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Nashville SC 2, Revolution 0

New England Revolution’s three-game unbeaten streak snapped in loss at Nashville

Bruce Arena's Revolution are back in action Wednesday night, when they visit the Philadelphia Union.
Bruce Arena's Revolution are back in action Wednesday night, when they visit the Philadelphia Union.Stew Milne/Associated Press

The Revolution have discovered another expansion team that seem to have their number. A week after winning for the first time against Atlanta United, the visiting Revolution fell, 2-0, to Nashville SC at Nissan Stadium on Saturday afternoon.

C.J. Sapong (25th minute) and Alex Muyl (75th) converted, and the Revolution had a goal disallowed and hit the post in the second half in falling to 0-1-2 against Nashville. The Revolution (2-1-1, 7 points), who visit the Philadelphia Union Wednesday, had a three-game unbeaten streak snapped.

The Revolution fell behind as Sapong made a sliding finish of a Walker Zimmerman header, the first goal they have surrendered in the run of play since the 11th minute of the season opener. The sequence followed Nashville’s fifth corner kick of the half, Gustavo Bou clearing to the center circle, then left back Daniel Lovitz finding Zimmerman isolated against DeJuan Jones at the back post.

Arnor Traustason had the Revolution’s first chance, his third-minute shot knocked away for a corner by Joe Willis. The Revolution recovered late in the half, Adam Buksa heading wide (34th), a Bou shot blocked (41st), leading to a Tajon Buchanan cross headed out for a corner.

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The Revolution nearly equalized early in the second half, as Buksa had a goal disallowed for offside (48th). He later headed off the right post (63d). The Revolution then added Teal Bunbury, Brandon Bye, and Wilfrid Kaptoum, with Buchanan moving to the left in a 3-5-2 alignment. But the changes failed to pay off as Nashville (1-0-3, 6 points) upped the advantage, Muyl capitalizing on a Matt Polster turnover for a 25-yard low drive into the right side of the net past Matt Turner.

Buksa had another chance but failed to get off a shot (83rd). Buksa went down on the play, referee Victor Rivas allowing play to continue, Buchanan hitting the side of the net before a VAR review confirmed the non-call nearly three minutes later. The Revolution continued to attack, and a Bye header was saved by Willis in stoppage time.

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“First half, we were probably outplayed in nine of the 10 positions over the first 30-35 minutes,” Revolution coach Bruce Arena said. “I thought in the second half we played much better. We needed to get a break. I think we had a chance to make things interesting at the end when Buksa was taken down in the box. I have no idea why they have VAR if they can’t use that technology to correct the mistake. But having said that, give Nashville SC credit, I think they’re deserving of the win today.”

Observations from the game:

▪ Rivas was involved in several controversial decisions, getting off to a slow start with what appeared to be a Dominique Badji high boot to Turner’s chest in the second minute. That seemed like a textbook call, an automatic card for dangerous play, especially since solid contact was made. Late in the match, after Buksa went down, Rivas could have given a penalty, or if only slight contact had been made, cautioned Buksa for diving.

Instead, it took nearly three minutes to confirm Rivas’s non-call via VAR. “The foul on Buksa was not [called] so it could have gotten really interesting if we’d gotten that penalty at the 80-minute mark,” Arena said. “And then the other part, to have only four minutes of [added] time is almost comical in that half, especially when we got three minutes in the first half. So, anyway, that’s that. It’s all part of the game and we’ve got to move forward.”

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▪ The sequence leading to the opening goal has become familiar to the Revolution, who surrendered similar scores against the Columbus Crew in the playoffs last year and the Chicago Fire in the season opener. Following a set piece, Nashville recycled the play, finding Jones in a mismatch against Zimmerman, who stands half a foot taller, at 6 feet 3 inches.

“Just a situation where we have to clear our lines better and then once we’re getting out and the ball comes back in the box, you have to follow the runner to the box,” Jones said. “We knew Zimmerman would be big in the air for them, so he was there. We knew he was putting it back across, so we just have to have guys there, in the middle.”

▪ The Revolution’s first-half struggles raised questions about the team’s 4-4-2 setup. Last week, they played a 4-2-3-1 as Bou (leg injury) missed a 2-1 win over Atlanta United. This time, it took until early in the second half for the Revolution to find a rhythm, after Arena switched to a 3-5-2, relieving pressure on Carles Gil. Some fluent passing set up Gil, who slipped past Arturo Godoy, then found Buksa for a shot off the post. Buchanan delivered inspired performances at right back during the postseason last year, but this was the first time he has played that position this season.

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“If we’re not playing well, the formation doesn’t matter,” Arena said. “Over time, we’ll see what’s the best formation for our team, but the issues in the first 30 minutes of game had nothing to do with our formation, it had to do with our play.”

▪ Arena’s substitutes did not pay off, though the Revolution produced excellent chances late. The second goal resulted from Polster failing to connect with Kaptoum inside the halfway line; the pass might have been on target with Lucas Maciel, since Polster and Maciel have played together often, beginning with Revolution II team training sessions last year.

▪ The Revolution were off to their best start since 2009, but have only twice opened the season with a four-game unbeaten streak — in 2005 (3-0-1) and ’09 (2-0-2).

“It was very similar to the first game in Chicago when we didn’t start well, but obviously we were able to dig ourselves out of that trench,” Revolution defender Andrew Farrell said. “We’re ready to move on to Philadelphia, another good team that’s in form.”

▪ It took five years for the Revolution to defeat Atlanta United, which was among the league’s most effective attacking teams from its start in 2017. Nashville has a defense-first approach, though coach Gary Smith has opened the offense since last year, when he started with five defenders and two holding midfielders in a 1-1 tie with the Revolution.

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“They battle, they’re a good team, it’s not like they’re a bad team,” Farrell said. “If you don’t come out and compete, then a team that’s going to compete will give you 90 minutes of a battle.”


Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at frankdellapa@gmail.com.