FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In many ways, Tuesday night’s Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Eastern Conference Semifinal meeting with New York City FC was a fitting reminder of the resilience the New England Revolution showed throughout a record-breaking 2021 campaign.
Twice the Revs fell behind, and twice they responded, with Tajon Buchanan’s dramatic 118th-minute volley sending the 25,509 fans at Gillette Stadium into euphoria and the game into a penalty shootout following a 2-2 draw. In that moment, it very much felt like it was meant to be. It felt like the Revs were once again going to find a way. It felt inevitable.
But sports – as they’ve reminded us time and time again – don’t care about feelings, and there was no magical end to the Revolution’s magical season. Instead, NYCFC buried all five of their penalties and New England’s campaign was over in a flash, two weeks earlier than anyone had hoped and without that elusive MLS Cup to fill the trophy cabinet.
“At the end of the day, it’s disappointing,” said Matt Polster. “This kind of group, having the season we did, doesn’t always replicate into playoffs. It’s difficult. It’s not the same type of games. We knew that, but it’s just a disappointing result. We had expectations of going the whole way and winning the MLS Cup, and tonight just wasn’t our night.”
“It’s devastating because so many guys put in such good effort throughout the year, and we had such a great year and the fans were great,” added Andrew Farrell, who set Revolution all-time records for appearances, starts, and minutes this year. “But it’s very disappointing. Very, very, very disappointing.”
Much was made of the 23-day break between the Revolution’s regular-season finale on November 7 and Tuesday’s playoff match, and while head coach Bruce Arena said it was “certainly not an excuse,” the Revs were slow to start and conceded the opening goal to Santiago Rodriguez in just the third minute. But it took just six minutes to respond as Adam Buksa – returning after missing Decision Day through injury – headed home Carles Gil’s set-piece service to pull the hosts level before the game was 10 minutes old.
Both sides had chances through the 90 minutes – most notably Maxi Moralez hit the post with a 64th-minute header for NYCFC and Gustavo Bou had a deflected shot saved in the 68th minute – but it wasn’t until the final 10 minutes of extra time that each team made the breakthrough. Valentín Castellanos scored in the 110th minute to push the visitors in front, but was sent off just three minutes later, and the Revs took advantage with Buchanan’s dramatic equalizer in the 118th minute.
That left it to a penalty shootout to decide who joined the Philadelphia Union in the Eastern Conference Final, and it was NYCFC goalkeeper Sean Johnson who came up with the critical save on Buksa’s attempt to send the New Yorkers through to the next round.
“That’s the game that we play – if you get once chance, two chances in the game and if you put them away, then that’s why I think everybody loves the sport,” said Farrell. “It’s just because you always have a chance. [If] you take your chances, you’re able to win the game and you’re elated and get to move on. If you miss a couple chances, PKs it is. It’s really 50-50, and we came out on the other side of the coin flip.”
It was a heart-wrenching way for the Revolution’s season to end, having set a new MLS single-season points record (73) en route to the first Supporters’ Shield in club history. And while it will likely take quite some time for the sting of Tuesday night’s loss to wear off – if it ever does completely – the result of one penalty shootout shouldn’t erase the memories of the Revolution’s historic 2021 season.
“Excellent year,” said Arena. “That’s what I would summarize this year as. We had an excellent year … I think any sensible, reason person would say that. If you think otherwise, I think you need to have your head examined.”
“I think you want to remember the good parts,” said Polster. “Right now, it’s tough to bring them up and think about them, but give it a couple days. I think some of the boys will be happy with what they achieved and be able to carry that into next season and be even more hungry. I don’t know if we’ll beat the point record, but go for an MLS Cup, get into the playoffs, and do something that we wanted to achieve this year, next year. I think we have that kind of team and that type of mentality. Just tonight wasn’t our night.”