On Sunday Orlando City will play in the Eastern Conference semifinals, and will do so in the familiar confines of Exploria Stadium. Thankfully, I’ll be able to attend this one, and I couldn’t be more excited to watch the boys take on the New England Revolution.
Since the Revs are coming to town, I spoke with Jake Catanese, one of the editors of SBNation’s The Bent Musket. As usual, he did an excellent job of helping catch us all up to speed on how things have gone for the Revs in 2020.
New England just did something most people didn’t see coming by winning the play-in round as the eighth seed and knocking off the Supporters’ Shield winners on the road. What was the key to the victory over the Union?
Jake Catanese: After seeing both Philadelphia and Toronto FC get knocked off by the play-in game winners in rather dominating fashion, I think the key was winning the play-in games last weekend. Philly and TFC both played like teams that hadn’t seen game action in several weeks and I think the long layoff was clearly a factor.
In the game specifically, Tajon Buchanan’s second goal just four minutes after Adam Buksa’s opener was an outstanding team sequence to get him into space on the right wing and just a great individual finish. Kai Wagner was ruined by a great cutback and on a different day Andre Blake, who did get a piece of the shot, might’ve kept that ball out but Tajon’s shot was too strong from the tight angle. From a rare 2-0 lead, the Revs saw out the game well, which is something they’ve struggled with in seasons past.
Carles Gil had assists on both New England goals. How important is he to the Revs’ success?
JC: It can not be emphasized enough that Carles Gil is a top MLS talent and world class playmaker who only played six regular season games (four starts) and played less than 400 minutes due to injury prior to the playoffs. I was against rushing him back simply for a playoff run but Gil looks to be 100% and certainly seems at full game fitness already, notching the opening goal against the Montreal Impact in the play-in game and two assists against the Union.
Of all the injuries the Revs dealt with this year, replacing Gil in the lineup was impossible. Cristian Penilla moved into the middle from his usual left wing spot for a month and was completely ineffective before Lee Nguyen brought some stability to the spot with a late trade from Inter Miami. Carles Gil is a true No. 10 in his prime at 28 years old and just his set piece prowess should be a boon especially for Adam Buksa up top, who struggled due to lack of service for much of the year. If the Revs can keep Gil around the next couple of years they can absolutely be one of the top teams in the East under Bruce Arena in the upcoming seasons.
What is the Revs’ preferred method of playing? What should Orlando fans expect to see from them on Sunday?
JC: It’s odd to say in November in the playoffs that I think the Revs are still finding their best style/formation/method/tactics, but such was the 2020 season during a pandemic and injuries aplenty. New England hasn’t had a consistent identity this year but may have stumbled into one by necessity with Tajon Buchanan’s effectiveness at fullback so far in the playoffs.
New England’s 4-2-3-1 has always been adept at clogging the middle and forcing teams wide, where the Revs can double team and use their fullbacks’ speed to press and counter when they can. Buchanan’s extended run at winger during Gustavo Bou’s injury spell put him in great form and his attacking prowess from right back has been the true difference maker so far in the first two rounds. Obviously if the Revs DPs (Bou-Buksa-Gil) are in form and contributing, the Revs are a problem, but if the supporting cast is having a major impact on the game as well, the Revs are no longer a dark horse, but a threat in these playoffs.
Are there any injuries or suspensions that will keep players unavailable for selection? What is your projected starting lineup and score prediction?
JC: Fullbacks Alexander Buttner and Brandon Bye haven’t been on the postseason roster but aren’t on the injury report, meaning the only depth option is veteran Seth Sinovic, who barely saw the field this year in his return to New England. I expect no changes for the Revs from the lineup that beat Philadelphia, though it’s possible to see Tommy McNamara start alongside Matt Polster as the holding mids, but given the solid outing Scott Caldwell had, I think Bruce will stick with what’s been working.
As I said on the PawedCast, no draws this time. The world does not need another 15-hour shootout. I like New England 2-1 in this one.
As always, thank you to Jake for the great info on the Revs. Vamos Orlando!