Around 4:00 PM on Sunday afternoon, I pulled my shirt collar over my head, held my breath and watched with baited breath as one kick of the ball could make or break an upset victory and send shockwaves across the landscape of New England sports.
The right foot connected with the ball…it’s going left…and then, a huge sigh of relief!
New England Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner had made the save on an Orlando City penalty kick in the 74th minute. The 8th seeded Revs maintained a 2-1 lead against 10-men Orlando with a spot in the MLS Playoffs Eastern Conference final still just 15 minutes away.
The Other N.E.
While New England was down in the sunshine state, their home turf was being employed by its other (okay, its primary) occupants, and while the Revs were at halftime, Nick Folk had converted a 50-yard field goal to lead the Patriots to a walk-off victory over the upstart Arizona Cardinals.
An impressive win by the Pats, to be sure, and one that may just keep their slim playoff hopes alive. But win or lose, that New England team’s result is going to be the beginning, middle and end of the buzz on Boston sports stations throughout the week, despite the fact that another club is in the middle of an exciting and improbable championship push.
The Revolution are the #8 seed in this year’s MLS Playoffs, and would not even have qualified for the postseason were it not for an expanded playoff field due to Covid. As it were, the Revs needed to beat Montreal Impact in a play-in round to even make the bracket proper.
That’s where the magic began.
New England advanced past Montreal (coached by international soccer legend Thierry Henry) with a rocket of a goal from Argentinian striker Gustavo Bou in the 95th minute. I jumped off my couch in excitement after Bou’s strike, which was basically a walk-off goal in its own right.
Bou, a force in attack, is one-third of the Revs’ designated player trio, along with Adam Buksa of Poland and Spaniard Carles Gil, who has played for Valencia, Aston Villa and Deportivo La Coruna.
The Designated Player Rule in MLS allows clubs to sign up to three players outside of their salary cap. It is a way for clubs to entice international stars by offering higher salaries or paying transfer fees. However, as it has been widely noted, the Krafts, owners of both the Revs and the Pats, have previously been hesitant to spend too much money on their soccer club.
That has all changed, as they have finally pushed their chips in and invested in the Revolution.
It began with the signing of five-time MLS Cup winner Bruce Arena as head coach. Arena, who also has US National Team experience on his resume, has extended his MLS record of playoff wins with this Revolution postseason bringing his mark to 35-12-6.
This year, when Buksa, Gil and Bou took the field together for the first time at the MLS is Back Tournament, it was also the first time in the club’s history that New England was fielding its full allotment of three designated players.
The Revs are finally doing what so many other MLS teams have already done – stacking their lineup with European and South American talents to pair with home-grown development players.
Unfortunately for New England, Bou and Gil missed significant time this season with injuries, a major reason why the Revs were middle of the table. But all three were healthy heading into the playoffs, and are showing what they can do when they are on the pitch at the same time.
Eighth seeded New England went into Philadelphia to face the Union, the Supporters’ Shield winners with the league’s highest point total this season. It was the sixth meeting between the sides in 2020, and the Revs had salvaged just one tie and no victories. They were winless in their last seven games at Subaru Park.
And the Revs dominated, scoring four minutes apart and keeping a clean sheet. Gil set up both goals, the first with a beautiful set piece that was headed in by Buksa.
Five days later, New England scored twice within nine minutes against Orlando. Gil opened the scoring with a PK and Bou doubled the lead by slamming home a rebound off of the post. Despite conceding a goal before halftime, Turner’s heroic penalty kick save and Bou’s second goal of the game sent the Revs to the conference finals for the first time since 2014.
A Ridiculous Suggestion
Late in the Revolution’s upset win over Philadelphia, one ESPN broadcaster suggested that perhaps, with the New England Patriots struggling and Tom Brady out of town, that this win by the Revolution would perhaps be a story seized upon by the Boston sports media. His broadcast partner audibly laughed.
Because everyone knew that it wouldn’t. The question now, is why not?
Is it because the Revolution have never won the MLS Cup, losing in all five of their appearances in the final? Shouldn’t that make this run more intriguing? Or have they been branded as losers in a town of winners?
Are we spoiled after experiencing so many championships over the past decade? Shouldn’t Boston sports fans want to jump on the bandwagon and celebrate another?
Is soccer just not an interesting sport to talk about?
In 2011, I posted on Facebook, wondering if the Revolution were to win an MLS Cup, would they get the same duck boat parade treatment that all of the other Boston sports teams did? My friend and I decided that the Revs may be deserving of such an honor. However, their win probably wouldn’t move the needle enough for the city to invest the money in a parade.
Wouldn’t it be just like the Revs to win it all this year, in the middle of a pandemic, when they would save anyone the trouble of deciding whether or not they deserve a parade?
Let’s See What Happens
Now, they haven’t won anything yet. They could lose to Columbus next Sunday in the conference finals and everyone will forget about this nice little run. Or they could get to the MLS Cup and lose for the sixth time in their history, and they will continue to be the biggest chokers in MLS history.
But the ownership has finally invested in this team. They have talented, exciting young players and a legendary coach, and are pulling off giant upsets that are helping to brighten these dark days for at least one Boston sports fan.
Do people want soccer to be back in New England? Because it’s back. And if you don’t get excited about this run, I’m not sure what else the Revs can do for you.
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