Here are three takeaways from Saturday’s loss from New England’s point of view:
The goal that never came
Almost any hope the Revolution had for knocking out the defending MLS Cup champion was predicated on scoring first. New England was 10-2-5 when scoring first this season, while Atlanta was 0-9-2 when conceding first.
Atlanta didn’t face the doomsday scenario though, mostly limiting the Revolution’s attack and winning the possession battle.
And when the Revs did get through, Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan did his job. He made six saves, three of which came off chances New England probably wants back — a long-range blast from Cristian Penilla, and a pair of weakly-hit shots by Teal Bunbury from inside the penalty area.
The Revolution and Atlanta finished with 14 shots apiece, though the Five Stripes – which remains unbeaten against the Revs in eight games across all competitions dating back to 2017 – were again rewarded for being more clinical in the attacking third.
“The effort was outstanding,” Revolution head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena said after the game. “We played well and went toe to toe, but we fell short.”
Unsung heroes make the difference
Ezequiel Barco produced the assist that led to Saturday’s only goal, a perfectly-hit shot by Franco Escobar that sailed into the roof of New England’s net in the second half.
As far as contributions from big stars go, that was pretty much it.
Josef Martinez missed two clear chances despite finishing the regular season with the third-most goals in the league. New England’s Gustavo Bou and Carles Gil, who together essentially run the club’s attack, were kept quiet as well.
That’s not to say Martinez, Bou, and Gil had bad games — their respective supporting casts played a more pivotal role in the game.
For Atlanta, the unsung hero was Jeff Larentowicz. The veteran midfielder, who also played for the Revolution from 2005-09, blocked passing lanes and marked Gil out of the game.
Oct 19, 2019; Atlanta , GA, USA; Atlanta United take to the field for their match against the New England Revolution at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
New England’s unsung heroes were DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye.
Jones, a rookie who entered MLS as an attacker, remained resolute at left back for most of the game even though he was playing out of position against the defending champion in one of the league’s toughest away venues.
Bye, a second-year player, also helped anchor the back line and recovered nicely on several occasions when Atlanta’s Justin Meram, Barco, and Hector Villalba tried to exploit his flank.
After short 2019 playoff run, Revs look to future
Like the 13 other playoff teams, the Revolution entered the postseason with legitimate hope of lifting the MLS Cup.
But making it this far was impressive in and of itself. Six months ago, this club was 2-8-2 and at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings. It hemorrhaged goals, struggled against expansion teams, and proceeded to have its head coach and general manager fired.
Arena, who was hired in mid-May, probably played the biggest role in righting the season. With his staff, he acquired Bou, which gave the team a true scoring threat, and slowly built up the locker room’s competitive mentality.
New England squeaked into the playoffs, but lost just three of its final 22 regular season games. The Revs turned into a resilient, possession-oriented side with potent attacking weapons in the back half of 2019. With the soon-to-be completed multimillion-dollar training center and some more personnel additions, like incoming defender Alexander Buttner, the Revolution will look to return to the playoffs in 2020 and stick around a bit longer.
When Arena was first hired, he likened his role in helping turn the club into a title contender to a long-term, multi-year project. For Arena, the real work is just beginning.