Team looks to bounce back after season opening loss in Montreal

After opening the season with a frustrating, 2-1, loss against the Montreal Impact, at Stade Olympique, the New England Revolution look to bounce back tomorrow when they host the Chicago Fire for the team’s 2020 home opener.

Although the season started only last week, injuries remain a problem.  Captain Carles Gil, the team’s most creative and most durable player, as he missed only eight out of 3,150 minutes in his debut season, sustained an undisclosed injury on February 1 and was not available for the season opener.

The defense was affected as well, with left back Alex Buttner (undisclosed injury) and central defender Antonio Delamea (hamstring) also not available.

And things could have become much worse because goal keeper Matt Turner, one of the best in the league, also seemed to damage his knee in the irregular turf at Stade Olympique when a making a save in the 64th minute.

Arena was not happy that this game was played at the Impact’s home field. The Impact have their own stadium, Saputo Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium at Olympic Park in Montreal, but elected to play at Stade Olympic because of Montreal’s cold weather.

 “No one can adjust to that surface,” said Bruce Arena. “That surface shouldn’t be allowed in the league in all honesty.”

“I give Montreal credit, they outplayed us. But to be playing a professional soccer game on a field like that — even though I know they’re playing CONCACAF Champions League on it — is a bit disgraceful.”

Turner missed Tuesday’s practice, but might recover on time for tomorrow’s game as he has been listed as questionable.

But Gil’s absence was clearly the most noticeable as it forced Bruce Arena to drop Argentinian striker Gustavo Bou back to the playmaker role, removing him from the opponent’s area, where he tends to do the most damage.

Heading into the game, there was a sense that Montreal, coming off a physically demanding second leg of a Concacaf Champions League against Saprissa, could be tired and somewhat limited with a number of injuries.

The fact that the Revs grabbed the early lead, in the 13th minute, added to that belief. Gustavo Bou took a corner kick, slid a short pass to Cristian Penilla and his cross towards the heart of the area found an unmarked Teal Bunbury, who fired a first time volley that beat keeper Clément Diop.

Unfortunately, as the game evolved, the hosts began to push forward more frequently, usually on long passes forward, a strategy that new coach Thierry Henry, the former French international who enjoyed incredible success when he played at Premier side Arsenal, thought of during last week’s Concacaf Champions League against Saprissa.

“I thought we could do better when we were coming out with the ball in terms of, instead of passing the ball back, passing it forward to make it a counter,” Henry explained after the game.

“So today (Saturday) I told the guys that we need to play a tiny bit higher and be brave on the ball. Because people always talk about being brave off the ball, I often talk about being brave on the ball.”

The tying goal came in the 37th minute. Maximiliano Urruti took a corner kick and found Joel Waterman, who headed the ball across. Revs’ defender Juan Jones did not react and that allowed Romell Quioto to tuck the ball past Matt Turner. 

VAR takes goal away

There were only a few chances after that and the Revs thought they had gone ahead in the 73rd minute. Wilfred Zahibo, who had replaced Scott Caldwell after intermission, headed home Brandon Bye’s cross, but the play was reviewed by the VAR and it showed that Zahibo was just a touch offside when he moved to head the ball.

“After the VAR, it slowed the game down,” New England rookie defender Henry Kessler said after the game. “It’s no excuse but it was tough. But that’s part of the modern game. It’s something that you have to deal with and you have to be ready for — whether you’re 2-1 up or it’s still 1-1. It’s just part of it.”

The problem is that the Revs did not deal properly with the decision and allowed the game winner in the 77th minute. The Revs defense was caught off guard as Saphir Taïder’s long pass into space found Maximiliano Urruti, who was positioned between three defenders. When he noticed that keeper Matt Turner was a bit off his line, Urrutti smartly chipped the ball over his head, a technically brilliant play.

“He scored on a play we’ve been practicing a lot. And what a finish. He could have scored three goals today. He got one, and it was the winning goal,” Henry said.

Still, the Revs should have walked away with a point because in the 86th minute Brandon Bye’s cross found Tajon Buchanan unmarked at the far post, but his shot struck the post and bounced out.

“Obviously not a good result,” Arena said after the game. “I think Montreal outperformed us on the field. We did poorly on the basic things, passing the ball, winning balls. Still we were in a position to maybe get something out of the game, but we were not able to.”

Although the result was disappointing, there were some encouraging signs. Rookie Henry Kessler was impressive in his professional debut, looking calm under pressure and timely on his tackles.

“I think Henry was one of our better players. Henry and Fagundez I think had a good game as well. Those were two players that I think won their matchups on the day.” Bruce Arena on Kessler

“Very proud that I made my debut, but obviously I wasn’t happy with the result,” Kessler said. “A little nervous beforehand, but once you make that first pass, you know you’re in the game, you’re locked in. After that, I was cruising from there.”

Chicago lost, but impressed

The Revs will look to bounce back tomorrow, when they host the Chicago Fire in their home opener.

Kickoff, at Gillette Stadium, is scheduled for 1:30 pm.

For the Revs, health remains the main concern. As the team prepares for the home opener, midfielder Carles Gil, goal keeper Matt Turner, left defender Alex Buttner central defender Antonio Delamea remain questionable. But, clearly Gil, who has returned to practice, is the most important question.

Carles Gil remains

questionable

After Tuesday’s practice, Coach Bruce Arena was asked Gil whether Gil will be able to play tomorrow.

“I don’t know the answer to that question,” Arena responded. “He’s back on the field this week, which is a positive. He played in all 35 games last year, he’s missed one this year. I think he’s important. We’ll get him back shortly.”

“Carles, he’s a creator, he was our MVP last year, and you know why he’s created so many goals for us, so many chances,” midfielder Diego Fagundez added. “And it’s unfortunate he’s not on the field. Hopefully, we can get him prepared and, hopefully soon, he’s back.”

Actually, last season’s remarkable recovery began after these two teams met on May 8 in Chicago and the Revs were crushed 5-0. The following day Brad Friedel was dismissed as head coach and a couple of days later GM Mike Burns was shown the door as well. That led to the arrival of Bruce Arena, who guided the team to a play-off spot.

The visitors have overhauled their team both on and off the field. As a result, it is unclear how they well fare this season but the Fire opened the 2020 campaign with a strong showing against defending MLS Cup champions Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field.

Chicago opened the scoring on Robert Beric’s first MLS goal, but the champions stormed back and managed the game winner late in injury time on Jordan Morris’ goal.

“I don’t know what they (Chicago) have looked like in years past, but I thought they played very well in Seattle,” said Arena.

“It’s a new team from last year,” added Defender Andrew Farrell.  “Really good players. I think the coach has gotten them playing well. Obviously Seattle came out in the second half and brought in Jordan Morris and he did really well exposing with his speed. Hopefully we can get our wingers to do kind of the same thing. It’s going to be a tough task.”

Happy to be home

The players are happy to be back at Gillette Stadium and eager to start the home campaign.

“It’s an important game,” Wilfried Zahibo said. “It’s most important we start (well) at home. We want a good start, we want the fans to be happy, and we want the three points to start the season.”

“Very much so looking forward to playing in Gillette,” rookie Henry Kessler after last week’s game in Montreal. “Haven’t played a full game there yet – only a couple training sessions – so very much looking forward to it and playing in front of the home fans.”

“I think we are all excited,” added Diego Fagundez. “We have been working hard in preseason and it was great to see the fans out in Montreal. But of course, playing at home is going to be different. We just can’t wait to get out there and hopefully the weather stays warm for us and we can get a good atmosphere.”