The Revolution opened their 2020 campaign this afternoon in Montreal at the Olympic Stadium, taking on Thierry Henry’s new-look Impact squad. With a slew of new players, Bruce Arena trotted out a brand-new starting lineup, with Henry Kessler opposite Andrew Farrell in the backline, and Adam Buksa starting up top in the no. 9 role.Newly acquired left-back Alexander Büttner was left out of the matchday squad as a precaution for an injury he had been dealing with in preseason, with the same being said about team captain Carles Gil, who hopefully will be ready for the team’s home opener against the Fire on March 7th. In addition to the two already listed, midfielder Luis Caicedo was forced to miss the lineup as he works his way back into proper fitness after an injury-shortened preseason. With the new look side ready to take on it’s 25th MLS season, the two sides kicked off to a raucous crowd North of the border.
Early on the two sides traded blows, showcasing sheer athleticism and technique, with goalkeepers Matt Turner and Clement Diop handily stopping the few attempts that rolled their ways. The Revs would garner the first strike, however, when a perfect cross from Cristian Penilla found the foot of Teal Bunbury in the middle of the box, as the 30-year-old striker made the most of the chance and hammered home the opening goal of the contest. Only 13 minutes in, Bruce Arena’s side was in total control, slowing down the pace of the game and pinning the Impact into their own half.
On the defensive side of the ball, Henry Kessler had already shown why he was drafted 6th overall, solidifying a brick wall thanks in part to his newfound partnership with Andrew Farrell. New Designated Player Adam Buksa looked to pot his first career MLS goal when his close-range header was denied by the diving Montreal keeper. DeJuan Jones seemed to be settling nicely into his role at left-back, breaking off massive runs out of seemingly nothing, and forcing a tough save in the 28th minute.
While the Revs had all the momentum, a slight lapse lead to a Montreal corner kick just before halftime. The ensuing set-piece saw the ball glance off of the head of the Impact’s Joel Waterman before being headed home by Romell Quioto, knotting the score at 1 with the second half just around the corner. Each side was able to register 7 shots in the first half, while the Revs had more shots on goal compared to Montreal (3-1), statistically supporting the offensive firepower that had already been on display.
The second half was underway before we knew it, and Coach Arena had already made one change; Wilfried Zahibo was brought on for Scott Caldwell. Gustavo Bou and co. were determined to best the Montreal side that they had handled well last season, when the Argentinian had a knuckling drive parried away from goal by an outstretched Diop only 2 minutes into the half.
La Pantera found himself on the end of another scoring chance just about 5 minutes later when Teal Bunbury and Bou teamed up for a 2-on-1, before ultimately muffing the chance as Bou’s soft shot was caught for an easy save. The Revs, not to be deterred from the staunch defense they had faced throughout the evening kept the pressure on, with Adam Buksa taking a shot from range that just barely missed the far post in the 59th minute. While Buksa did have trouble finding the goal, a majority of the balls coming his way were incredibly hard to control, and the chances he was able to create were phenomenal with respect to how each play had began.
With the Revolution focusing primarily on reclaiming the lead, they had become somewhat lax on defense as the second half carried on. The loss of focus nearly cost New England when Maxi Urruti beat DeJuan Jones in the box, directing a point-blank shot on frame that Matt Turner somehow managed to keep out, before twisting his knee on the harsh turf of the Olympic Stadium. The error seemed to startle Arena and his crew, with Michael Mancienne brought on to replace Teal Bunbury two minutes later.
Revolution players were calling for a penalty in the 72nd minute when Montreal’s Louis Binks appeared to take down Cristian Penilla in the box, though the replay showed Binks barely knocking the ball away from the Ecuadorian. Only a minute later the no-call seemed to be completely forgotten. Gustavo Bou’s free-kick was pushed onwards by the head of Brandon Bye and powered home by Wilfried Zahibo in the ensuing chaos, but after VAR it was determined that Wilf had been offsides, wiping off the goal, and taking the wind out of the Revs’ sails.
