FOXBOROUGH — A year ago, the Revolution were scrambling to chase down the Philadelphia Union and Columbus. This season, the Revolution have not only caught up to both foes, their 1-0 victory over the rechristened Columbus SC at Gillette Stadium on Sunday launched them into the lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
The Revolution (3-1-2, 11 points), who played to a controversial 1-1 draw with the Union on Wednesday, extended their first-place run to three weeks, their longest stay in the lead since 2005. Adam Buksa finished a Brandon Bye cross in the 86th minute in the teams’ first matchup since Columbus (1-2-2, 5 points) took a 1-0 victory in the conference final last year.
The deciding sequence started as Revolution midfielder Matt Polster drew a foul just outside the center circle. Wilfrid Kaptoum touched on to Carles Gil, who sent a through ball to Bye on the right wing, Buksa converting in front of Jonathan Mensah past Eloy Room for his second goal of the season.
The Revolution started strong in taking their first victory over Columbus, which recently dropped the Crew nickname, since 2017.
In the opening minutes, the Revolution came close on headers by Polster and Bye off Gil feeds, then Gil’s close-in right-footer was touched off the right post by Room in the 32nd minute. In the second half, Columbus midfielder Artur sent a right-footer off the left post (62nd) and, a minute later, Revolution forward Teal Bunbury went down in the penalty area in a clash with Waylon Francis, referee Robert Sibiga allowing play to continue.
Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena’s substitutes paid off, as Tajon Buchanan threatened on the right wing, Kaptoum combined with Polster in holding midfield positions, and Buksa entered in the 83rd minute, pairing with Gustavo Bou up front.
Most of the Revolution’s games have gone to the wire, three marked by late-game disputed refereeing decisions, including the draw with the Union and a 2-0 loss to Nashville SC May 8.
“I’m disappointed we don’t have two wins, we should’ve won the game in Philadelphia,” Arena said of the last three matches. “That’s our fault, though the officiating takes a little responsibility, but we have to take more than that. We should’ve closed that game out and won. So if we had done that you’d look at the week and say that was a pretty good week and look at it say it’s okay. We played three of the better teams in the Eastern Conference and had a moderate amount of success.”
Observations from Sunday’s game:
▪ Arena believed the Revolution were outplayed in central midfield in falling to Columbus in the playoffs. This time, Lucas Maciel and Polster matched Columbus’ Artur and Darlington Nagbe. Columbus was missing MLS Cup MVP Lucas Zelarayan (injured) and coach Caleb Porter replaced Artur, right wing Luis Diaz, and leading scorer Gyasi Zardes late in the game.
“We certainly were better there than we were in Columbus in December,” Arena said. “I think they arguably have one of the top midfields in the league. They certainly missed their No. 10 [Zelarayan]. I thought in December we were dominated in the middle of the field tonight it was a much more competitive battle.”
▪ Buchanan and Gil continue to draw fouls in dangerous parts of the field. But the Revolution had struggled to threaten on set pieces — until Buksa converted against the Crew off a quickly-taken free kick. On the deciding goal, Bye made a strong run on the right and took Gil’s pass in stride before delivering a low cross.
Columbus had difficulty on its left wing, and concluded the game with substitutes on that side of the field. Left wing Derrick Etienne Jr. appeared to be injured before being replaced by Liam Fraser in the 67th minute, and Porter removed left back Waylon Francis, who was involved in a collision with Bunbury in the penalty area in the 63rd minute and was cautioned in the 71st minute.
▪ The Revolution have squandered several late-game crosses, missing open goals, in the last two seasons. Bye, who came close to setting up at least two deciding assists early last year, has regained his edge after being slowed by injuries late last season.
▪ Arena is still experimenting with the Bou-Buksa combination up front. Arena considers both “No. 9s,” hold-up strikers who can play with back to goal, set up teammates from the wings, and finish.
“We’ve been playing [Bou] as a double nine with Adam at the start of the season. I thought he did a good job. He held the ball up, he had a few looks at the goal against a team that’s really difficult to play against.”
Said Buksa: “We understand each other very well. I love playing with [Bou] because he’s a quality player. In my opinion, having us both on the field at the same time is a good solution — is the best solution.”
▪ The Revolution seem to be developing depth as they improved to 3-0-0 at home, Jon Bell starting at center back for the second successive game.
“I thought last year that was an area we had a weakness,” Arena said of central defense. “The only way you can do that, to develop that, I think, is give some rotation to that position and give some players games.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.