“We’re disappointed, but we’ll keep our heads up” | Williams reflects on Leagues Cup exit

8_7_23 Djordje Petrovic vs. Queretaro FC

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution assistant coach Richie Williams admitted the team are disappointed not to have progressed in the Leagues Cup.

Despite another resilient showing at Gillette Stadium, the Revs exited the tournament at the Round of 16 stage against Querétaro FC, falling to a 4-3 defeat on penalties after Esmir Bajraktarevic’s superb first senior goal had canceled out Jaime Gómez’s headed opener.

With the attacking trio of captain Carles Gil, and forwards Gustavo Bou and Bobby Wood absent through injury, New England struggled to carve clear-cut chances, and once again had to battle back from a goal down, having conceded a minute into the second half.

Williams was proud of the way his team clawed themselves back into the contest, forcing the shootout which saw Querétaro goalkeeper Fernando Tapia save two spot-kicks, but felt his side ultimately lacked a cutting edge in the final third.

“We’re all disappointed,” he admitted. “Obviously, we wanted to advance and losing on penalties is disappointing. Guys are not happy about it.

“In the first half, we weren't moving the ball as quickly as we could, we weren't spacing ourselves well enough where we got players higher up the field, and then when we did have these opportunities out wide, we just didn't deliver a great ball, and get enough players in the box.

“We didn't create enough, especially in the first half. We had a lot of the ball and a lot of possession, but we just weren't able to – when we got into positions out wide – get good service in the box for [Giacomo] Vroni. We weren't getting enough players closer to the field. He didn't really create a lot on the day, but that's not just on Giacomo – that's on the team. We all ended up losing the game together, and that's just the way it is.

“It's always easier when you have another striker next to you. We’re running low on some strikers in terms of injuries. I think he does play better with two forwards, and he's in a low block. It's difficult – there's not a lot of space – and then, of course, if you're not getting good service also, that's going to be really difficult.

“It hurt us – not to make excuses – not having some of our attacking players in Carles, Gustavo, Bobby Wood, who are players that can make a difference for us. We asked some guys to maybe do some things that are not necessarily their strengths, and you can’t blame them because maybe we were asking too much of them, and in certain areas of the field where they're not really used to playing.

“We didn’t defend [Querétaro’s goal] real well. It was kind of a goal that you don't really see that often. It's unfortunate. Right at the beginning of the second half, guys need to be ready, focused, and we lost our concentration. That's not a goal that you should be giving up.

“Any time a team has a low block, it's going to be difficult. We talked about having to move the ball quickly, and getting more players closer to Giacomo; when the ball did get wide, to get better service – get service in the box.

“We knew that was the way they were going to play – when they had the ball, they would then play direct, and then we'd have to start again. We just weren't able to do it well enough in the first half, and then the second half, we obviously got the goal back.

“On the day, we just weren't good enough until the second half. We made the three changes [introducing Bajraktarevic, Nacho Gil and Ema Boateng], and I thought all three of them came in and really helped us and got the goal back.

“At the end there, we got a couple opportunities that maybe we could have won the game, but that’s the way it goes. Then on penalties, we win the previous game, and this game, we don't, so it's just the way it is.”

Williams also noted the absence of right back Brandon Bye, who was sadly ruled out of action for the remainder of the season with an ACL injury sustained in the Round of 32 victory over Atlas FC.

“Brandon's a big loss,” he continued. “He's been really good right back for our team, and in the league.

“Like I said after the last game, he's a great teammate, a good person; a good person for the locker room. We're definitely going to miss him.

“I thought our wingbacks did a solid job but again – and it wasn't just our wingbacks – any of our wide players just on the night did not do a good enough job from wide areas; from the end line, giving service in the box to give our attackers opportunity.

“We definitely need to improve on that, and that doesn't just go to the outside backs.”

The highlight of the night for the Revs saw 18-year-old Bajraktarevic tie the game with a glorious moment of magic, producing a key impact from the bench.

The Homegrown star and Academy graduate collected Matt Polster’s pass, turned sharply and volleyed beautifully into the bottom corner for his first senior goal for the club – and Williams was delighted with the youngster’s effort.

“It was a great contribution,” he hailed. “He came in and scored the goal for us. He’s a young player – he’s still coming along – and he came in, and he was competitive.

“He was good with the ball, and obviously, it was a really good goal. I think it was Matt Polster who passed it to him, and he controlled it with one touch, and finished it in the back of the goal. It was a really good goal.”

With New England next in action with a return to MLS play on Sunday, August 20 at Nashville SC, the team have the chance to reset and regroup, fueled by a renewed hunger following the Leagues Cup setback.

Williams asserted the break provides a silver lining for the squad with the opportunity to recover key players, as the Revs look to continue their impressive league campaign.

“We’ll be able to get some guys back hopefully for our next game away to Nashville, and get guys healthy” he declared.

“Gustavo should be fine after some days recovering, and should be back on the field sooner rather than later.

“Obviously, that’s a positive but ultimately, we still wanted to advance on the day, and move into the final eight. We’re professional soccer players and coaches, and every time we stepped on the field, we wanted to advance in this tournament, this cup.

“We’re disappointed – we’ve communicated that – but we’ll keep our heads up. We had some good play throughout the tournament, and moving back into the league, we’re in a good position in second in the East.

“We have two really important games coming up that are going to be on the road. We have to get ready, we have to get healthy, and we have to prepare to move on and continue to keep our standing in MLS.”