The Revolution nearly broke their Opening Day jinx, but settled for a 2-2 tie with the Chicago Fire at Soldier Field Saturday night.
The Fire took an early two-goal lead, and the Revolution quickly equalized as their record in season-openers slipped to 5-15-6, and 0-5-3 since 2013.
Both teams tired in the late-going, but the Revolution had the best chance to break the deadlock as Edward Kizza hit the bar with an open header in the 87th minute.
“Chicago was a much more physical team,” Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena said. “They took the game to us. When you open the season on the road it’s difficult, it’s challenging. I’m disappointed we weren’t better-prepared to start the game. To get a point out of this, we should take it and get out of Chicago and not look back.”
Robert Beric opened the scoring off a Boris Sekulic feed, finishing into an open net in the fifth minute, and Luka Stojanovic scored off a Beric center in the 11th minute. Both goals set up by Chinonso Offor layoffs.
Adam Buksa cut the deficit with a header off a Carles Gil corner kick in the 14th minute. Tajon Buchanan and Gil then switched sides, and the move paid off as Gustavo Bou finished a Buchanan cross off a throw-in in the 27th minute.
Chicago seemed to catch the Revolution flat-footed in the earlygoing. DeJuan Jones and Buchanan left the left side open, and the Fire capitalized.
But the Revolution rallied, and after tying the score, nearly broke the deadlock as Buksa twice headed Gil set pieces just off target, and Gil skipped a right-footer wide.
The Fire had two late opportunities. Beric sent a shot wide (85th), then a Gaston Gimenez free kick was saved by Matt Turner in injury time. The free kick was set up when Jones was red-carded for a foul on a Przemyslaw Frankowski breakaway on the edge of the penalty area. Jones will be suspended for the Revolution’s home-opener against D.C. United next Saturday. The sequence was reviewed by referee Fotis Bazakos, who needed more than three minutes to confirm the decision before Turner easily grabbed Gimenez’ attempt in the 96th minute.
Observations from Saturday’s game:
▪ The Revolution clearly weren’t ready to match up physically with the Fire in the opening minutes, uncharacteristically for an Arena team. The Revolution did not panic, though, and Arena’s adjustments paid off. The Revolution spent the entire preseason using Gil on the right wing, and will likely have him playing there again since he is most effective setting things up and cutting back into the middle from there. Deploying Gil outside also helps protect him from hard-charging midfielders. The Fire’s Luka Stojanovic crushed Gil from behind in the 55th minute, and Gil seemed to lose effectiveness, sometimes appearing to hold his back in pain. Arena points out his first D.C. United team failed to win its first four games, though it ended up capturing the 1996 MLS Cup. More recently, the Revolution surprised Arena’s LA Galaxy with a third-minute Shalrie Joseph goal in the 2011 season-opener; the Galaxy rallied for a 1-1 draw and went on to win the MLS Cup.
▪ Arena has recognized the vulnerabilities on the left side of the Revolution formation since arriving in 2019. After last season, Arena made Colombian left back Christian Mafla his first foreign acquisition. Mafla, who has struggled with injuries and played for the Revolution II team in a 3-0 loss to the Richmond Kickers last night, is expected to be available next Saturday.
▪ Early on, Arena realized the alignment was not functioning. Buchanan and Jones were not connecting offensively and were out of synch defensively. On the opening goal, the Revolution central defenders were playing high, attempting to place the Fire attackers in an offside position. Buchanan seemed to be doing the same, but ended up holding Sekulic onside. In the 12th minute, an errant Buchanan back pass went to Alvaro Medrano, who nearly upped the Fire lead to three goals.
“Tajon struggled to start the game, he was poor on the ball, had defensive lapses and certainy the first goal, he did not do well on,” Arena said. “I thought we were really struggling on that side of the field and Carles helped settle things down and Tajon was obviously more comfortable on the right side of the field.”
▪ On the second goal, Przemyslaw Frankowski crossed from the left to Beric, unmarked at the back post. Again, neither Buchanan nor Jones appeared to be in position. The Revolution retaliated, but it was clear the Revolution needed to adjust on the left side. Stojanovic’s score came on a play similar to the decider as the Columbus Crew defeated the Revolution, 1-0, in the Eastern Conference final last year. On the Crew goal, Buchanan was left isolated at the back post as Jones had been positioned near post on a corner kick.
▪ The Revolution have not won a season-opener since taking a 1-0 victory over the Fire in 2013. They had a chance to salvage a point in last year’s first game, but Buchanan headed off the bar from close range in the final seconds of a 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact. This time, Kizza had a clear opportunity to give the Revolution the advantage in the final minutes off a Bou cross. Buchanan, who played as a late substitute on the left wing in Montreal, soon after earned a starting role on the right and finished last season with three goals in all competitions.