The Revolution have overcome the loss of several players to injury this season.
But they could not compensate for the absence of captain Carles Gil, who missed a 2-1 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Saturday while remaining in Boston for the birth of his first child.
The Revolution (9-10-11, 38 points) — who did have a member of the Gil family in the lineup as younger brother Nacho made his MLS debut — squandered the lead and gave up the deciding goal on a penalty kick following a VAR call at Red Bull Arena.
Tommy McNamara opened the scoring in the 53rd minute, converting off a Gustavo Bou feed, one-timing a shot after his late run beat two opponents. Arlington’s Noel Buck set up the sequence, holding the ball against Aaron Long. But the Revolution failed to retain possession and became static defensively, allowing the Red Bulls (14-9-8, 50 points) to dissect their way into scoring position.
Cristian Casseres Jr. equalized, playing a give-and-go with Elias Manoel, then finishing alone against Djordje Petrovic in the 58th minute. Lewis Morgan broke the deadlock with a penalty kick in the 78th minute, awarded after a review determined Morgan had been taken down by McNamara.
The Revolution, who visit the Houston Dynamo Tuesday, went to a two-forward setup in the final minutes. Giacomo Vrioni made his first appearance since July 30, and Nacho Gil was added on the right wing. Gil combined with Branon Bye to set up a corner after his first touch, but the Revolution failed to capitalize.
Both teams went with a five-defender setup, producing little offense in the opening, though back-headed errors nearly led to goals. The Red Bulls could have taken the lead as the Revolution’s Henry Kessler bounced one off the post and Manoel failed to connect (19th), then the Red Bulls’ Sean Nealis blooped one for Bou, who scuffed his shot (23rd) going in alone on Carlos Coronel.
Observations from Saturday’s game:
▪ Defining moment: Just before surrendering the equalizer, the Revolution began losing composure and concentration, leading to loss of possession. In the 57th minute, DeJuan Jones launched a clearance out of bounds, then Bou failed to control Jon Bell’s long ball at the halfway line. (Bou nearly outmaneuvered Nealis, who recovered in time to start the scoring sequence.) The Revolution needed to either play keep away or draw fouls to slow things down, just the type of play Carles Gil might have provided. By easily giving up the ball, they invited disaster.
▪ Difference-maker: Video Assistant Referee. The Red Bulls’ Luquinhas had a goal disallowed following a review, an obvious call after several players claimed he handled at least once before shooting (64th). On the deciding score, there seemed to be few complaints, though the slow-motion replay appeared to exaggerate McNamara’s jersey grab on Morgan.
▪ Tactical analysis: Both teams went with five defenders — three center backs — a formula for, yes, defensive soccer, and also one that favored the Red Bulls’ ultra-conservative plans. Without Gil, though, the Revolution had to switch strategies.
Revolution coach Bruce Arena might have added Wilfrid Kaptoum earlier than the 80th minute to bolster the midfield, but both Kaptoum and Vrioni were limited because they were returning from injury. Arena said Vrioni was not ready, and using him “might have been a mistake.”
▪ Statistical analysis: The Red Bulls’ defense-first philosophy could also be termed foul-first-shoot-later. The Red Bulls committed 15 fouls, the Revolution seven; and the Red Bulls outshot the Revolution, 14-4. This season, the Red Bulls have more fouls (469) than shots taken (422); the Revolution’s totals are 298 fouls, 384 shots. The tactic can pay off, as the Red Bulls also likely get away with some fouls. Coming into the game, Nealis was credited with committing 46 fouls (five cautions); the Revolution’s four central defenders had totaled 42 (six cautions).
Petrovic has saved three of 10 penalty kicks since joining the team in May. The Revolution did not surrender a penalty kick in the first 12 games of the season.
A lack of production from forwards has cost the Revolution. In the last 10 games, the only striker to score has been Justin Rennicks.
Defender Andrew Farrell performed well in his 300th MLS game for the Revolution, and missed a chance to score when his drive was deflected by Nealis in added time.
▪ Road ahead: The Revolution could have all three Designated Players (Bou, Carles Gil, Vrioni) for their final four games — at Houston, followed by home games against CF Montreal and Atlanta United, before a visit to the Chicago Fire.
▪ What they said: “If we’re a little bit of a smarter team we have a chance to walk off the field with three points and we end up with zero, so that’s disappointing,” Arena said. “Our guys played hard, not real smart at times in the second half. A couple of breakdowns resulted in goals. Carles Gil, obviously he was missed. He’s one of the best players in the league.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.