FOXBOROUGH — After six years without a playoff victory, the Revolution found a way to break the drought thanks to three difference-making Designated Players, and Bruce Arena, the winningest coach in MLS postseason history.
Gustavo Bou converted a dramatic deciding goal in the 95th minute of a 2-1 win over the Montreal Impact on Friday night, the Revolution’s first playoff win since 2014, and Arena’s 33rd since 1996. Bou also set up Carles Gil’s first-half goal and the third member of the team’s Big Three, Adam Buksa, headed off the crossbar early and nearly scored with a header off the post just before Bou’s winner.
The Revolution, who returned to the playoffs last year under Arena after a three-year drought, will play their next game on Tuesday at the Philadelphia Union.
Gil’s 38th-minute goal gave the Revolution the advantage, but they squandered the lead early in the second half. Gil one-timed a left-footer off Bou’s floated pass from just outside the penalty area, his first goal since Sept. 25, 2019. The sequence leading to the score started with a Bou-Buksa-Gil combination — then Teal Bunbury switched the point of attack from the left wing to Tajon Buchanan, who laid off for Bou to find Gil unmarked about 15 yards from goal.
The Revolution started without one player because of COVID-related protocol. Alexander Buttner, who was not on the injured list, was replaced by DeJuan Jones in the left back role, Buchanan making his first start at right back. Early in the second half, Buchanan appeared to sustain a right leg injury, and was replaced by Scott Caldwell, Matt Polster switching to right back in the 50th minute.
The Revolution struggled to adjust defensively, and Romell Quioto broke in alone in the penalty area and went down in a clash with Andrew Farrell, referee Jair Marrufo allowing play to continue in the 52d minute.
The Impact added Orji Okwonkwo on the right wing and forward Mason Toye, and the changes paid off. After a Polster foul, Henry Kessler headed a free kick out directly to Quioto, who powered a header past Farrell and off Matt Turner’s left hand to equalize in the 61st minute.
The Revolution countered with Lee Nguyen in the midfield, and in the final minutes produced several threats. Both teams went to all-out attacking mode in added time, but the match appeared headed for overtime after Turner saved a point-blank header by Okwonkwo off a throw-in, and Buksa’s header was tipped off the left post by Clement Diop.
Then, Kessler stepped up on a clearance, finding Jones on the left. Jones slipped a pass to Bou, who settled and drove a low shot from about 27 yards into the left side of the net. Seconds later, Marrufo whistled the end of the contest, several Impact players immediately collapsing to the turf as the Revolution celebrated.
Other observations from Friday’s game:
▪ Bou was limited by a hamstring injury late in the season, and had not scored since Sept. 27. Bou has totaled 15 goals in 34 games in two seasons, six from the 86th minute on.
“Gustavo is a goal scorer,” said Arena, now 33-12-6 in the playoffs. “And we expect him to get goals. I don’t think we’re anticipating that he’s going to get them all the time in the 95th minute, but that’s what Gustavo does. He’s a good player, but his DNA is scoring goals.”
▪ Gil made a surprising recovery from foot surgery to start the final two games of the regular season, and now seems close to full speed.
Gil’s efficiency of movement, technique, and ability to read the game allow him to conserve energy, but his timing had been slightly off when he returned to action in late October.
“He was very good, what more can you say?” Arena said of Gil. “He obviously helped control the tempo of the game. His passing, at times, is outstanding. Obviously, the more he continues to play, he’s only going to get better because he’s basically been out most of the year.”
▪ Arena seemed eager for a rematch with Philadelphia, despite the Revolution’s 0-4-1 record against the Union this season.
“I don’t know how many of our players have been around for the six years,” Arena said. “But we’re building a team. I think this is another step in that progression. You know, qualifying for the playoffs the last two years is a positive. And now winning a game is a positive. And then we have a really challenging game on Tuesday against the so-called best team in the league. So, it’s going to be a real challenge, but this is a very good win for our program as we continue to build it”
▪ The Revolution, who were third in the league in shots (14.6 per game), got off 25 attempts against the Impact. They will not likely have nearly as much open space to play against the Union.
The Revolution’s last playoff victory, a 2-1 away win over the New York Red Bulls, preceded their appearance in the 2014 MLS Cup, a loss to Arena’s LA Galaxy.
Five starters from that game are on the Revolution roster now — Bunbury, Caldwell, Farrell, Nguyen, and Kelyn Rowe, along with reserves Diego Fagundez and Brad Knighton. This indicates the Revolution have had a solid foundation, but failed to keep pace due to lacking DP-level performers in recent seasons.
▪ The Revolution opened the season with a 2-1 loss in a visit to at Montreal, then defeated the Impact three successive times in the regular season. The Impact tested the Revolution in this match, despite playing without several regulars, and the fact the Revolution could not coast to victory seemed to be a good way to prepare for their next match. The Revolution are unbeaten at home in 13 playoff games (10-0-3) since 2002, when they lost in the MLS Cup final before a crowd of 61,316 at Gillette. But they will not have another home game in this postseason due to seeding.
Nashville SC 3, Inter Miami 0 — Randall Leal and Hany Mukhtar scored 10 minutes apart in the first half and Nashville beat Inter Miami in an all-expansion play-in round game.
Nashville advanced to face Toronto FC, last year’s runner-up, on Tuesday night in East Hartford.
Leal scored the club’s first playoff goal in the 14th minute with a shot from distance. Mukhtar sent Miami goalkeeper John McCarthy diving the wrong way on a penalty kick in the 24th.
Dax McCarty, who played in his 24 MLS playoff games, made it 3-0 in the 57th.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.