Given the roster complexion and financial mechanisms available to MLS teams, the absence of high-priced attackers often has an outsized impact.
Look no further than how Josef Martinez’s ACL tear factored into Atlanta United’s underwhelming season, the hole that Sebastian Blanco and Jarolsaw Niezgoda's double-whammy of ACL tears created in the Portland Timbers or how NYCFC surged into the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs when Maxi Moralez returned.
A similar dynamic is unfolding with the New England Revolution via Carles Gil, whose initial recovery timeline left him poised to miss most of 2020 after undergoing surgery in early August to debride his left Achilles tendon. Now, as the Revs gear up for Sunday’s Eastern Conference Semifinal at Orlando City SC (3 pm ET | TV & streaming info), the Spanish midfielder is playing like he never left.
“I worked hard to get here as best as possible, both with my foot and then also in my best possible physical condition,” Gil, who had prior stops at Aston Villa and Valencia, said Friday through a translator. “I worked hard with my trainer. I knew the first few games would be tough, but it would serve to get me ready for the most important games, which are the playoffs.”
Watch: Carles Gil scores against Montreal
The left-footed playmaker scored the opener in New England’s 2-1 Round One win over the Montreal Impact, then supplied both assists in Tuesday’s 2-0 victory against the Philadelphia Union, when they bounced the Supporters’ Shield winners and No. 1 seed.
Addressing Gil’s introduction, midfield partner Matt Polster posited that New England’s current form is perhaps as simple as the 2019 MLS Newcomer of the Year returning to fitness. Last year, upon joining as a Designated Player from now-third tier side Deportivo La Coruna, Gil had 10 goals and 14 assists to help New England break a three-year streak of playoff-less soccer.
“Sometimes it is that easy or that simple to change the dynamic of a team,” Polster, a summertime signing from Scottish side Rangers FC, said. “I think with other teams in the league, if you look at NYCFC, they were never the same until they got Moralez back. So I think it is that simple at times. Obviously as a group we still need to perform and we have. We're just now adding pieces that make us that much better.”
While New England are the No. 8 seed, they’re clearly a different team with Gil starting. They’ve also benefited from DP forwards Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa both scoring during the playoffs, so their high-priced investments are paying dividends. Bou dealt with hamstring troubles down the stretch, and carries less of a final-third burden when it's Gil supplying service.
Watch: Carles Gil nearly chips Andre Blake
But so much of it, according to Polster, is getting Gil the ball and letting him do his thing.
"I think if you look at, with any team in MLS, there's always that one guy that kind of calms everything down in a way," Polster said. "So for us it's Carles. If you can find him the ball as quickly as possible, he makes things happen. It's pretty simple and he's super composed on the ball and he's able to break pressure for us, create chances. He's got a little bit of everything for us. He even defends in moments for us, which helps extremely, especially in playoffs when you can’t give up goals."
Veteran forward Teal Bunbury hopes the entire team's role isn't lost in the conversation, though. The Revs' DPs give them a boost against Orlando, as do those who are fighting battles in the trenches.
"It obviously is a benefit when you can get three top-class players that are healthy and able to help the team," Bunbury said. "I also think that guys have been putting the work in throughout this entire season and have been able to help uplift this team also. I think there's a lot that goes into it. I don't think it's one individual player. I think it's a collective unit, so for us we've definitely had our ups and downs. but I think we've been able to battle through that and work together as a group."