With the high-caliber attacking trio of Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa and Carles Gil in the starting XI, Thursday night was the first time in club history that the Revs have had three Designated Players on the field at the same time.
The quality was not hard to discern: Bou blasted the game’s only goal past Clement Diop, one of his eight shots on the night, Gil set a modern Revs record for chance creation (including a whopping 11 key passes) and Buksa, while not quite as gaudy on the stats sheet, led the line adeptly.
Though they probably should’ve finished several more of their many looks at goal and a sharp injury-time save from goalkeeper Matt Turner was needed to safeguard all three points, the Revolution were a cut above their near-neighbors to the north. And it started with their blue-chip front line.
Here’s another thing about investing in proven performers: They push the pace all the time, not just on game day.
“It definitely makes training pretty interesting every day,” said Turner of the DP trio. “These guys are extremely talented, Gustavo, Adam, Carles. Any time they have the chance to shoot, they will; create good opportunities, keeps our defenders on their toes in training, keeps me on my toes during training … it just sort of raises the level of everybody when you have quality around each other.”
The DP rule, for the young’uns and newcomers among us, has existed since the 2007 season. The Revs have been competitive for much of the time since then, including runs to the MLS Cup final in ‘07 and ‘14 and a U.S. Open Cup runners-up finish in 2016. But in general they rarely did so with big names or big salaries, aside from occasional splashes like the Jermaine Jones adventure.
That’s all changed over the past couple of years, mirroring — albeit a bit belatedly — a comparable trend across the league. The Kraft ownership group has ramped up spending and ambition both on and off the field, and since Bruce Arena took the helm a little over a year ago, their results have followed suit. So while the aforementioned DP milestone may remind us old-timers of the dusty Revs tropes of yore, it’s above all another manifestation of the club vaulting into the proverbial MLS 3.0, and with a vengeance.
To be fair to all involved, Montreal didn’t really show up on the night, and coach Thierry Henry said as much in the postgame. Still, the work rate, creativity and understanding between New England’s stars was impressive, and should only increase the chatter about Arena’s squad being dark-horse contenders in Orlando. The sample sizes are smaller, and key moments loom larger, in a tournament format, so match-winners like Bou can serve as aces in the hole. And that type of confidence enhancer tends to radiate through the squad.
“We know that if we can do our job defensively, at minimum those guys up front are going to get one goal,” noted Turner. “So it really just holds us accountable to do our job and we know we'll put ourselves in a position to get at least one, maybe, hopefully, three points in almost every game.”