FOXBOROUGH — It took five years, but the Revolution finally caught up to Atlanta United. A dominant performance and deciding penalty kick by midfielder Carles Gil highlighted the Revolution’s 2-1 victory over United at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
The Revolution (2-0-1, 7 points) took over first place in the Eastern Conference and improved to 1-5-2 against Atlanta, which entered the league in 2017. The result also marked the fourth time in 26 seasons the Revolution, who visit Nashville SC next Saturday, have won their opening two home contests.
Gil’s setup ability and Tajon Buchanan’s runs at the defense set the tone for the Revolution. Sustained attacks led to an opening goal. Buchanan headed wide off an Adam Buksa feed off a throw-in (15th minute). Two minutes later, Buchanan ran onto a Matt Polster through ball and went down in the center circle, referee Chris Penso cautioning Jake Mulraney, the first of three yellow cards issued to Atlanta players in the first 33 minutes. Gil’s free kick went to Henry Kessler for a header off the right post, Buksa’s follow deflected for a corner. Atlanta struggled to clear, and Gil found Brandon Bye cutting into the penalty area for a close-range header in the 19th minute.
The Revolution continued to threaten, Gil barely missing from close-in with a numerical advantage, as Atlanta lost Juergen Damm to injury in the 21st minute. Gil’s passing nearly led to more goals, but Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan tipped an attempt on top of the net (34th) and Buksa shot wide (37th).
Atlanta (1-1-1, 4 points) equalized as Marcelino Moreno slipped past Bye and went down near the end line, Penso immediately awarding a penalty kick. Moreno slammed the penalty into the left side of the net in the 43rd minute.
Gil broke the deadlock with a 53rd-minute penalty kick, converting after Buchanan was fouled by Emerson Hyndman in the 50th minute. Penso called for a free kick, but after the Atlanta wall was set up, he consulted with the Video Assistant Referee replay and signaled for a penalty. Gil sent the penalty kick into the right side of the net, leaving Guzan flat-footed. It was the first successful Revolution penalty kick in a home game since Gil converted in a 4-1 win over Orlando City SC on July 27, 2019.
“I think for 90 minutes we played well against a very good team,” Revolution coach Bruce Arena said. “They’re going be a team that’s going to contend for the MLS Cup this year and they demanded that we play with quality. And you see the difference with this opponent as compared to last week [1-0 win over D.C. United]. Different challenge, Atlanta required that we raise our level of play and our guys responded very well.”
Observations from the game:
▪ Gil seemed to raise his game a notch, leaving Atlanta midfielders in his wake and finding teammates with pinpoint passes. His style of play — close touches and quick movement — is common in Spain, but there have been few players like him MLS history. “We know his capabilities, the vision he has,” Bye said. “Whenever he gets on the ball all I think is, ‘just run.’ Because he can find you and he can deliver the final pass. Definitely a big-time player, he’s always shown that, so nothing new.” The Revolution last met in Atlanta in the 2019 playoffs, falling, 1-0. From that match, the Revolution have retained eight starters, Atlanta four. “They play hard one-on-one throughout the entire field, and we knew we had to win those one-on-one individual battles to come away with the victory,” Gil said.
▪ Brazilian midfielder Lucas Maciel, 21, the Revolution’s youngest starter, made his MLS debut and combined effectively with Gil and Polster. Maciel, recruited from Botafogo FR in Rio de Janeiro to play for the Revolution II team last year, missed a chance to start on Opening Day because of injury. “Polster, the last two games, has been simply outstanding, winning balls, getting the ball off his feet and getting it moving,” Arena said. “Maciel is a terrific passer. He sees plays early and one of the things we lacked last year, for sure, is quicker passing out of those positions, and I think Maciel gives us that.”
▪ Gustavo Bou missed the game with a “minor muscle injury” and is expected to return for the next match, Arena said. That opened a spot in the lineup for Buchanan, who displayed the one-on-one attacking ability that helped key the Revolution’s playoff run last season. “He’s a talented player and it’s good to see he can understand what he needs to do on the field, and be a little more composed,” Arena said of Buchanan. The effectiveness of the lineup raised questions about the effectiveness of the Revolution’s usual 4-4-2 setup, with Bou and Buksa at forwards. Bou and Buksa display similar “No. 9” qualities, which does not always add up to an effective pairing, though when they are clicking they can be explosive.
▪ Teal Bunbury’s late appearance provided an indication of the Revolution’s depth. Bunbury, the Revolution’s leading scorer last year (eight goals), entered as a late substitute for Arnor Traustason in the 72rd minute. The Revolution are also playing without Cristian Penilla, last year’s assist leader (four), whose contract was not renewed. Arena has re-worked the left side of the alignment and seems set with DeJuan Jones at left back and Traustason on the wing.