The Revolution switched formations and went with low-priced youngsters in key roles in playing Toronto FC to a 2-2 tie Wednesday night.
Tommy McNamara and Justin Rennicks scored in the first half, and a 5-4-1 alignment helped stifle TFC’s high-profile Italian national teamers at BMO Field in Toronto, the Revolution (8-7-10, 34 points) extending their unbeaten streak to five games.
Missing several regulars, the Revolution used three central defenders — Andrew Farrell, Omar Gonzalez, and Christian Makoun — then added 17-year-olds Esmir Bajraktarevic and Noel Buck in the second half to counter Federico Bernardeschi and Lorenzo Insigne.
Bernardeschi gave TFC (8-12-6, 30 points) the lead with a first-half penalty kick, but the Revolution rallied, despite losing midfielder Wilfrid Kaptoum to an apparent left leg injury. Bernardeschi’s 31st-minute left-foot penalty into the right side of the net snapped the Revolution’s shutout streak at 402 consecutive minutes. Ayo Akinola earned the penalty kick, going down in a clash with Makoun on a Jayden Nelson through ball.
McNamara equalized with a second-chance finish off a Carles Gil cross in the 37th minute, his second goal of the season. The sequence started with a Revolution build-up from the back, following an Akinola caution for a foul on Gil. A Gil cross to Brandon Bye pressured the TFC back line, Bye then sending another cross back to Gil. With Rennicks making a near-post run, Gil’s low centering pass was bobbled by Alex Bono, McNamara following, his first try batted down, the second popped into an open net.
Rennicks broke the deadlock, one-timing a Gil feed off Bono’s feet for his second goal of the season. The sequence started with a Matt Polster takeaway, Gil slowing up play, Rennicks going past Lukas MacNaughton into the right side of the penalty area.
After falling behind, Toronto sent outside backs Domenico Criscito and Richie Laryea into the attack, and pushed center backs Chris Mavinga and MacNaughton high, Bernardeschi taking on a free role. Laryea went down, claiming a penalty, referee Fotis Bazakos waiving play on, then confirming the non-call via VAR, but failing to caution Laryea for simulation (60th minute).
The Revolution nearly capitalized on TFC’s all-out offensive tactics, as Bajraktarevic broke away, but failed to find Gil, allowing TFC to recover and earn a controversial corner kick. Just after Bazakos awarded a corner, with the Revolution hoping for free kick, Criscito equalized with a volley off a Michael Bradley pass in the 75th minute.
The Revolution played without central defender Henry Kessler (health and safety protocols), who will also miss the team’s visit to CF Montreal Saturday.
“Our guys did a good job, but let’s face it, we were a little undermanned,” Revolution sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena said. “We had a plan to defend as a team and we did that, and we had a chance maybe to get three points and getting one is a real good achievement for the team.
“I think the referee gave them a soft penalty, I believe. I have to look at it again, but when I saw it on tape, I didn’t think it was a penalty,” Arena added. “And maybe at the end of the game, we could have got a few calls go our way, but anyway, getting the point on the road against a team that’s built to win a lot of games, we got a result, so that’s a positive.”
Observations from Wednesday’s game:
▪ Defining Moment: Gil earns a free kick (35th minute), Revolution equalize two minutes later. After surrendering the opening goal, the Revolution maintained their composure, thanks mainly to Gil, McNamara, and Polster. Gil allowed the Revolution to recover, drawing a foul from Akinola, who was cautioned, then spread the field, unbalancing the defense and allowing Bye, McNamara, et al., to join the attack.
▪ Difference-maker: Gonzalez, who played for Toronto FC the last three seasons, added poise to the defense and headed an Insigne header off the line (70th). The sequence was set up as Buck surrendered a free kick in a battle with Laryea, leading to a Bernardeschi corner to an unmarked Insigne at the back post. The Revolution have held Insigne scoreless in two matches, but if he had converted on that corner, it would have been difficult to stifle TFC’s momentum. TFC has become potent on set pieces, thanks to Bernardeschi’s left-foot deliveries, and the Revolution were also fortunate Insigne failed to finish at the back post off a 14th-minute corner.
▪ Tactical analysis: Arena went to a 5-4-1 setup, using three central defenders. The main purpose of the alignment was to neutralize TFC’s threat through the middle of the field, but the setup also served to limit Bernardeschi and Insigne on the wings. The Revolution have been concentrating on staying compact defensively in front of Petrovic, who is proving to be an excellent shot-stopper, most effective as a stay-at-home ‘keeper.
▪ Statistical analysis: The Revolution fell short of the team record 420 consecutive shutout minutes, set in 2013. But the Revolution have defended well against Toronto FC, limiting the Reds to two goals in two games — Toronto has scored 4, 3, and 4 goals against three other MLS foes since the arrival of Bernardeschi and Insigne.
The Farrell-Kessler central defensive pairing has been effective in front of Petrovic. The Revolution have a 27-13-19 record (3-0-2 playoffs) with Farrell and Kessler starting together since 2020. But Arena found an effective combination with Gonzalez central, flanked by Farrell and Makoun.
Insigne is earning $13 million, his weekly wage higher than the yearly salaries of Rennicks ($120,000), Bajraktarevic ($71,000) and Buck ($65,000).
▪ Road ahead: The Revolution moved into a tie with the Columbus Crew for fifth place in the Eastern Conference (top seven qualify for the playoffs) with nine games remaining. The Revolution can pull ahead of the Crew, who play host to Atlanta United on Sunday, but will not likely be favored against Montreal and will likely be missing Kaptoum, who appeared to be holding his left hamstring when he went down in the 22d minute.
▪ What they said: “We all knew the game plan, we knew exactly what we were doing, and we forced them to shoot from distance,” Gonzalez said. “On one of them, they were successful, but I mean other than shooting from distance, I don’t think they were able to penetrate and create any real solid chances. So, I thought the backline, the midfielders in front of us did a great job in protecting us and overall, a great team effort. We wanted three points but leaving here with a point is also good and we just keep moving.”