Playoff goal celebration (2020, Colonial)

ORLANDO, Fla. – Sunday afternoon’s 3-1 win over Orlando City SC – which booked the New England Revolution’s place in the Eastern Conference Final for the first time since 2014 – perfectly encapsulated the mantra that big players make big plays in big games.


Gustavo Bou scored a pair of goals, Carles Gil bagged one goal and assisted on another, and Matt Turner – who finished second in Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year voting – made perhaps the play of the game when he denied Nani’s potentially game-tying penalty kick in the 74th minute.


Several other players have played key roles in New England’s trio of postseason victories – most notably Tajon Buchanan, who drew a penalty and helped set up another goal on Sunday – but Gil (two goals, three assists) and Bou (three goals, one assist) have lived up to their billings as players capable of producing something special on the biggest stage.


“First of all, I’m very happy to be in a [Eastern Conference] final,” Bou said via translator. “I’m really happy and proud of the team for all our efforts this year. We know that it was a very tough year for all of us, with many sacrifices. All our efforts this year are coming to fruition today.


“I’m very happy. I’m happy to be able to help my teammates get the win, and I feel fortunate to have scored two goals.”


New England raced out to a 2-0 lead with goals eight minutes apart in the first half, Gil converting a penalty after Buchanan had been chopped down, then that duo combining on the counterattack to set up Bou’s first of the game, a simple finish after Adam Buksa’s effort hit the post.


But Orlando fought back, cutting the lead to 2-1 before halftime and pressing after the break, even after they went down to 10 men when Mauricio Pereyra was sent off in the 60th minute.


“It wasn’t pretty. We had to work real hard,” said head coach Bruce Arena, who picked up his 35th playoff win, most all-time in MLS. “That was a real good team we played today. A very good team. Maybe the best team we’ve faced this year. A great win, obviously.


“Our guys hung in there. They had to battle in the second half despite the fact, I think, they had more of the ball for a good majority of the game. They really didn’t create too many dangerous chances, so I think for the most part, we did well.”


Turner’s penalty save on Nani erased the hosts’ best chance to equalize, and in the 86th minute Gil and Bou combined on a sublime counterattack to seal the win, as Gil’s perfect through ball offered Bou the chance to poke the clinching goal through the legs of Orlando goalkeeper Brian Rowe.


It was a goal that not only sent the Revs to the Eastern Conference Final, but also locked up their first-ever win in Orlando after going 0-3-4 in seven previous trips in all competitions.


“Last year, we came here and had a similar game – up 2-0, leading 3-1 before halftime, and ended up tying 3-3,” said Turner. “So we’ve been in some games like that and we know we don’t like that feeling. The guys in front did a great job today, and everybody just left it all out there. I couldn’t be prouder of this team right now, and we’ll rest up and get back after it next weekend.”


Next weekend is when the Revs will visit either the No. 3 seed Columbus Crew SC, or the No. 7 seed Nashville SC, squaring off for the right to host the Revs later on Sunday night. New England played Nashville to a pair of draws this year, while they’ve yet to face Columbus.


Regardless of the opponent, Arena already had his squad thinking about their preparations for the Eastern Conference Final – and how they’d need to improve ahead of next weekend’s match – even before they’d boarded the flight back home.


“I told our team afterwards – besides congratulations – we made some mistakes in this game,” Arena said. “And we’ve got to get it better for next week if we hope to advance to MLS Cup.”