FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution showed what it means to have three healthy Designated Players in taking a 2-1 win over Atlanta United Saturday. Though the Revolution had been eliminated from playoff contention before kickoff, they took a step toward concluding the season on a positive note.
Giacomo Vrioni and Gustavo Bou, both DPs, converted for the Revolution (10-12-11, 41 points) before a crowd of 33,421 at Gillette Stadium in their final home game.
The result also eliminated Atlanta United (10-12-10, 40 points) from postseason contention.
Vrioni, making his first start since joining the team in July, opened the scoring on a penalty kick in the 32d minute. Vrioni took a quick stutter step, then left-footed a low shot as United keeper Raul Gudino dived to his right.
The penalty had been earned by Vrioni, who went down after sealing off Gudino near the goal area, the sequence set up by a Nacho Gil nutmeg.
The Revolution hit posts twice in the opening half, Carles Gil after going in alone against Gudino (12th minute) and a Brandon Bye header (16th) off a corner, set up by a Ryan Spaulding-Vrioni combination.
Josef Martinez scored the equalizer for the United with a scissor kick (81st), then Bou broke the deadlock (85th) on a breakaway involving Justin Rennicks, Dylan Borrero, and Carles Gil.
The Revolution, who had all three DPs in the starting lineup for the first time since March 16, conclude the season with a visit to the Chicago Fire next Sunday.
Observations from Saturday’s game:
▪ Defining moment: The Revolution earned the penalty kick thanks to Vrioni’s savvy, as he held his ground after screening Gudino, then went down following contact from behind for the team’s first penalty at home since May 28. The Revolution are 6 for 6 on penalties this season, and have surrendered 12 penalty kicks.
▪ Difference-maker: Nacho Gil. Carles’ hermanito (little brother) upped the team’s technical ability — nutmegging at least two opponents — and also threatened by running through the defense. Like many La Liga players, the Gil brothers are highly-skilled performers; they keep foes off balance by playing the ball quickly, seldom relying on physicality.
▪ Tactical analysis: Bruce Arena went with a 4-4-2 alignment, the two-forward setup key to setting up chances. Vrioni showed he can fill the holdup striker role, allowing Bou to play off him and find space, and also fill a setup role. A Bou giveaway led to the tying goal, but he continued to retreat into defense, joining a counterattack to convert the decider. Left back depth has been a problem. DeJuan Jones has filled the starting role since 2019, but is better as a right back. Jon Bell, normally a center back, started at left back against CF Montreal two weeks ago; against Atlanta, Spaulding started, replaced by Christian Makoun after halftime.
▪ Statistical analysis: Arena went to the league maximum three DPs in 2020, but the Revolution have had the designated trio in the starting lineup only 28 times (18-5-5), including five games this season (3-1-1). Before Saturday, Revolution forwards had converted only one goal since July 16, with both Bou and Vrioni missing games with leg injuries. Both teams displayed all-out attacking intent, emphasizing possession. Atlanta proved better at keeping the ball (62 percent) but the Revolution won the duel of difference-makers.
▪ Road ahead: The Revolution will likely get off to a stronger start next season, since they will have a long offseason, and will not have to deal with Champions League commitments. Arena will likely bring in effective reinforcements — none of this year’s early acquisitions (Jozy Altidore, Omar Gonzalez, Sebastian Lletget) fulfilled their promise.
▪ What they said: “For the first time in a long time we played 90-plus minutes where we were really solid throughout,” Arena said. “Not that we were perfect by any means. But I think it was a consistent way of playing. And we happened to play a team that plays soccer, too, which is encouraging. We don’t see that many games. Atlanta comes at you and vice versa on our part. That’s the way we were capable of playing this year. We end the season, it’s nobody’s fault but our own. We had plenty of games where we could’ve gotten some positive results that would’ve made the difference.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.