“Facing Philly is always a battle” | Polster and Jones on Union rivalry and Revs’ psychological boost

10_21_23 Gustavo Bou vs. Philadelphia Union

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Midfielder Matt Polster and defender DeJuan Jones believe last Saturday’s Decision Day triumph over the Philadelphia Union has handed the New England Revolution a psychological boost ahead of their Audi MLS Cup Playoff charge.

A Gustavo Bou brace earned a 2-1 victory at Gillette Stadium to complete the Revs’ Eastern Conference campaign with a top-five finish, setting up an intriguing rematch against the fourth-placed Union in Round One of the postseason tournament.

The pair will battle it out in a best-of-three series for a place in the Conference Semifinals with Jim Curtin’s men holding homefield advantage in Game 1 (Saturday, October 28, 5 p.m. ET) and Game 3 (if required). Familiar foes, the two sides (each Supporters’ Shield winners in 2020 and 2021) have met 13 times since July 2020 with a fierce rivalry emerging – a feud that will only intensify in the coming weeks, as Polster and Jones noted.

“When you go into MLS Playoffs, it’s always an exciting time,” Polster said. “Playoffs are not guaranteed, but I’ve said it before: the bare minimum for this club is to make playoffs – it’s not guaranteed, but it is expected.

“To finish the regular season in the right way against an opponent we’ll be facing in the first round is important – I think it puts a little seed of doubt [in their mind]. They’re a very good team, especially at home, but maybe we made them question a little bit.

“We had a little tough stretch but to end the way we did, and to put in a very good performance throughout the 90 minutes, is a building of confidence for us.

“[The new playoff format] is a little much, but I think if you look at the first game and what is ahead (Philly away) – they're going to be loud, they're going to get after us. It's going to look a lot different than it was this Saturday – they're definitely going to press a little bit more, they're going to play a lot more direct and look for flicks in behind.

“Those front three [Dániel Gazdag, Julián Carranza, Mikael Uhre] are really dangerous at times, so we have to be really focused as a group, limit their chances like we did, and we have a front three, four, five players that can score goals consistently for us.

“Throughout the years, it’s always been a battle of close games. In 2020, we played them six times – they beat us and then we beat them in the playoffs. We’ve won there before, and we’re going to go there and try to do the same thing.

“We’re looking to progress. This team, this organization wants to win something special, and it starts against Philly on Saturday.”

Jones returned to the starting XI on Saturday after missing the trip to Nashville SC whilst on international duty with the United States Men’s National Team.

The defender, who had tallied three assists in his previous three games for the Revolution, also highlighted the significance of ending the regular season on a high note to wipe a clean slate after a challenging period and lift morale.

“It’s great,” he agreed. “It was a big-time win for us on Saturday, and now we play Philly again, so that’s just going to give us the confidence we need in the playoffs.

“It was good to get that win. They’d beaten us earlier in the year so it’s good to get one back on them, and now heading to their place, they’ll have a little bit to think about.

“During the COVID year [2020], we played them six times, and we knocked them out of the playoffs. We have them in the playoffs again and we’re looking forward to the rivalry continuing.”

Polster made his return to the Revolution midfield at Nashville after deputizing on the backline.

With the Revs operating a more familiar formation against Philadelphia, and buoyed by players returning from international duty and injury, the 30-year-old asserts the team felt more at ease, and once again demonstrated their resilience by fighting back from a goal down to claim the three points.

“We looked like ourselves,” he added. “We played in a 4-2-3-1, which we’re very familiar with. Our roles were really defined.

“We have a good core of a back four and two midfielders, and when we do get into the attack, that means DeJuan and now Ryan [Spaulding] can get higher up; Tommy [McNamara] can sit in a little bit and then try and free up Carles [Gil], Gustavo and Tomás [Chancalay] on half-turns, and be able to face forward and play balls in behind. Noel [Buck] has been fantastic in doing the same. I thought Tommy did really well, coming in for his first 90 in almost a year.

“It felt like us – getting after the ball, pressing, and then defending really narrow and condensed at times. We were able to break and score the second goal that way, so it just felt more of what we were used to.

“I thought we limited them throughout the entire match. [Their goal] was just a small little mistake of communication – other than that, we didn’t really give them much, and to come back from a goal down is important to show the resilience because we’ll need that on the road.”

While Jones was pleased to have restricted the Union to just three shots on target, he was most impressed with the Revs’ offensive threat, as the hosts crafted 16 attempts with the front three of Bou, Carles Gil and Chancalay looking lively and linking up well throughout.

With a race to two wins in Round One (and penalty shootouts to determine the winners in the event of ties), the USMNT left back hopes his side have reignited their creative spark at the perfect time, ready to showcase their talent and unleash their best.

“That was the first time in a long time that we had created a ton of chances,” he reflected. “Defensively, we were pretty sound, limiting a lot of chances for the opponent as well, so I want to continue that into the playoffs.

“[We learned a lot about] their style of play. It’s a tough game for us, a difficult opponent to play against. It was definitely a confidence-booster.

“We did a really good job getting the outside backs forward and creating a lot of chances, and then also limiting them in transition. We know they like to score in transition, like to generate chance that way, so being set defensively when we have the ball [was important].

“We go into every game wanting to get three points, wanting to get the win, so when we go there, [the approach] is going to be the same: get a result, get a win. We’ll see how the format works. I think it’s interesting – each team gets a home game, so that could be pretty cool. I’m excited for it, and the team is ready.

“Now, it’s just about days like this – training days – building the chemistry and continuing to put it all out there, and working hard for each other on the field for 90 minutes.”

2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs

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Audi MLS Cup Playoffs Round One Schedule

New England Revolution vs. Philadelphia Union
Game 1 (away): Saturday, Oct. 28 | 5 pm ET (Subaru Park, MLS Season Pass)
Game 2 (home): Wednesday, Nov. 8 | 7 pm ET (Gillette Stadium, MLS Season Pass/FS1/FOX Deportes/TSN/RDS)
Game 3 (away – if required): Sunday, Nov. 12 | 3 pm ET (Subaru Park, MLS Season Pass)

Round One Rules
Every Round One game will have a winner – no ties, no aggregate score. The first team to win two matches will advance to the Conference Semifinals.

If a match is tied at the end of regulation, no extra time will be played. Teams will participate in kicks from the penalty spot to determine the winner.