The MLS playoffs concluded their second round last night, with some of its trademark goofiness. And in true nothing-means-anything fashion of the whole league, both No. 1 seeds failed to win a game.
This time, the New England Revolution looked every bit of a team that’s been off for three weeks, as they could never get anything really strung together against NYCFC and lost on penalties after only managing a 2-2 draw after extra-time. It also didn’t help that coach Bruce Arena’s tactics never really got more layered than “Get the ball up to our three forwards and do shit.” With rustiness apparent, the Revs were lucky to even get to extra-time or penalties.
They got to the former thanks to some wonky finishing from NYCFC, and they got to the latter thanks to some wonky thinking from NYCFC. After scoring to give The Pigeons the lead in extra time, NYCFC’s Valentin Castellanos, the league’s Golden Boot winner, got himself sent off a few minutes later thanks to a second yellow card. That combined with right-back Tayvon Gray’s hamstring turning to graham crackers, as well as them having used all their substitution windows. So the Revs got about 10 minutes against nine-and-a-half men, which finally allowed them to pour players forward and play with the urgency they’d lacked the previous 110 minutes. Tajon Buchanan equalized not too long after, but the Revs couldn’t find a winner and all of it equaled putting themselves at the risk of the fickleness of penalties. NYCFC made all of theirs, and off the Revs fuck.
I suppose, if I want to be a true asshole (I usually do), this was the rare instance of a playoff game actually going the way of the analytics crowd. Usually the sample size of one game defenestrates all the underlying numbers, and our logic gets us nowhere. But while the Revs were the league’s best team, the analytics said that NYCFC was actually better, with an expected-goal difference far superior to the Revs’. It certainly looked like it last night, as NYCFC really strangled this one for most of the affair.
Now NYCFC will be without the league’s leading scorer for the conference final in Philadelphia on the weekend, and the league has seen its best teams consigned to the garbage at first asking. Nothing makes any sense, but that’s the way they like it.