Revolution coach Bruce Arena has been saying the season series with the Philadelphia Union might have gone differently had his team scored the first goal in a game.
The Revolution went one better against the Union, taking a 2-0 playoff victory Tuesday night as Adam Buksa and Tajon Buchanan converted off Carles Gil assists in the first half.
The Revolution, who broke a six-year postseason victory drought last week, will visit Orlando SC in Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference semifinals Nov. 29 at 3 p.m.
The Revolution had gone 0-4-1 against the Union, the Supporters Shield winners, during the regular season and MLS Is Back tournament. But they had faced Philadelphia only once before with Designated Players Buksa, Gil, and Gustavo Bou in the lineup.
The Revolution threatened several times early. After defenders Ray Gaddis and Jakob Glesnes collided, Bou sent a shot off Glesnes, the ball rolling just past the goal (13th minute), then fired wide from the penalty arc (20th). The Revolution then had claims for penalty kicks as Jose Andres Martinez appeared to have stopped the ball with his left hand, then took down Buchanan inside the penalty area in the 24th minute.
Referee Joseph Dickerson allowed play to continue, then whistled a foul as Gil went down about 25 yards from goal on the right. Gil lofted a free kick toward the penalty spot where Buksa drove an open header past Andre Blake in the 26th minute.
Gil then found Buchanan on the right wing, Buchanan continuing into the penalty area, avoiding Kai Wagner, and finishing into the far side of the net from near the goal area in the 30th minute. Buchanan who has scored all three of his goals against the Union, celebrated with a handspring and backflip.
The Union added super sub Ilsinho to start the second half. But the Revolution produced the better early threats as Buksa and Bou had shots blocked, then Gil chipped off the bar (50th).
Union coach Jim Curtin added Jack Elliott in midfield, a move that paid off in a 2-1 win over the Revolution in September, then forwards Cory Burke and Anthony Fontana. But the Revolution held on for their first win against the Union since 2017 and first at Subaru Park since 2015.
The Revolution had control of the game to the end, and attempted to quickly shift focus to the next game.
“We’ve got to get ourselves ready to play against Orlando in a couple of days,” Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “Everybody is focused, we’ll spend the holidays together and away from our families. We’ll just keep the good vibes going over here and keep working hard and we’re playing with house money because everybody is sort of writing us off.”
Other observations from Tuesday’s game:
▪ Arena’s big-game experience has paid off for the Revolution, who have an all-time 8-12-2 record in away playoff games. Arena now has an MLS-best 34-12-6 playoff record since 1996.
Arena, who was away from the league for nine years while guiding the US national team, is known as a motivator, but he is apparently not the rah-rah type.
“I didn’t hear that word [underdog] spoken once over the last three or four days in preparing for the game,” Arena said. “I don’t think those kind of comments motivate athletes at the professional level. We knew what kind of games this was, we knew the strengths and weaknesses of our opponent, and we knew what we’re capable of. We went into this game believing we could win, and we did.”
Said Turner: “What I’ll say is his attention to detail is second to none and, in saying that, he also gives a lot of guys freedom to create, freedom to roam the field, freedom to be themselves and express themselves on the field and I think that guys have responded really well to it. It comes with goods, it comes with bad, and I think overall he just knows how to prepare teams to play in the playoffs and it showed in our last two games.”
▪ A crowd of 3,000 attended the match, many stationed in the stands behind the goal at Subaru Park, where the Union had a 7-0-0 record against the Revolution since 2015 and went 9-0-0 during the regular season.
“There were fans there and they were right on top of you, but our team in general played pretty well,” Turner said. “Now it’s nice because we’re used to it and when we go down to Orlando we’ll play in front of fans.”
▪ Gil’s playmaking has been impressive, especially considering he missed three months of the season because of surgery for a bone spur in his foot.
“I’ve had a lot of good midfield players or playmakers, and Carles is right up there with all of them,” Arena said. “It’s a different time, different era, different kind of league, so I don’t know if I can compare him with other guys. It’s apples to oranges in some ways.”
▪ The Union might have suffered a letdown with 16 days off since capturing the Supporters Shield. The Union’s lack of postseason experience might have been a factor, as well — they have only one postseason win in their 10-year history.
“I had said months ago that the teams who get in the playoffs, it’s going to look different because it’s such a crazy year,” Arena said. “I think teams who had veteran players and most players returning and had an identity as a team were going to have an advantage during the regular season because of less practice time, the layoff, and all that kind of stuff. And then when playoff time comes around and other teams that are in it have a little more time together, they’ll challenge the teams that were very good during the regular season. You see that’s been the case.”
▪ The Union’s energy-conserving counterattacking tactics have been effective, but they had difficulty switching gears when they needed to rally offensively. Meanwhile, Arena has had the Revolution in full-on attack mode, symbolized by starting Buchanan at right back, unconcerned about his lack of experience defending.
“He’s an athletic kid, he’s technically good, and he’s got a little bit of a chip on his shoulder,” Arena said of Buchanan. “He’s a very competitive guy. We didn’t hesitate a second knowing that he could make that adjustment there, because he’s played right midfield, which in a lot of ways has similar responsibilities to right back. The adjustment to that position wasn’t that difficult.”
▪ Though the Revolution struggled in this series, they mostly defused the Union attack by shutting down Brenden Aaronson, an MLS Best XI midfielder, who has earned a $6 million transfer to Red Bull Salzburg. Aaronson did not produce a goal or assist in six games against the Revolution, and was replaced in the 62d minute of this game.
“[Defenders] Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler were just rock solid, that was probably the easiest — I’ve worked a lot harder for clean sheets, let’s put it that way,” Turner said.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.