ORLANDO, Fla. – New England Revolution interim head coach Clint Peay and midfielder Matt Polster assert the team must find a way to restore confidence quickly, following Saturday’s 3-2 defeat at Orlando City SC.
Though Revs captain Carles Gil bagged a brace at Exploria Stadium, goals from Duncan McGuire, Facundo Torres and Iván Angulo saw the Lions secure their spot in the top four of the Eastern Conference to clinch home advantage in the 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs, and book their place in the Concacaf Champions Cup.
The result ensured the Revolution stay in fifth spot in the East, but with a game in hand over the rest of the top six next weekend – and with surrounding teams Philadelphia Union, Columbus Crew, Atlanta United and Nashville SC having also dropped points on Matchday 37 – a top-three finish remains in the team’s own hands.
Speaking after the game in Florida, Peay and Polster admitted the squad have suffered a knock in confidence on the back of a challenging period. Also frustrated with the manner of the goals conceded in Orlando, the pair were however encouraged by an improved second-half showing, sparked by a halftime triple substitution (including the welcome return of long-term absentee Henry Kessler) and a tactical switch to a back five.
“We've got to reflect as a group in general and think about how we need to proceed forward,” Peay said.
“It was an intense game. [Orlando] got both outside backs moving forward and I thought that on goals two and three in particular, we didn't do a good job of dealing with overloads that they created higher up the field.
“Then, backtracking a little bit, they do a good job of attracting you – they were patient on the ball, were able to pull [Mark-Anthony] Kaye and Noel [Buck] out a little bit, and then get in behind; then it's a footrace into the box. I didn't think we did a great job in terms of managing those moments.
“Defensively, the group in general, we need to all do a better job. I don't necessarily think that the defensive changes are the issue – I think it's more guys making plays and executing better in critical moments.
“I thought the guys started very well in the system. There weren't any issues. We made some mistakes in a normal defensive shape – not with Polster out. I don't think it was the system – I just think it was lack of execution of how we wanted to defend in certain moments. In terms of Polster, certainly he's a guy that by moving them in there, we wanted to get him more in the midfield.
“I think there's been progress game by game. The start of the game was very positive for us, and I think it's been getting better in terms of how we how we move the ball, how we dictate games. There were some positives in terms of getting some guys back, who I think will need to rely upon – getting minutes for [Gustavo] Bou and Kessler was very positive. Obviously, we created a couple of decent chances, so that was positive.”
Deputizing in defense, Polster has been operating as an inverted fullback as part of Peay’s tactical style shift, but returned to midfield in the second period in Orlando.
The 30-year-old noted the challenges of implementing a new coaching system towards the end of a season, but agreed the Revs’ defensive errors were to blame at Exploria Stadium.
“With formational changes and maybe positional changes, those things come with growing pains,” he explained. “I don't think it's that we can't do that formation – I just maybe think at the moment, we're not as comfortable with that.
“This late into the season, it's difficult to get the confidence of building that – maybe within a preseason or having a stretch of games that maybe aren't as meaningful as they are now. It's not that I don't think we're capable, but it is demanding. When we do play that, we have to keep the ball for longer spells because in that formation, you can get caught on the counter at times.
“I think we are capable of playing that – it's just difficult when we haven't had a preseason under our belts of really dialing that in as a group. It's difficult, but then we switched it to a back five – it was like a 5-3-2. It just felt more comfortable on the field – I felt more comfortable in that position, I think some guys felt more comfortable and were able to float around and pick up good spots on the pitch to hurt Orlando at times.
“I think in the first half, we started the game pretty well – we kept the ball in good spells – and towards the middle of the half, we started giving away cheap possession, and Orlando started to grow into the game. We've been leaking goals lately on the defensive side of things and once you go down away in Orlando against a good team, it's very difficult to come back.
“We shot ourselves in the foot with giving away cheap goals. Then in the second half, we changed formations a little bit – I slid into the midfield, we played two up top with Gustavo and Tomás [Chancalay]. I think maybe we got caught on the counter a couple of times, but we were a little more threatening going forward and a little more one-directional.
“Tactical and results are two different things. At times, you want to implement your own ideas and your own style as a coaching staff and then results are the results. At this club, all that matters – and what I've always said at this club since Bruce [Arena] has been here – it's all about winning, and that's the most important thing to me, to the staff, to the organization, and to the players. That comes first and we want to get back to those winning ways, especially heading into playoffs.”
Despite the setback, Polster asserted the Revs still hold belief they can mount a strong postseason run.
Reflecting on the 2023 campaign so far and the team’s recent challenges, the midfielder remains hopeful his side can rekindle their form in time for the playoffs, inspired by positive performances against their fellow contenders throughout the campaign.
“It's been a weird season so far,” he stated. “You try to – as players, as an organization – to keep those things from growing into the locker room. It's difficult at times. It's not like we can't see what's going on – we're there every day.
“We had a really good start to the season. You want to pick up those points early on and get that confidence going, and I thought we did that. Since everything's happened, we've had to pick ourselves up at times, and try to string together good matches.
“We went through a spell of for me, not playing some of the best opposition, and we weren't able to pick up the majority of the points we wanted to. Now we're trying to build confidence again, we're trying to understand the system, which we do – it's just trying to find ways to win, and that's the most important thing at this club.
“Looking at our entire season, we've had good results against every team. Okay, we lost to Columbus [Crew] at home but I think we should have beaten them away – we went down a man with Dylan [Borrero] getting a red card, but we played them pretty well. We beat Orlando at home, we came here and struggled a little bit. We gave [FC] Cincinnati a run for their money.
“I don't think we're afraid of any team. We're capable of beating anybody. We just have to get back to that confidence level, and be able to win games on a consistent basis.”