(Photo courtesy of revolutionsoccernet.com)
Current New England Revolution attacking midfielder Juan Agudelo’s bicycle kick against D.C United in the 2015 MLS playoffs, most likely the greatest goal of his career and one of the club’s best, is the last memory the New England faithful have of the postseason. As they fell out in the first round to a controversial no call in the penalty box in stoppage time, the Revs, at the moment, wouldn’t realize that they’d have to wait four long years to get another chance at lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy for the first time in the club’s history
After beginning the 2019 campaign with an abysmal 2-8-2 record (10 points and only above the horrendous F.C Cincinnati) under former head coach Brad Friedel, the Revs playoffs hopes looked worse than the chances of the team across the hall not winning the AFC East for the millionth time. Well, that was before Bruce Arena stepped foot in Foxborough. On May 11, the Revolution, as requested by the screaming fans in the Fort of the previous home game, fired their general manager (Mike Burns) following the sacking of Friedel. Less than 24 hours later, five-time MLS Cup champion and U.S. soccer legend Bruce Arena took over the squad; the team has been following Arena’s golden touch ever since.
“We have known Bruce dating back to the advent of MLS,” Revolution Investor/Operator Robert Kraft said, “and we have full confidence that he will raise the level of our club to the standard we all expect and demand.”
Fast forward to early October and New England has clinched the seventh and final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. An amazing feat in itself, but the Revs will be looking to do more than just make a courteous party stop this postseason. They will be matched up against the second seed and defending MLS Cup champions Atlanta United, led by the Venezuelan-goal scoring machine Josef Martinez. Having the MLS record for attendance at 72,548, hostile enemy territory is an understatement for the lower seeded Revolution. But New England was able to have a taste as they finished the regular season with an away game with Atlanta at their beautiful Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“You can do it two ways-just kind of manage and hold on for dear life, or you can go at them and kind of punch them in the mouth, and I think we did that,” defender Andrew Farrell said following their “tune-up” against the current champions. “Obviously we gave up a goal [early], but we got back in it, and if we finish our chances and defend a little better, we can come out with a better result.”
Current manager Arena has not been the only piece creating this playoff berth. Spanish midfielder Carles Gil and Argentinian striker Gustavo “La Pantera [The Panther]” Bou, both designated players brought in by Arena in 2019, have been vital for this postseason push. Gil has been phenomenal for the Revs, tallying up 10 goals and 14 assists; while “La Pantera” has been the lethal marksman for New England with nine goals in 13 games. As he has quietly had the third best saving percentage in the Club’s history (75.0 percent), MLS veteran keeper Matt Turner has been outstanding between the pipes for Arena’s team.
As New England allowed Martinez’s crew to take the lead within five minutes of the opening whistle, the final game of the regular season ended with the Revolution failing their “tune-up” game with a final score 3-1. Ecuadorian winger Christian Penilla found himself on the scoresheet for the Revs as they found an equalizer within ten minutes. With no surprise to anyone following the league these past few years, former MVP Martinez found the back of the net for goal number 27 of the campaign. The match was not in total vain as Arena’s squad made it very difficult for the host, missing multiple opportunities in front of net and gave Atlanta much to think about for their first round postseason matchup on Saturday October 19 at 1 p.m.
“Having had a rehearsal game as I call it, the game last week, is a big benefit for us. “We’re going into unfamiliar territory. We’re well aware of their team and the surroundings we’re in…We have no excuses. We should be able to play as well as we’re capable of playing.”
A game four years in the making, Saturday can not come soon enough for those faithful Midnight Riders, The Rebillion and La Barrra fans – the supporting groups of the Revs that can be found in the Fort at any home game at Gillete Stadium. (The Revs are one of many teams that still do not have a soccer specific stadium, but that is a conversation for another day.) As the defending champion, Atlanta United should be favored, but Arena has the experience and the players to pull off an upset and anything can happen in 90+ minutes. At the end, the overall experience will be too much for Bou and company. Expect Atlanta United to pull this off late with their superior playoff experience and top quality. The Champions will prove why they raised the city of Atlanta’s first trophy in years and are a still a dominant force to challenge the likes of LA F.C, the LA Galaxy, and NYC F.C. 3-2 to the champions.