What formation will the Revs use in 2021?

By the end of the 2020 MLS season, Bruce Arena’s preferred formation was clearly established. Arena listed an unchanged lineup for the Revs final three playoff games. In doing so, he sent a clear message about what he thought his best XI was. 

Arena preferred to set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation that looked something like this:


Bunbury – Bou – Gil

Polster – Caldwell

Jones – Kessler – Farrell – Buchanan


This formation was effective for a number of reasons. Primarily, because it got the best out of the offensive abilities of Carles Gil and Gustavo Bou while still maintaining defensive integrity. Bou and Gil were the Revs two best attacking players in 2020. Unless there is a major signing incoming, that will remain the case in 2021. Therefore, it is important to play the two of them in their most effective positions.

Bou is at his best when deployed as a second striker. The presence of Buksa in the 4-2-3-1 allows Bou to play off a more traditional target man to create goal scoring opportunities. Gil was great when deployed on the right with the freedom to drift inside. Tajon Buchanan’s role at right back made Gil all the more effective in this formation. The young Canadian clearly possesses the necessary pace to make effective overlapping runs when Gil chooses to roam from his starting position. 

Whatever formation Arena utilizes in 2021, it will have to cater to the strengths of the players he has available. With that in mind, here are a few formations that we could see New England deploy in 2021.


As Bruce Arena’s preferred tactical setup at the end of 2020, this is probably the most likely system for the Revs at the beginning of the season. However, it may look slightly different when you consider the offseason additions. 

On paper, the front four of Bunbury, Bou, Gil and Buksa should look the same. The one factor that could change this would be Tajon Buchanan. The 21-year-old proved to be a real weapon at right back in 2020. Ultimately, he is probably going to want to play higher up the field in his natural winger role. 

Things get a bit more interesting when you drop back to central midfield. In December, the Revs signed 24-year-old Wilfrid Kaptoum. In theory, the Cameroonian offers a bit more offensive dynamism than the Revs other CM options. Luis Caicedo missed the entirety of the 2020 season with a knee injury. When healthy, he makes a strong claim for being the Revs best defensive midfielder. The two 24-year-olds, Kaptoum and Caicedo, could strike a nice balance between defense and offense in the center of the park.

From a defensive standpoint, New England have added Colombian left back Christian Mafla. With rumors swirling that Alex Büttner is moving on, the left back position is likely to be contested between Mafla and DeJuan Jones this season. At the moment, an unchanged center back pairing of Kessler and Farrell seems likely. Buchanan should start in the right back slot, but Polster could potentially see time there as well. In goal, Matt Turner is probably the biggest lock on the roster.

So, if the Revs deploy a 4-2-3-1 in 2021, it could looks something like this:


Bunbury – Bou – Gil

Caicedo – Kaptoum

Mafla – Kessler – Farrell – Buchanan



Another formation that Bruce Arena used at times during the 2020 season was the 4-1-3-2. This clearly was not Arena’s favorite setup in 2020. However, if Tajon Buchanon is to get a shot at playing winger, it could come in this system. With Buchanon vacating the right back position, Polster, Jones or Brandon Bye would be likely to fill in. In the Revs’ final regular season game of 2020, Arena started Bye at right back in this system, so let’s assume that is his preferred choice.

Buksa – Bou

Bunbury – Gil – Buchanan


Mafla – Kessler – Farrell – Bye



The 4-4-2 is a formation that just about every single soccer coach has in their arsenal. It creates a system that is both simple and effective, especially if you are looking to defend first and create your offense on the counter. This would be another good option to hand Buchanan playing time at winger, while offering a bit more strength in central midfield than the 4-1-3-2.

Buksa – Bou

Gil – Caicedo – Kaptoum – Buchanan

Mafla – Kessler – Farrell – Bye



Considering Arena is a coach who prides himself on his defense, a formation with three center backs should not be out of the question. In this formation, the choices for wing back would be fairly straight forward. Mafla has shown quite a bit of positional versatility in the past, so he would be at home on the left. As a natural winger, Buchanan would have no qualms about playing a bit further forward. 

The first major issue with this formation would be the absence of one of the four established attackers. The second problem is that the Revolution are not particularly deep at center back. There are rumors that New England are signing defender AJ Delagarza, but that is not yet official. The best option currently on the roster may be Collin Verfurth, who has not yet appeared in an MLS game. 


Gil              –              Bou

Mafla – Caicedo – Kaptoum – Buchanan

Kessler – Farrell – Verfurth



In Conclusion

Based on the Revolution roster and evidence from last season, the 4-2-3-1 seems to be the obvious tactical choice. Any formation has its pros and cons, but the 4-2-3-1 provides balance and plays to the Revs’ strengths. Of course, this could all change with additional offseason signings. At the moment, however, Bruce Arena’s preference seems clear.

The 4-2-3-1 worked very effectively during New England’s 2020 playoff run. For the time being, there is no reason to stray from that success.

– Andrew Fasciano (@afasc573)

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