FOXBORO — Having won three postseason matches in the MLS Cup series, the New England Revolution find themselves in the Eastern Conference championship Sunday against the Columbus Crew, mainly due to the soccer acumen of Carles Gil.
Gil has figured in six of the seven goals scored by New England in beating Montreal, Philadelphia and Orlando in the MLS Cup playoffs.
“The postseason is very special,” Gil said of his impact in the midfield, with two goals and three assists. “During the season, you get a lot of games and it’s very important because, in the end, it shows all the hard work the team has dedicated to all season.
“The playoffs are special. A lot of surprises can happen, especially when it’s one game. In Europe, the playoffs don’t exist. It’s different. It’s a different form of competition. We’re all very hopeful that we can perform well.”
The 28-year-old Spaniard was signed by New England as a “designated player” prior to the 2019 season. Gil led New England in scoring last year with 10 goals and 14 assists. Gil also started 34 matches and played 3,052 minutes.
Gil was tabbed the Revolution’s MVP, the Midnight Riders’ MVP, the Players “Player of the Year” and the MLS “Newcomer of the Year”.
From his backline position on defense, teammate Henry Kessler has been among Gil’s admirers in running the Revs’ attack.
“He’s got great vision, great technique,” Kessler said. “When he’s on the ball, he runs our team and that’s great, that’s who we want to have the ball. He finds players that other people can’t. He’s got great passing ability, great range, great vision and that really helps us.”
In beating Orlando City SC on the road in the Eastern Conference semifinals, Gil converted on a penalty kick in the 17th minute, giving the Revolution a 1-0 lead. Gil’s goal marked the first time that New England had converted on a penalty kick in the playoffs since Nov. 6, 2004, when Steve Ralston scored on D.C. United in Eastern Conference Final.
Gil also set up one of Gustavo Bou’s two goals while completing 34 of 41 pass attempts.
Gil’s three assists in the MLS playoffs ties him with Jose Cancela (2003) and Lee Nguyen (2014) for the most in a single postseason. With one more assist, he will tie the pair for most ever in the postseason.
Gil missed nearly three months of the season for New England while he was recovering from surgery to his left Achilles tendon, returning just in time to join the squad for the playoffs.
“I was fortunate enough to be able to return ahead of schedule in time for the end of the regular season,” Gil said of returning to match form. “I didn’t play a lot in the first few games and there were a lot of games in a short period of time.
“I’ve been able to train, which is what I needed to find my rhythm. I knew that the first few games would be tough.”
Gil scored the opening goal with a left-footed volley off a cross from Bou in the 38th minute of New England’s first playoff match against Montreal — his first goal for the Revolution since September of 2019.
Gil, who is paid $2.1 million, is in the final year of his contract and makes no pretense of where he would like to play in the future.
“In terms of my contract,” Gil said, I’ve spoken with the club but first we want to focus on the playoffs, which are what’s most important. Once the season ends, we’ll talk.
“My goal was to do everything possible to help this team,” he added. “I had a lot of people helping me out, especially my personal trainer. It wouldn’t have been possible without him. I was able to come back sooner and join the end of the season.”
Revolution coach Bruce Arena employed the same starting lineup he sent out in Philadelphia in the 2-0 upset first round win of the Union. It was the first time since July 17 that Arena went with the same lineup in two straight matches.
As the match unfolded, defender Brandon Bye came off the bench for the first time in three postseason matches, while Kelyn Rowe, Tommy McNamara and Michael Mancienne each made a second straight appearance.
“We’re in the most important part of the season,” Gil said. “Gustavo (Bou) and I spent some time away from the team. We’ve been able to reconnect and I think we’re ready to play at our best version.”
Bou’s two goals (at 25 and at 86) against Orlando was just the third ever by a New England player in the post season, the first since Charlie Davies scored twice against the Red Bulls of New York during the 2014 Eastern Conference playoffs.
“We’re at a point in time where these things (COVID-19 cases) can happen,” Gil said. “We intend to take all the necessary precautions. We’re aware of the situation we’re in. We know that we can keep working and do what we love but we know these things can happen.”
The rewarding part is that the Revolution are still in training.
“The past week has served us well to work on everything Bruce (Arena, the coach) wants us to work on,” Gil said.
Having a week off before meeting Columbus is almost a luxury, Gill said of the Revolution having time to allow their bodies to recover.
“Yes, the past few days have been great for that,” Gil said of the need for rest. “The team has had a lot of games one after another and there wasn’t a lot of time to train. It was more about recovery for the next game.
“The team has had a great year, we’re in the playoffs. We’re here for a reason.”