A first-half goal from midfielder Sebastian Lletget and a second-half brace from striker Adam Buksa paved the way, with captain Carles Gil pulling the strings on a snow-covered Gillette Stadium pitch and goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. pitching a three-save shutout with US men’s national team star Matt Turner recovering from a foot/ankle injury.
The result leaves the 2021 MLS Supporters’ Shield winners in a promising spot for Leg 2 come March 16 in Mexico City.
“It was our best in the season,” Gil said of the match overall. “We did an amazing job together in defense. In attack we created many, many, many chances. Maybe we could [have] more goals, also they had two, three, four big chances. Earl did an amazing job. It's a very good result before we go to Mexico.”
The series winner advances to face either CF Montréal or Cruz Azul, a familiar MLS foe or another Liga MX challenger, come the final four in April. This was also New England’s first CCL match after their Round of 16 opponent, Haiti’s Cavaly AS, withdrew from the continental tournament amid visa issues.
Bracket breakdown aside, head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena said Buksa’s strike in second-half stoppage time was vital when weighing the Leg 2 outlook. New England outshot Pumas 18-8 and, for long stretches, it seemed like another breakthrough past Mexican international Alfredo Talavera might not come.
“If we're guilty of anything, it's not getting more goals,” Arena said. “I think that [second] half, the second goal was huge and then the third goal at the end of the game was huge. I think 2-0 is really inviting for [Pumas] next Wednesday, not that they're not going to be ready to make up this goal difference.”
New England’s newfound three-headed strikeforce flexed its quality, with Gustavo Bou rattling the crossbar and seeing a goal waved off for offside. Jozy Altidore, signed in free agency after his Toronto FC buyout, also held the ball up for New England’s third after entering as a substitute.
The biggest praise went to Buksa, as the Polish international No. 9 was credited with a game-high 1.81 expected goals (xG) and proved a menace throughout with his link-up play and danger in the 18-yard box.
“He had a tough time for large segments of the game,” Arena said of Buksa. “He kept working hard and pushing and hanging in there, then he got two huge goals. That's the signs of a good striker.”
The Revolution last appeared in the Concacaf Champions League in 2008, losing both of their previous games in the tournament. But with an experienced roster that’s assembled with this competition in mind, the vantage point for next week’s trip to Estadio Olímpico Universitario looks quite rosy.
“We know that it was a difficult game with the snow, with everything against a good team,” Gil said. “So we're on our way and need to win the second leg. I think we did a very good job.”