Play-off preview: New England Revolution (h).
When? Sunday November 29 12:00 p.m. PT, 3:00 p.m. ET & 8.00 p.m. GMT
Where? Exploria Stadium, Orlando, FL.
How can I catch the action? ABC, ESPN Deportes, the ESPN app, TSN 1/4 and TVA Sports for residents of the United States and Canada. The game has been scheduled for UK broadcast on Sky Sports Football The game is also available locally via radio, check local listings.
New England's style
Many in the OC Twitterverse were celebrating the Rev's defeat of Philadelphia. The prospect of travelling to Pennsylvania was certainly a daunting one. This game, however, should be viewed with just as much trepidation. Make no mistake, this will be a difficult game. New England head coach, Bruce Arena, is a veteran of such occasions. Arena has won MLS Cup multiple times, and consequently knows how to traverse this stage of the competition. New England are difficult to beat, with a miserly defence. The Revs have conceded 25 goals on the season, and chalked up 7 clean sheets along the way. Though, it's perhaps worth noting only 1 of those clean sheets came in their last 10 (against Philly in the conference quarter-finals). They are the archetypal 'hard-to-beat' side; and they will be just that.
Offensively speaking, on the face of it, there's not been a tremendous amount to speak of this season. Even the most ardent Revolution fan would have a hard time arguing otherwise. Their 26 regular season goals ranks them 19th of 26 in the overall standings. The absence of Carles Gil has been a huge blow to their offensive output. The affable Spanish playmaker put up stellar numbers last season, as the Revolution claimed a very respectable 7th placed finish in the east. Gil has come back with something of a flourish, however. His 2 assists in Philadelphia, further highlighted his importance to this squad. Locking him down, will be of vital importance. His expert delivery and eye for a pass caught the eye (beg your pardon) in midweek.
Gil's movement in Philadelphia was fluid; he is the sort of player who likes to dictate the flow of the game. Note his positioning on the heatmap in figure 1. He often starts on the right of the 3 in New England's preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. He will drift in and out of that position, which often opens up space for the likes of Gustavo Bou and Teal Bunbury to drift out wide (figure 2). This is something Bou and Bunbury, in particular, have profited from this season. The Argentine has 5 goals and 3 assists from 14 starts and 4 substitute appearances this season. Meanwhile Bunbury leads the team in goals, with 8 from 19 starts and 3 substitute appearances. Whilst the Revs are far from a one-man team, you'd be foolish not to acknowledge the importance of Gil. He is, undoubtedly, a huge cog in their machine.
Figure 1 shows Carles Gil's heatmap from the Philadelphia game. Note the different positions he assumes, both in wide areas and centrally.
Figure 2 shows Bou's and Bunbury's combined movements. Gil's free role gives both players a little more space to manoeuvre.
I don't think anyone of a purple persuasion was shocked that MLS held up Pedro Gallese's second yellow card. The league, in its infinite wisdom, couldn't find any clear and obvious evidence that the Peruvian stopper had a foot on his line when facing Valentín Castellanos' spot-kick. Ruan will also be missing following his far less disputable dismissal. Dom Dwyer, Joao Moutinho, Michael Halliday and David Loera are all still listed as out on the official MLS injury report. Sebas Mendez remains in quarantine.
The Revs, on the other hand, continue to be without Luis Caicedo and Christian Penilla. With no suspension concerns, Bruce Arena has an almost full squad from which to choose.
Possible starting XI
Bizarrely, considering their lack of rest days, I don't see too many changes for the Revs. Frankly, I'd be stunned if there were to be any rotation in their forward line. I can see Lee Nguyen deputising in midfield, potentially for Matt Polster. Former Fort Lauderdale man Nguyen is adept at keeping possession and has experience in high pressure games from his time in both MLS and the Dutch Eredivisie. They also have plenty of defensive experience on the bench, not least in the form of ex-Nottingham Forest captain Michael Mancienne. As someone who sat behind the goal he defended for 4 years, I can vouch for how good a defender he can be on his day. It hasn't worked out brilliantly for him in MLS, but he's a good defensive option from the bench; particularly if they hit us early, which I feel they will attempt to do. The Revs have scored 43% of their goals in the first half of games.
The diminutive former Aston Villa playmaker has endured a frustrating 2020 season. An Achilles tendon injury, suffered during the MLS Is Back tournament, has kept him out for much of the year. The Spaniard has only made 4 starts and 2 substitute appearances all season. He came back into the team for their recent 4-3 win over D.C. United. He seems to have come alive so far in the post-season, having scored 1 and assisted 2 (both assists came during the win over Philly). With Orlando's apparent vulnerability from dead ball situations, the Revs' number 10 could have a huge say in the outcome of this game. New England's opening goal at Subaru Park came courtesy of a wide free-kick from Gil. On his day, he can be an incredibly effective player in this league. His 10 goals and 14 assists in 2019 tell their own story.
Both teams head into this eastern conference semi-finals with a certain amount of wind in their sails. The Revs had a less than spectacular regular season with an 8-8-7 record overall. The Revs stumbled over the play-off line, with 1 win in 5 games down the stretch. All that being said, they managed to move past the Montréal Impact during their play-in, before a shock 2-0 win over Philly in the conference quarter-finals. Their win in Philly was surprisingly comfortable, which was a testament to their defensive resolve. With 3 wins from 4, the Revs will be feeling confident heading into this game.
Orlando's run of 3 successive wins was halted by MLS Cup play-off dark horses Nashville on Decision Day. They bounced back, against all odds, with a spectacular shoot-out victory over NYCFC in the conference quarter-finals. Orlando will be on cloud 9, and the extra rest days mean they should come into this game in decent shape.
We're also in the very un-2020 position of having not faced off against Bruce Arena's team so far this season. Last time out, the 2 sides played out an entertaining 3-3 draw at Exploria Stadium. A game I was fortunate enough to witness live. Who could forget that Nani equaliser? This game promises to be a tough one, particularly against a coach who is well versed in winning play-off games; having won the top prize on 5 occasions with D.C. United and the LA Galaxy.
*All statistics courtesy of footystats.org, mlssoccer.com and who scored.com
Line-up graphic courtesy of chosen11.com