The New England Revolution’s 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoff campaign kicks off this weekend with a trip to the Philadelphia Union.
The Revs travel to Subaru Park in the first match of a Round One best-of-three series, as fourth and fifth place in the Eastern Conference lock horns.
Familiar foes, the two sides have contested some fascinating and fiery fixtures over the years, forming a fierce rivalry. Ahead of Saturday’s encounter, we look back on three feisty matchups in Philly, including a memorable playoff upset, an eight-goal thriller and Henry Kessler’s finest moment …
UNDONE BY THE UNDERDOGS
Revolution 2-0 Union | November 24, 2020
When New England visited Subaru Park in Round One of the 2020 playoffs, their task could not have been tougher.
Pitted against the Supporters’ Shield winners on their own patch, the Revs were facing the postseason tournament favorites, and the side that had already bested them four times that year. In a campaign curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic and with travel restrictions limiting longer-distance trips, the two clubs had already locked horns on five occasions with Jim Curtin’s men boasting a 4-0-1 record and three straight wins.
The Union had also claimed a notable 9-0-0 record on home soil, and were looking to complete a famous double by following up their regular season success with their first MLS Cup trophy.
The Revolution had other ideas.
Buoyed by Gustavo Bou’s sensational 95th-minute winner against the Montréal Impact in the ‘Play-In’ round, the away side were ready for the challenge.
Against the odds, the visitors bagged two quickfire goals to stun Philadelphia, drawing first blood when Adam Buksa headed Carles Gil’s free kick delivery past MLS Goalkeeper of the Year Andre Blake on 26 minutes. Just four minutes later, Tajon Buchanan doubled the lead, collecting Gil’s pass, cutting inside and smashing past Blake to spark jubilant (and impressively acrobatic) celebrations.
The Revs were very much in control, and never looked like relinquishing their lead. In fact, Gil would come within inches of writing his own name onto the scoresheet alongside his two assists, only to watch his audacious 20-yard chip bounce back off the crossbar – unfortunate, though it could not spoil an unforgettable night.
Though New England would ultimately fall at the Conference Final stage, edged out by eventual MLS Cup winners Columbus Crew, the success at Subaru Park still lives long in the memory, with current stars Matt Polster and DeJuan Jones taking encouragement from the triumph in the lead-up to this weekend’s visit.
KING KESSLER AND THE DARK ARTS
Revolution 1-0 Union | September 3, 2021
Sometimes, you have to win ugly. Three points is three points, and you have to do whatever you can to earn those points.
While most players are idolized for their creative talents, the willingness to fight for the badge will also certainly endear you to a club’s fanbase. Henry Kessler’s desire to do his bit for the cause in the September 2021 trip to Philly was definitely greatly appreciated by the Revs faithful, and gained him a few new fans in the process.
With New England hanging onto a precious lead, thanks to Matt Polster’s 33rd-minute strike, the Union were piling on late pressure. As the clock ticked down into injury time, the visitors were defending valiantly, desperate to preserve their slender advantage – and having to do so with 10 men, following Arnór Traustason’s red card shortly before the hour-mark.
Battling for every ball and throwing bodies on the line, the Revolution had to dig deep. In the third minute of stoppage time, Philadelphia were looking dangerous in the box – but center back Kessler was there to block an attempted cross, and muscled his way to clear the second ball.
Winning the duel, he nodded out for a throw-in, but he didn’t stop there. In a bid to eat up a few more seconds, he raced to launch the ball high into the rafters – and as his momentum slammed him into the advertising hoardings, he conveniently landed on top of a replacement ball, which he then also threw into the stands to allow himself time to return to position.
Needless to say, his antics didn’t go down too well with the hosts. A scuffle broke out with plenty of pushing and shoving, and though Kessler was shown a yellow card – the eighth caution of a heated contest – he continued to ruffle Philly’s feathers by theatrically falling onto the floor.
The defender’s wielding of the dark arts certainly caused quite a stir, with footage of the incident going viral on social media – fans and media hailing his ‘elite,’ ‘10/10’ and ‘top-tier’ show of gamesmanship ‘a thing of beauty.’
Ultimately, it proved an effective – if extreme – course of action. The Revs would hold on for the win, maintaining their lead atop the Eastern Conference table where they would of course finish the season, lifting the club’s first Supporters’ Shield in a remarkable and record-breaking campaign. ‘King Kessler’ had earned his crown.
Revolution 5-3 Union | May 17, 2014
Those in attendance at May 2014’s meeting in Pennsylvania were treated a timeless classic.
With eight goals, a penalty, a red card and a late fightback, spectators savored a thoroughly pulsating clash at PPL Park (as it was then named), enjoying a feast of entertainment – you simply couldn’t take your eyes off this one for one second.
A superb offensive display saw five different goalscorers fire New England into a 5-1 lead on the road before Philadelphia produced a late rally to reduce the deficit, as two of the eventual U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup Finalists contested a thrilling encounter.
A.J. Soares opened the scoring early on with his first goal of the season, heading home Chris Tierney’s set-piece, before Diego Fagúndez coolly slotted home to make it 2-0 inside the opening 26 minutes. Vincent Nogueira then halved the advantage with a thunderbolt before the break, but Lee Nguyen restored the Revolution’s two-goal cushion just four minutes after the restart, jinking inside and finishing off a well-worked team move.
Tierney added a fourth with a sweetly-struck free kick, and Patrick Mullins drove home the fifth of the night with his third goal in as many games, as the Revs ran riot in the second half.
With a commanding lead, New England eased their foot off the gas and Philadelphia sought to narrow the margin. Sheanon Williams pulled another goal back for the home side on 76 minutes, but hopes of a dramatic comeback took a hit when Cristian Maidana saw red with just eight minutes of normal time to go.
Sébastien Le Toux did net a third for the hosts in injury time from the penalty spot but it proved too little, too late with the visitors having already done the damage. The victory lifted the Revolution to top spot in the East and saw Jay Heaps’ men become just the third team in MLS history to have scored five goals in successive games, having also defeated future 2014 Supporters’ Shield winners Seattle Sounders 5-0.