Sep 5, 2018; New York, NY, USA; New York City defender Anton Tinnerholm (3) defends against New England Revolution forward Cristian Penilla (70) during first half at Yankee Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Noah K. Murray-USA TODAY Sports
The New England Revolution’s playoff hopes have a steadier pulse after Wednesday night’s 1-0 victory over New York City FC at Yankee Stadium. This was the Revolution’s second road victory of the season and NYCFC’s first home loss of the year as well.
Here are three takeaways from New England’s performance:
Defense finally stands tall
Despite getting out-shot 28-11 and out-possessed, the Revolution managed to scrape together an advantage and hang on to secure a necessary result.
Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton made his first league start of the season in place of Matt Turner, whose form in net had started to slip in recent weeks. Knighton showed his veteran savvy as he commanded New England’s back line, which upheld the team’s fifth shutout of the season and its first since July 7.
Knighton also made five saves, including one off a Maximiliano Moralez breakaway in the first half. In turn, the Revolution back came up with every block, deflection and clearance necessary to halt NYCFC’s incessant attack.
The hosts were certainly shorthanded Wednesday due to injuries and call-ups, but they still managed to put out a capable team that featured Moralez (ranked third in the league for assists) and the always-dangerous David Villa.
But Revolution coach Brad Friedel also didn’t field his best starting XI, either. He was without Luis Caicedo (suspension) and Teal Bunbury (knee) and opted to bench Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo in favor the inexperienced Cristhian Machado and Brian Wright.
Regardless, Friedel’s choices got the team precisely what was necessary: three points to snap a nine-game winless run and keep their playoff hopes alive.
Tactical decisions spot-on
Friedel deserves credit for putting out a gutsy starting lineup and for his management of the game from the sideline.
New England was clearly second-best for most of Wednesday night, but Friedel’s short-handed and inexperienced lineup still managed to weather the storm and keep NYCFC at bay.
While the decision to start Machado never really paid off, Friedel’s move to substitute him off for Fagundez at halftime helped change the game. Fagundez’s entrance provided a fresh, dynamic look that also helped open space for Cristian Penilla, who was also quiet in the first half.
Penilla was involved in each of the sequences that led to his team nearly scoring in the second half.
As for the goal, Brian Wright seems to have made the case that he can be a contributor for the remainder of this season and next. He needed just three chances to put away his first MLS goal: one came off the post in the first half, another was halted dead for a raised offside flag and the third was his opportunistic rebound on Penilla’s shot from just outside the box.
Friedel was also spot-on with his second-half changes. In addition to the Revolution getting a spark from Fagundez, the insertion of both Juan Agudelo and Isaac Angking helped the Revs maintain possession, push into New York’s end of the field and burn time off the clock.
Playoff hopes still look bleak
Prior to Wednesday’s game, FiveThirtyEight listed the Revolution’s chances of making the playoffs at eight percent.
After their victory, New England’s chances shot up to 17 percent.
The standings may say the Revs are just three points out of a playoff spot, but a number of factors, including strength of schedule and the form of their Eastern Conference rivals is keeping their postseason hopes in doubt.
Remember, the Revolution slipped out of playoff position due to their nine-game winless run. In seven of their previous nine games, they gave up at least two goals per game. They now have just two road wins. They’re also winless at home in their last five games. Their leading scorer has just one goal in the team’s last 12 games.
Looking ahead, the Revs play in difficult road venues like Los Angeles, Toronto, Atlanta and Salt Lake City. They play four of their last seven games against teams in playoff position.
D.C. United, which is three points behind New England, also has two games in hand. The Philadelphia Union, currently in fifth place, look as though they won’t be caught. The Montreal Impact, in the sixth and final spot, look more vulnerable.
However, the Revolution’s hopes of taking Montreal’s place rely on Montreal and D.C. imploding in the season’s final stretch. That looks highly unlikely.
To make good on their 17 percent chance of making the postseason, the Revolution have to almost be perfect. They probably have to finish the season unbeaten and hope for their Eastern Conference rivals to stumble along the way.