FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution midfielder Matt Polster believes the fighting spirit shown in the team’s Leagues Cup campaign stands the squad in good stead for the remainder of the season.
The Revs exited the tournament at the Round of 16 stage, falling to a 4-3 penalty shootout defeat to Querétaro FC after the two sides had played out a 1-1 draw in regulation time, as Esmir Bajraktarević answered Jamie Gómez’s opener with his first senior goal for the club – a stunning turn-and-volley from outside the box.
Though disappointed not to have reached the quarterfinals, Polster expressed his pride for his side’s resilience. Bouncing back from an opening day shootout loss at the New York Red Bulls with an excellent 5-1 win over Atlético de San Luis, the Revs then battled back from 2-0 down to defeat Atlas FC 8-7 on penalties, and salvaged another late draw against Querétaro before ultimately being edged out on spot-kicks.
Sharing his thoughts after Monday night’s game at Gillette Stadium, the midfielder admitted his side had hoped to progress in the tournament, but asserts the players can take a lot of heart, encouragement and valuable learnings from their journey.
“It's disappointing,” he reflected. “We wanted to go much further in this tournament – we were looking to win it.
“When you look at the first 45 minutes, we lacked a lot of creativity and movement off the ball. That’s what led to not dominating the game from the start.
“Then, it’s a poor start in the second half and from there, we’re working our way back into the game, and we do pretty well in doing so.
“The silver lining if you want to look at the positives: we’ll get guys back [from injury], we get a little bit of a rest maybe, and then we have to focus on what’s now important, which is the league.
“I think the biggest thing that we can take from this is that we're a team that’s going to fight to the last minute. We've come back twice now in difficult moments, and we’ll always find a way to create chances, and then try and find a way to put them away.
“I thought we did really well against Atlas once we were down 2-0, and we did really well again when we were down 1-0, so that's the best thing to take away from it: that we're willing to fight to the last minute.”
Looking to inject some impetus into the Revolution attack in search of an equalizer, assistant coach Richie Williams opted for a triple substitution before the hour-mark, introducing youngsters Bajraktarević, Damián ‘Tico’ Rivera and midfielder Nacho Gil.
The change sparked a vast improvement with Bajraktarević’s moment of magic rekindling the Revs’ quarterfinal hopes, forcing the game to penalties – and Polster was impressed with the impact of all three substitutes.
“The key was pushing the tempo,” he added. “We lacked creativity and movement, and we brought in guys that were really good on the ball, and on the dribble.
“I thought Tico, Es and Nacho did really well, coming into the game and creating a little spark for us. We’d lacked that in the first half.
“We were glad we were able to get back into it and then in PKs, anything can happen – penalties are what they are.”
For Rivera, the Round of 16 encounter provided another useful experience in the young midfielder’s development, as the 20-year-old clocked his 24th senior appearance in all competitions.
The Cranston, R.I. native, who earned a call-up to Costa Rica’s Under-23s squad in June, was pleased with his cameo contribution, as well as that of goalscorer Bajraktarević.
“At the end of the day, we were unlucky,” he said. “We had the opportunities to win the game.
“With Carles [Gil] and [Gustavo] Bou out [through injury], a couple of us had opportunities to come in. When I came in, it was to make an impact, and I think I did. I thought we did well, but I thought we were unlucky.
“Everyone is happy for [Esmir]. We know it was an important goal, and we’re all very happy for him.”
Echoing Polster’s sentiments, Rivera agreed the team learned a lot from their match-ups with Liga MX opposition, and will return to MLS action stronger for the experience.
“Obviously, we wanted to advance,” he continued. “I think [Querétaro] is an aggressive team, they're in a different league, and I think it was difficult for us at times, but we played well through it.
“We’ll have maybe a couple of days off, and then we’ll come back in and train with the team, and we’ll continue to play how we were in the league.
“It’s a different kind of setting with the penalties and stuff [in Leagues Cup]. At times, the games are more competitive, but I think we were unlucky not to advance, and we’ll have to continue next week.”