FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Bruce Arena could’ve taken credit for cleverly crafting the New England Revolution’s set-piece goal in Wednesday night’s 1-1 draw with the Philadelphia Union. He could’ve said that he’d told his players to be alert on corner kicks and be prepared to take them quickly. He could’ve said that it was something he’d seen on film and a tactic they’d practiced throughout the week.
But he’d have been lying.
“If you put a gun to my head, I would clearly tell you that wasn’t by design,” Arena said with a wry smile. “Most goals are not by design. Often set pieces are, but not that particular play. A good, alert play by Brandon (Bye) and a good finish, for sure.”
The play in question arrived in the 31st minute. Teal Bunbury’s shot was pushed away by Union goalkeeper Matt Freese, setting up a corner kick for the Revolution. Relatively standard.
But what followed was far from standard, as Carles Gil recognized an opportunity to take the corner quickly into the wide open space at the near post. The Revolution captain managed to alert Bye, who made the run and finished off Gil’s service with aplomb.
“I had my head up,” Bye recalled. “Carles peeked at me and said ‘Brandon,’ knowing that he wanted to play a quick ball across the middle because he thought it was open. I was lucky enough to get a touch and finish it.”
It happened so quickly, in fact, that the broadcast missed it live, highlighting how quick-thinking and clever Gil was in registering his team-leading fifth assist of the season.
“It was fantastic,” said Jalil Anibaba, who was also inside the box preparing for Gil’s delivery. “We’ve seen how good Carles’ service has been throughout the course of the season so far. Brandon was heads up, (Carles) put it in a great spot, and then Brandon did the rest to finish.”
For a long time it looked likely that Bye’s goal would stand as the winner, but a late breakdown saw the Revs concede an 84th-minute equalizer, forcing them to settle for a single point against the Eastern Conference leaders.
Still, it’s a result that extends the Revolution’s league unbeaten run to five games (2-0-3), and there’s reason to be optimistic as they officially hit the halfway mark of the 2019 schedule.
“Now we’re officially in the second half of the season, and in MLS, the second half of the season is the season, so often,” said Arena. “We have 17 games ahead of us. If we perform somewhat like we’ve performed over the last five games in the league, we have a chance to make the playoffs.
“We’re not talking right now – despite your nice compliments about winning MLS Cups and all those other things – we’re talking about trying to move up the ladder a little bit. The way the team has played over the last month would suggest there’s a chance we can get after it and have an opportunity to move up the ladder.”