The Revolution’s postseason prospects received a boost Friday night. Less because a 1-1 tie with Nashville SC cut their magic number to qualify for the playoffs to four points, and more because midfielder Carles Gil returned to action for the first time since July.
Gil entered as a 63rd-minute substitute and helped set up Adam Buksa’s 77th-minute equalizer as the Revolution (7-5-8, 29 points) improved their road unbeaten streak to four games.
Gil, an MLS Best XI player last season, underwent Achilles' surgery Aug. 4 and was projected to return in “three to five months.” Gil began individual workouts last week, then joined the team for training Wednesday.
“We knew it was going to be a little challenging for him,” Revolution coach Bruce Arena said. "He hasn’t been back that long but we’ve got to get him on the field. The only way you get yourself back in form in our sport is by playing in games. You can only do so much in practice. He’s worked hard and we’ve got to get him on the field.
“It’s encouraging. And hopefully in a couple weeks we’re going to get the real Carles out there. It’s difficult being away so long and throwing him in a game like that. It’s going to just get better and better.”
The Revolution struggled to break through a defense-oriented Nashville (6-6-7, 25 points) after a 1 hour, 16 minute weather delay. Nashville opened the match with a five-defender setup, then opened things up in the second half with Walker Zimmerman heading in a corner kick in the 74th minute.
Three minutes later, Buksa converted a right-footer from the top of the penalty area for his fifth goal of the season. Buksa’s touch opened space between three defenders, following a combination involving Gil, Lee Nguyen, and Kekuta Manneh.
Gil said he expects to play when the Revolution visit the New York Red Bulls on Wednesday.
“I worked as hard as I could to get back sooner than expected,” Gil said. “I owe a lot to my personal trainer in Spain. My goal was to get back as soon as possible and I’m happy. All season long we’ve said we’re a team and not individuals. We think we’re going to be in a position to come away with three points.”
Here are some observations from Friday’s game:
▪ Gil added creativity and exhibited touches that unbalance defenses during his 26-minute stint. If Gil can come close to returning to full strength, the Revolution could become a factor in the postseason. But they will also need Gustavo Bou (hamstring).
“He’s going to be back soon,” Arena said of Bou. “He’s been handled very delicately. His injury is a minor one and when he comes back, he will be coming back at 100 percent.”
▪ The Revolution have played well without Gil but have not defeated any of the top four teams in the Eastern Conference. They struggled to find a replacement for Gil, who missed the preseason and the opening two games of the season, pre-pandemic, before returning for two games during the MLS Is Back tournament. Arena tried Bou, Diego Fagundez, and Cristian Penilla in the midfield playmaking role, then acquired Lee Nguyen to fill the position last month. Now, the No. 10 position could be among the deepest on the squad, despite the loss of Penilla (broken toe), and the Revolution could prove capable of overcoming the league’s best.
▪ Before the game, Arena noted: “I don’t know what to expect from Nashville. My guess is that their posture will be a little bit different than when they played here at Gillette [on Oct. 3].” Arena was right, though he implied Nashville, as the home team, might try to attack more than it did in playing to a 0-0 tie the first time the teams met. Instead, Nashville went even more defensive, lining up with five defenders. Nashville seldom looked to counterattack, much less attempt to retain possession for most of the match. The strategy was effective in limiting the Revolution to two shots in the opening half. But with Gil combining with Nguyen in the second half, the Revolution appeared capable of breaking through at will.
“They’re a team you certainly don’t want to fall behind a goal to, especially when they’re playing at home, because they defend with great numbers,” Arena said. “For us to get a goal back and get a point out of the game was a good performance, although I’m disappointed we didn’t get [the] three points that we wanted. They’re a tough team to break down. That’s the way they play, and you’ve got to be pretty clean with your passing and shooting and movement in the final third of the field. We’re not yet there, but very good goal by Adam [Buksa]. Overall, a good performance.”
▪ Play opened up in the second half, because the Revolution were all-out attacking and Nashville decided to go forward, as well. Matt Turner made saves on Daniel Rios (50th) and former Revolution defender Jailil Anibaba (71st) but had no chance on the goal, as Zimmerman overpowered Henry Kessler. Turner’s anticipation and sure-handedness provide security for the Revolution back line, which often has central defenders Kessler and Andrew Farrell in isolated positions while their outside backs advance into the offense. Arena is likely to keep the Revolution in a pro-active offensive mode, and the strategy can only work if Turner and the center backs perform at a high level