NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Though the New England Revolution’s first trip to GEODIS Park ended in defeat, it was a game Jacob Jackson will never forget.
The shot-stopper donned the first team gloves for the first time in Tennessee, stepping out for his MLS debut in the club’s penultimate game of the 2023 regular season.
Despite a second-half brace from Tomás Chancalay, the Revs were edged out 3-2 by Nashville SC, after the hosts had raced into a 3-0 halftime lead, courtesy of a Sam Surridge double and Dax McCarty strike.
Inspired by a triple substitution at the break, the visitors produced a much-improved second-half showing but had ultimately given themselves a mountain to climb. However, Jackson’s maiden performance between the sticks proved a major positive, as the 23-year-old and 2022 first-round SuperDraft pick produced seven superb stops to keep his side in the game, earning deserved praise from interim head coach Clint Peay.
“I thought he did fine,” Peay said. “I think he did a good job in terms of his first start on the road. The goals that went in, I can’t really blame him for – maybe on the third goal there’s something there where he could have done a little better perhaps but in general, I thought he made a couple of big saves and held the ball well when shots came at him.
“He’s been training hard and doing well. We’ve been conceding goals so we wanted to change it up and give a fresh face to see if that would make a difference. It wasn’t that Earl [Edwards Jr.] was playing poorly – we just felt like we wanted to change some things up to see if that could help the team.”
Despite the defeat, Jackson was naturally proud of his achievement and overall display but ever keen to improve, noted the important lessons learned from his first taste of MLS action.
While the shot-stopper admitted to feeling pre-match nerves, the debutant was guided by the senior leaders in the squad, and believes the experience marks a crucial milestone in his career.
“It was just an exciting experience,” he declared. “I got told Friday that I might have a chance [to play] and then I received the confirmation saying that I was going to start.
“I was super excited – a little overwhelmed, anxious, but at the end of the day Omar [González], [Matt] Polster, [Andrew] Farrell, all of those guys took care of me and said: ‘It’s your opportunity. You deserve it. Just go out there, have fun. It’s just another game. Nothing’s going to happen. Just go out and enjoy it.’
“I just hope I did that. I can learn a ton [from the experience]. I definitely have to look back at the three goals. I always take them very seriously when I get scored on – I always think of myself being the first thing that I can change, and the second would be trying to help my teammates if they did something wrong or I didn’t communicate well, so that’s definitely a learning point.
“The atmosphere with the fans chanting behind you, it’s great – it got my heart racing. I can’t thank them enough because at the end of the day, there’s other stadiums that have just as great of a fanbase as Nashville – that love chanting – so in my hopefully long career, it’s a great stepping point.
“I was really excited to play. I hope to continue helping the first team continue to grow and make a playoff push.”
There was also notable acclaim for two-goal star Chancalay, who netted his fifth and sixth goals on his 10th appearance for the club.
The Argentine ignited New England’s fightback against Nashville with another sweetly-struck volley from Gustavo Bou’s cross, before pouncing on the rebound as Carles Gil forced goalkeeper Joe Willis to fumble.
Reflecting on the winger’s excellent impact since making the move to Foxborough on loan in July, Jackson echoed the sentiments of fellow goalkeeper Edwards Jr. in hailing Chancalay’s impressive shooting power and accuracy.
“It’s amazing,” Jackson continued. “He hits the ball so hard, and he can put knuckle on it, he can curl it in.
“I would definitely say him, Dylan [Borrero], and Gustavo probably have the hardest shot and you can never actually really tell what they’re going to go because they can wind up, hit it, and it just keeps speeding up.
“Some of the goals you see in training videos, in games, Chancalay just hits it and you either have to react and hopefully you get a hand to it, but most of the time it finds its way into the back of the net, and we see it [in Nashville].
“He had two goals and congratulations to him. He’s a phenomenal player, so I would definitely say it’s Chancalay [with the hardest shot] – I think Earl is right on that one.”
The setback at GEODIS Park saw the Revolution suffer their third successive defeat, and second straight 3-2 reverse, having lost by the same scoreline at Orlando City SC last weekend.
Again, the Revs improved in the second period after conceding three in the first half, with both Peay and Jackson highlighting a tactical shift (from the initial 3-5-2) and a collective fighting spirit as keys to Saturday night’s fightback.
“I thought we needed a change in terms of personnel, in terms of guys that I think could make a bigger impact,” Peay explained. “I thought some guys weren’t impacting the game enough. We also wanted to change our shape a little bit, so that was behind the idea of changing things.
“For me, the week is almost identical [to the Orlando game] in terms of some of the decisions we’re making defensively that get us caught with balls in behind and dealing with crosses. In the second half, just, the energy’s better, there’s more urgency about what we’re doing, and the guys are putting in a little bit of effort that they didn’t put in in the first half.
“Obviously, tonight was tough. We were missing several players, a big one being DeJuan Jones [due to international duty]. I think the best lineup is still to be determined to be honest with you. We still have some guys who are still trying to get match minutes – [Henry] Kessler, [Gustavo] Bou – and we’re still trying to figure out which guys are going to show up and commit to playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played for 90-plus minutes.”
Jackson will be hoping to retain his place in goal for next weekend’s crucial Decision Day clash against third-place Philadelphia Union.
With the Revs needing a win to keep their top-four hopes alive – with homefield advantage in Round One of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs on the line – the shot-stopper agreed his side must pull together and take heart from the togetherness shown in the second half in Tennessee.
“We just started off a little slow, building into the atmosphere of everything,” he noted. “We started off with a 3-5-2, which is a new formation for us, but we’re learning how to play it correctly. We just got beat a little bit on the counterattacks, but we made up for it in the second half.
“We definitely had a little bit more team spirit, team camaraderie coming in, and I think it showed a little bit. We were able to get two goals back and then we fought for the third one, but unfortunately sometimes you can’t get it.
“We just have to keep moving forward and like I said, I’m just proud to play along some of these guys and get my first start with the first team.”