Montreal looked ready to capitalize on the gift referee Chris Penso had given them, and with all the momentum on their side, the Revs feverishly tried to preserve the level scoreline. While their efforts were admirable, the deadlock didn’t last long after the no-goal, with Maxi Urruti producing a world-class finish with his first-time chip over Matt Turner, sending the Olympic Stadium into pandemonium.
In a last-ditch attempt to equalize, Tajon Buchanon was brought on for DeJuan Jones, with the backline shifting to a 3-man front rather than 4. The Syracuse product showed why he was brought on right away, nearly scoring what would’ve been a game-tying header, but the chance from in tight rang right off the post and out.
With 6 minutes of added time to go, Montreal looked to put the match out of reach when Zachary Brault-Guillard broke free, with only Henry Kessler left to stop him. At full extension, Kessler slid out and perfectly took the ball off of the Canadian’s foot, halting an almost guaranteed match-sealing goal. Cristian Penilla controlled the ball in close in the 94th minute, before lightly chipping a shot right at Diop, inevitably becoming the final shot on goal for the Revs in the match. After a thrilling match to begin the 25th season of MLS, the Impact took home the three points, taking down the Revolution 2-1.
- If there were any doubts about Henry Kessler going into the match, I’m almost certain there aren’t any at this point. The rookie in his first year out of the University of Virginia put in a complete shift in his first Major League Soccer appearance and start, as well as coming through clutch on multiple occasions including a last-second tackle to deny a breakaway. Kessler was able to control the air in New England’s half, as well as halting any and all entries into the box that came his way. I’d put money on Kessler starting against Chicago next week, and pairing him with Antonio Delamea might prove beneficial as the season goes on.
- Both Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury seemed to settle very nicely into two slightly different roles than they had operated in the past, with Diego serving as a central midfielder for a majority of the match, and Teal playing as an outside midfielder, tracking back on numerous opposing runs. Diego standing in for Carles Gil worked like a charm, with both him and La Pantera creating most of the opportunities in the final third for the attacking crew. Teal’s hard work earned him a goal, and his passing has improved tenfold, with the former Kansas City forward having a great showing.
- Adam Buksa’s day was quiet in terms of statistical production, but he certainly could’ve had a much better day with some better service. The lead foot of Wilfried Zahibo could be found sending balls the way of the Polish striker, ricocheting off of arms, hips, and chests, with Buksa never seeming to receive the ball properly. He was able to showcase his abilities, however, with a great header in the early stages of the match, strong hold-up play in the final third throughout the contest, and a near-goal in the second half off of his powerful strike. Once Carles Gil returns to the lineup, I’ve got a pretty good feeling that the team’s three DP’s will undoubtedly light it up.
- Michael Mancienne was a non-factor when he was subbed on, rarely touching the ball, and still not looking as if he’s 100%. At this point, you have to think that Mancienne’s recurring plantar fascia injury hasn’t healed, or has been re-aggravated. I’m still scratching my head at the decision to re-sign the former Chelsea defender, but I suppose the added depth does prove helpful as the season carries on. It just seems like there were definitely better options elsewhere, and if the Samba transfer were to have been completed as planned, Mance might not have been on this roster come today.
- Wilfried Zahibo has constantly been an enigma when it comes to judging his performances, as tactical disadvantage he brings commonly outweigh his physical benefits on the pitch. While his strength and height allow him to power through players and win key challenges in the middle of the park, his passing and offensive abilities seem to have dipped from last season’s play. By no means do I think Zahibo is a poor player, his role on this squad should definitely be a different one than the role he had when he was named an MLS-All Star in 2018.
The Revolution will welcome the newly-redesigned Chicago Fire FC to Gillette Stadium Saturday, March 7th for their Home Opener, in their next upcoming match.
Photo: (Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press via AP)