The Revolution backed into the MLS playoffs with two games remaining in the regular season. A 1-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls Wednesday night dropped the Revolution to seventh place in the Eastern Conference, but Inter Miami’s 2-1 loss to FC Dallas assured them of a postseason berth for the second straight season.
Now, the Revolution (7-6-8, 29 points) will use matches against D.C. United on Sunday and at the Philadelphia Union on Nov. 8 to attempt to earn a first-round bye and also prepare key players such as Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil for the playoffs.
Aaron Long’s 89th-minute score off a corner kick ended the Revolution’s four-game road unbeaten streak and extended their winless streak in regular-season games against the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena in Harrison, N.J.
Gil made his second appearance since returning from ankle surgery, but Bou (hamstring) remained out. Gil and Lee Nguyen entered as 63rd-minute substitutes, the game opening up after a sluggish start. But the Revolution failed to get going offensively, and the Red Bulls (8-8-5, 29 points) earned a corner off a desperation sliding play by Alexander Buttner. Kaku Romero took the corner, and Long finished off a Tim Parker flick-on as the Red Bulls improved their unbeaten streak to five games.
Revolution coach Bruce Arena disputed the goal, saying Long knocked down Thomas McNamara, and also said the Revolution’s Tajon Buchanan (who was cautioned) had earned a possible penalty kick after going down in the 75th minute.
“Once again, we see I think absolutely inefficient use of the [Video Assistant Referee],” Arena said. "[McNamara] was fouled on the play. Was it a bad foul? No. But [Long] pushes him aside and scores a goal. I don’t understand why we have VAR. We had the same kind of play in the Toronto game [1-0 home loss]. It’s cost us two games. There’s no point in having VAR if they can’t make a judgment like that that it’s a foul. I don’t think we should even use VAR. It’s so inefficient, it really is. Anyway, on the night, the kind of game we expected. It was going to go down to the last minute, and it certainly did.
“Were we good enough to get a win tonight? No. I think a fair result is a draw. I’m disappointed in the result. We can complain about VAR all we want, but we’ve got to then be strong enough and defend better on a corner kick.”
The Revolution have a 2-10-2 record at Red Bull Arena, winning in the 2014 Eastern Conference final and also defeating the Montreal Impact, 3-2, earlier this month.
Other observations from the game:
▪ Though the Revolution have struggled in the last two games, their bigger concerns are trying to finish in the top six in the conference and getting Bou and Gil re-integrated. The Revolution are out of contention for a top-four finish, which would guarantee home-field advantage in the playoffs, but trail the Red Bulls on tiebreakers for sixth place, which would mean a first-round bye. Gil, who replaced Diego Fagundez (who made his 261st appearance, tying Shalrie Joseph’s team record) seems close to full strength, but needs game fitness after being out for three months. Bou appears close to recovering, but has played only 20 minutes in the last six matches. Arena has been rotating the lineup in an attempt to keep players fresh. Leading scorer Teal Bunbury (six goals) did not play against the Red Bulls, and Nguyen entered late, along with Buchanan and Gil.
▪ The Revolution have been punished for their attacking style, judging by the patterns of the last two games. Nashville SC barely played any offense, its starting lineup featuring five defenders, in a 1-1 tie Friday. The Red Bulls were similarly conservative for most of the match. Both Nashville and the Red Bulls then started going forward in the second half.
Such tactics are contrary to soccer tradition — usually, the home team comes out strong offensively, trying to control possession, and willing to gamble at times for a chance to score early. This contrarian strategy might be related to the condensed schedule, combined with a lack of confidence in teams’ ability to go forward. But the Revolution need to capitalize on the opposition’s pack-it-in style, and likely will be able to better cope with that if their most creative performers are on the field together.
▪ It is probably too late in the season for the Revolution to adopt an ultra-defensive attitude, and Arena would not contemplate it, anyway. Arena’s teams have always demonstrated free-flowing, uninhibited play, players allowed freedom to make things happen, unafraid of leaving space for the other team. Besides, the Revolution’s defense has been consistently strong without reverting to a siege mentality. The Revolution have outscored opponents, 22-20, their 0.95 goals against record is better than the team mark of 1.09 set in 2006.
▪ The Video Assistant Referee feature has cost the Revolution in the past. When VAR was introduced in 2017, the Revolution had players ejected in the 11th minute (twice) and 16th minute following reviews. Now, the league appears to have tried to become more judicious in reviewing plays. But use of the VAR will always be arbitrary, and has proven to be controversial even when applied according to league guidelines.
The Revolution could be justified in being dissatisfied that referee Alan Kelly did not examine the incidents in which Buchanan and McNamara were felled. Had Kelly done so, then confirmed the caution against Buchanan and non-call on McNamara, the Revolution might have been less frustrated.
“It felt like it was a foul,” McNamara said. "He had two hands on me and threw me to the side to then get free. I spoke to the referee about it, complained about it. He said the VAR was checking it, no problem. But he didn’t go and look at it himself, and he just said, ‘No foul.’ "