, their third scoreless game at Gillette Stadium this season.

The Revolution (5-3-7, 22 points), who play host to Toronto FC on Wednesday, extended their unbeaten streak to four games but and fell to sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings. Nashville (4-5-5, 17 points), facing the Revolution for the first time since joining MLS this season, followed the ultra-defensive example of most visitors to Gillette.

Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena attempted to spark the offense in the late going, but the additions of Adam Buksa, Diego Fagundez, and Cristian Penilla failed to click.

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Tajon Buchanan’s half volley, tipped over the bar by Joe Willis in the eighth minute, turned out to be the Revolution’s best chance.

In the second half, the Revolution seemed on the verge of duplicating the rally that gained a 2-0 win over D.C. United last week. Seconds after replacing Teal Bunbury, Penilla set up Buchanan with a cross to the back post. Buchanan’s first shot was blocked, then Willis saved his follow (64th).

Nashville dropped even deeper defensively as former Revolution defender Jalil Anibaba replaced Hani Mukhtar in the 76th minute. The Revolution upped the attack ing ante as Fagundez replaced Brandon Bye, Buchanan moving to right back in the 82d minute, but Nashville remained composed defensively as the Revolution fell to 1-1-5 at home this season.

"I think it’s a common denominator how teams play us in Gillette,'' Arena said. “They drop off. They play in a low block and they make it difficult. And technically, we were not good enough tonight.”

Observations from Saturday’s game:

▪ Arena talked about how scoring early would have changed the complexion of the contest.

“An early goal makes that game look different,” Arena said. “And the first half certainly wasn’t good enough in that regard.” It’s not like the Revolution are shy about going for goal.

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The Revolution have scored first eight times in 12 games this season, and they entered the match second in shot attempts (205) and third in corner kicks (91). The addition of Lee Nguyen, who made his fourth start, has added creativity to the Revolution scheme. But opposing teams seldom seem off-balance or overwhelmed by the Revolution attack.

The Revolution outshot Nashville, 17-3, and though Buchanan is getting into scoring positions, he has not developed a finishing touch. Buksa and Penilla, two of the team’s highest-paid players, probably should be getting more time. Penilla leads the team in assists (four, plus a hockey assist on a Buksa goal against D.C. United in July), despite playing out of position.

▪ The Revolution are developing a lock-down defensive identity, and are tied for second in goals against (12). This was the sixth Revolution shutout (third in four games) and extended their shutout streak to 184 consecutive minutes over three games.

“I think it’s a full team effort every time we step on the field, so it’s not like two parties, one getting really upset at the other,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “We’re disappointed as a team. We all want to do our part and get 3 points, and tonight was definitely 3 points to be had and we feel like we dropped 2 points. And, by the way, we should have four shutouts in four games.”

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Turner said he took the blame for an 86th-minute goal surrendered to Montreal in a 3-1 win. Against Nashville, Turner’s most difficult moment came on a diving save of a near-own goal following a deflection (58th).

▪ This was the first of five Revolution games in a 16-day span, a test of the team’s depth. The Revolution’s next four games are against foes fighting for playoff positions (Toronto FC, New York City FC, Montreal Impact, Philadelphia Union). Nashville might have been expected to provide a breather.

“You usually see these expansion teams conceding a ton of goals and kind of going crazy, but they made sure that they took care of things defensively and they got a lot of veteran guys,” Turner said. “They came in here, they had a plan, which they were taking their time, and they got a result. They got their job done. We didn’t.”

▪ The pandemic-disrupted schedule, plus the frequency of games, is making it difficult to produce quality performances for all teams.

Gillette’s artificial turf provides a further obstacle to displaying aesthetically pleasing soccer, though the Revolution try to play a possession game, seldom resorting to long balls. In recent seasons, the Revolution relied heavily on high-pressing tactics, which often worked well at home, but was not as effective on the road. Arena is attempting to find a balance by selectively high-pressing at home, and always emphasizing a passing game.

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That strategy should pay off, eventually. and likely would have been more successful if Carles Gil (Achilles') remained healthy.