Revolution’s title dreams shattered by Columbus Crew

By José Ríos

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The New England Revolution built up momentum in their unexpected run to the Eastern Conference Final of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, but their run of wins finally came to an end as they were shut out 1-0 by Columbus Crew SC on Sunday, Dec. 6. 

Though the game was an even contest as both teams created chances and looked to get the win, Columbus ultimately was the more efficient side. This was enough for the club to win their third Eastern Conference title in franchise history.

The Revs did not disappoint in their overall play, but they failed to be the threat they were throughout the postseason. They had chances and were close at times, but despite their best efforts could not take advantage of clear chances.

The game started slow with a few missed shots for Columbus. The first real chance came in the 27th minute when New England captain Carles Gil played a beautiful  long ball down the left side to forward Adam Buksa, but the Polish striker’s shot came off the post. 

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Columbus responded in the 35th minute as attacking midfielder Lucas Zelarayán forced New England’s goalkeeper Matt Turner to make a good save to keep it tied. Three minutes later, forward Pedro Santos took a shot from outside the box, forcing Turner to, yet again, make another fantastic save as he dove to his right and managed to get his hand on the ball.

The first half ended tied with the game still up for grabs. The first chance of the second half was again for Adam Buksa in the 55th minute, who brought the ball down with his chest, left a Columbus player on the ground, and forced Andrew Tarbell to get a hand to it and sent it out for a corner kick. 

Columbus responded three minutes later with what would be the killing blow for New England’s season. In a fantastic link up play, Zelarayán crossed the ball from the left side to defender Jonathan Mensah, who brought the ball down and played a pass to midfielder Artur. He shot the ball with his first touch, slotting it in the bottom right corner to take the 1-0 lead and ultimately win the game.

New England tried to rally with a few chances late in the game, but the Revs were never able to convert.  With one last chance to rescue their season in the 94th minute, a long ball was played into the box where all but four players were waiting, but it was cleared by a Columbus defender. The ball fell to New England midfielder Matt Polster who struck it first time, but Tarbell reacted quickly to catch it and seal the game. 

New England came out of this game visibly disappointed, and rightfully so. Despite maintaining 53 percent possession and having multiple chances to tie and even win the game,  the Revs did not take advantage of their opportunities. 

The real wasted chances came from forward Gustavo Bou. Toward the end of the match, the ball fell to Bou, who was in a perfect position to either shoot or pass to a teammate. Instead, he ended up tapping the ball for Tarbell to easily save. This is not to discredit Bou’s contributions this postseason, however. He was instrumental in every game leading the conference final, but he simply did not show up in the way he had in the past three games. 

New England head coach Bruce Arena said the Revolution will look to improve their lineup by bringing in forwards in the offseason.

“Technically, we’re not as good as we need to be,” said Arena in the postgame press conference. “We need to bring in a few better players to help us in the attacking end of the field, and we can use help in other positions.”

The threat all three Designated Players—Buksa, Gil, and Bou—have going forward has been essential this postseason, but it was not enough against Columbus. Tajon Buchanan was also a threat in their past two games, but was invisible against Columbus. 

“They did a good job paying attention to Carles [Gil] and Tajon [Buchanan], and they neutralized us in those positions,” said New England head coach Bruce Arena in the postgame press conference. 

If there is one positive to take away for New England, it’s Matt Turner’s performance. The team’s MVP once again showed up as he made countless saves to try to keep his team in the game and only allowed one goal which was impossible for him to save. Turner proved New England has a quality keeper who can help them build and can be relied on in big games. 

New England did not finish the season as the team had hoped, but they overperformed and impressed everyone by making it to the conference final. The Revolution will now enter the offseason with a good chance to build upon the successes of this season and reflect on its failures moving forward.

“We’re going to have higher standards next year from the start, we’re not going to be able to accept mediocrity,” said Turner. “I think people now see the culture and what it takes to be successful in this league and to win and get the ultimate goal, which is MLS Cup.”

Columbus will host the winner of the Western Conference Final between Seattle Sounders FC and Minnesota United FC in the 2020 MLS Cup at MAPFRE Stadium in Columbus, Ohio on Saturday, Dec. 12.