TORONTO – Missing six potential starters and visiting a Toronto FC side scoring goals for fun in recent weeks, Bruce Arena set out his New England Revolution side with a defend-first formation on Wednesday night at BMO Field, hoping to remain solid and seize counterattack opportunities against the hosts.
That approach proved effective as the Revolution’s five-man backline – shielded by a pair of defensive midfielders – held Toronto to two goals, while Tommy McNamara and Justin Rennicks finished off two of the Revolution’s four shots on target to claim a hard-earned 2-2 draw and move back above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference.
“I think given the circumstances, we had to be pretty solid along the backline, and they’re a very good team with their combination play,” Arena said. “I thought playing three center backs would close down some of that space.
“Our guys did a good job, but let’s face it, we were a little undermanned tonight. We had a plan to defend as a team and we did that, and we had a chance maybe to get three points, and getting one is a real good achievement for the team. I thought the guys played well.”
With center back Henry Kessler (healthy and safety protocols) unavailable, Arena deployed Omar Gonzalez in between Andrew Farrell and Christian Makoun, with Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones as wingbacks. Rennicks led the line up top with support from Carles Gil and Ema Boateng, with the Revs missing Gustavo Bou, Dylan Borrero, Giacomo Vrioni, and Ismael Tajouri-Shradi.
Bou and Borrero have missed the past five games, Vrioni the past three, and Tajouri-Shradi has yet to appear after arriving in a trade from Los Angeles FC. But still the Revs are unbeaten in their last five (2-0-3) and saw a 402-minute shutout streak ended on Wednesday night, the second-longest in club history.
“It means a lot to the group,” Gonzalez said of picking up points despite missing several key pieces. “It means a lot because some of our biggest players aren’t here. Like I said before, different people get called upon, and those players are stepping up and they’re performing. And it’s because they show up every single day, work hard, and it’s been showing in these past few games where we are missing our big players and they’re playing to their potential or playing above it to make sure that our team keeps moving forward.”
Many of those players will likely need to step up once again on Saturday night when the Revs visit CF Montréal at Stade Saputo, where they’ll aim to stretch their unbeaten run to six against a team currently sitting second in the Eastern Conference standings and on a six-game unbeaten run of their own.
“We’re missing our attack, to be quite honest with you,” Arena said of the players currently sidelined. “I give the guys credit for hanging in there and getting results in these past five games.”