All year long, as the New England Revolution navigated through a good-but-not-great regular season, there was always a prevailing question surrounding what their true ceiling could be: What if Carles Gil was healthy?
The dynamic Spaniard was limited to just six games and 366 minutes this year, as he rehabbed an Achilles injury that was initially feared to be season-ending. The Revs managed to make the 2020 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs as the No. 8 seed, but there was always the feeling that their true potential had yet to be tapped without Gil's services.
As it turned out, Gil managed to heal in time for the postseason, and the effects have been readily apparent: The 28-year-old has been all over the field through New England's three postseason matches, putting up two goals, three assists and spearheading a front four that looks as fearsome as any in the league ahead of their Eastern Conference Final matchup with Columbus Crew SC on Sunday (TV & streaming info). That impact isn't lost on Gil's teammates, including Designated Player trio teammate Gustavo Bou, who has been one of the main beneficiaries, with three playoff goals to his name thus far.
“Carles and I know what it means to play on this team," Bou told reporters on a Friday video call. "I think that’s fundamental for any teammate on the field. I think Carles and I try to associate ourselves in the best way possible for the better of the team, the same way we do with our other teammates. You can see that there’s a lot of connection between us because my characteristics as a player are to come back and find the ball to be able to have contact with it and create chances."
Full highlights: Orlando City SC 1, New England Revolution 3
While Gil and Bou had the 2019 season to play together and learn each other's tendencies, the on-field chemistry with forward Adam Buksa — the third member of the Revs' DP trio — remains a work in progress, as the big Polish striker stands at one goal in 268 minutes through the club's three playoff matches.
Still, Buksa said on Friday that as Gil has reintegrated into the group at the end of the regular season and into the playoffs, he's also noticed how it's elevated the attack, whether it's his chance-generation from open play or lethal delivery on set pieces.
“We didn’t practice together a lot, we haven’t played that many games together, but playing with Carles is much easier because he creates space," Buksa said. "He’s a great player, one of the top players in MLS, and as I was saying before I really missed him because having such a No. 10 midfielder on the team is simply much easier for the striker to create chances and finish them.”
"There’s nothing really to argue about because he’s done great at set pieces," he added. "He can deliver the ball right at the point and he’s shown that already. I hope that he’ll prove that again in the next upcoming two games.”
Sunday's Eastern Conference Final against Columbus at MAPFRE Stadium will put that postseason progress to its toughest test yet against a Columbus side that boasts one of the most suffocating defenses in the league. While the play of their three big DPs, as well as leading scorer Teal Bunbury, figures to be one key factor in determining New England's chances in the match, head coach Bruce Arena was quick to point out that the club's recent run has been about the collective cohesion of a group that seems finally be establishing its continuity at the right time.
"All the pieces of the puzzle are working together, so that's why we're more effective," Arena said. "It's not attributed to necessarily one player, although a lot of people would say that Carles is the one that makes us tick, but it's a combination of all the players, and all the players understanding their roles, their responsibilities. I think basically we've played most of the year with a couple players not always on the same page as the whole group. Now we're getting closer to having that and I think that's the reason why we're more successful."