FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution are heading into Wednesday’s must-win Round One playoff visit of the Philadelphia Union with no fear.
The Revs host Jim Curtin’s men in Game 2 of the best-of-three series, needing a victory to remain in postseason contention and keep their Audi 2023 MLS Cup Playoff hopes alive.
Having suffered a 3-1 reverse in the opening fixture at Subaru Park, the Revolution must defeat the Union at Gillette Stadium – either in regulation time or on penalties – to force a Game 3 decider in Pennsylvania. With no margin for error, the pressure is on but midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye, defender Dave Romney and forward Tomás Chancalay insist the team are ready for the fight.
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“We obviously understand how much the game means,” Kaye stated. “The pressure at this point doesn’t really mean anything anymore because it’s do-or-die. We want to rise to the occasion.
“We understand you have to win the game to stay and give yourself another chance at having a third game, and that’s what we’re going after. We've done well this whole year at home, so that's an added boost. We just need to win the game. We need to really put in a performance that we're proud of, and that's what we're looking for.
“We feel good. Considering how MLS has changed the format for playoffs [to a Round One best-of-three series] we feel pretty good because although we’ve lost, we’re still in it and we know what we need to work on.
“We understand that the [first] game, especially the first half, was nowhere near the quality we needed to be showing. We took a hard look at ourselves, and we’ve been really intentional about the work we’re trying to do on the pitch to make sure that when we play on Wednesday, it’s a better match, and that we can go out there and get the win.
“We need to understand that in the playoffs, we need to be better collectively as a team defending. You can’t just give up three goals in a game, especially in a playoff game, and expect to come back and get something out of it. We need to be smarter in the way we defend, smarter in the way we play – almost a bit more savvy, understanding that mistakes weigh a lot more in the playoffs.
“Philly is a very good team in terms of the fact that their front three are on the same page the majority of the time. We know their strengths, we know their weaknesses. They make it difficult with their movement. Obviously, they have full backs that get up high and love to cross the ball, so for us we just need to understand what our defensive shape needs to be in order to slow them down, get numbers behind the ball, defend as a team, and then when we were on the ball, we were fine.
“This game will be about how well collectively can we handle their strengths and how well as a team can we continue to play when we have the ball. Mistakes happen in every game but we need to shore up a little bit in certain areas, especially in our defensive third, knowing that Philly’s a team that tries to make things chaotic.
“We’ve got to make sure we play more like a team, and have 11 guys on the field who are ready to fight for each other, and understand that it’s going to take hard work and effort to get the result; then our quality will come through once we outwork them and outbattle them.
“We're competitive, I'm competitive. I want to win a trophy. I have won a Supporters’ Shield, so I do think that's a little bit harder to achieve, but the playoffs give a different atmosphere, something different at the end of the year for teams to compete for, so it's fun. You want to win. I hope in a couple of years I can say my best playoff memory is winning an MLS Cup, so that's what we're looking for.”
With 11 days between matches, both teams have had plenty of time to prepare for Game 2.
While the break has allowed extra time for players to recover and regain full fitness, including captain Carles Gil, it has also provided the chance for the Revs to move past the disappointment of the first game in Philadelphia and start afresh.
“I think when you lose the first game, it’s probably a help,” Kaye continued. “It gives you enough time to digest the game, and then make a proper plan about how you want to go about training.
“In our position, it definitely helps, and it gives us an opportunity to get clear on some things and then come into the game feeling fresh with a clear mind, knowing exactly what we need to do.”
Skipper Gil was substituted in the first half of Game 1 in Pennsylvania, after receiving a knock.
Ever dependable, however, the captain has shaken off his injury to play his part and lead the team in their crucial encounter, much to his teammates’ admiration.
“He’s like the Terminator!” Kaye joked. “He always comes back. He’s done well to deal with knocks and kicks all season, and nothing changes now.”
Though New England naturally always strive for shutouts, the imperative need to win places the onus on the offensive armory to supply the crucial contributions on Wednesday.
With the Revs having fallen behind in their last five games, club Defender of the Year Romney believes that if his defensive backline can stave off Philly’s front three, the hosts’ own attacking stars will shine.
“Guys are going to be aggressive,” he added. “We’ve got a home game, and it’s like a last stand at home. We’ve been really strong at home this year, so I think we’re all confident that we can get a result and hopefully go back to Philly.
“We know it’s win-or-go-home, so guys are going to be fighting and aggressive, and hopefully that can lead to some good chances and some goals for us. I don’t think [that need to score] adds pressure. Our guys have been good at scoring goals this year – I don’t think we’ve been shut out for a while. It’s just about us not making mistakes in the back and solidifying things.
“Us getting an early goal would be hugely beneficial. We’ve started games on the back foot too many times. We’ve started well, which is the unfortunate thing – the first 10-15 minutes, we’ve been playing well, controlling the game, and it’s been a mistake by any one of our players that’s stalled the momentum. Can we score when we do have that momentum early, and not make stupid mistakes in the end?
“[In playoffs] it’s the pressure. I don’t know how to describe it – just knowing how any little mistake is brutal; how teams might play differently in that moment, or how guys might play differently, and see who steps up to the plate or not. For us, it’s about being cohesive as a unit, sticking together when things might not be going our way in the game, and the effort.
“It changes the way they attack if we’re down a goal or two, and it changes the way we defend. [In the previous games] we’ve been getting familiar with their forwards [Julián Carranza and Dániel Gazdag], and the way they want to play. They’ve played two different formations when we’ve played them – they had [Jakob] Glesnes out last game, which changed things – so it just remains to be seen which formation they do play. We’ve seen it in both games, but also we know how to attack, or handle both of those.”
Chancalay is savoring his first taste of the MLS Cup Playoffs, having joined New England in the summer.
Netting six goals in 12 appearances, the winger has made an impressive impact, crafting the Revs’ third-highest number of shots, including nine attempts in two fixtures against Philly. With the pressure on the offensive front to make the most of their chances in Wednesday’s must-win match-up, the Argentine acknowledged the importance of his role, but is relishing the responsibility.
“It’s an important match. We have to win it,” he added. “We want to keep advancing in the playoffs, and continue this run, and keep fighting to go as far as we can.
“It’s a different week in the sense that you have to organize your trainings a little differently. So far, we’ve trained well the last three days. We’re going to rest and we’ll return this weekend to prepare for Wednesday’s match in the best way possible. Obviously the first game didn't go the way we wanted to. It wasn't great, but I'm looking forward to the challenges of continuing to advance and getting as far as we possibly can.
“The two games [against Philly] were completely different. Philadelphia is a strong team. We have to defend their forwards and their attack and take advantage of our chances. We managed that well in the first game, but the second game at their place got away from us. That made it difficult for us to get a tie or a win.
“In every game, the attackers have the mentality, I have the mentality, of wanting to score goals, but especially in this game because we need to win. We need to score goals, whoever it is that scores, to help us advance to a third game so we can continue competing and advance in [the playoffs].
“It’s important for us to be at home now. Hopefully, with our fans here on our home field, we can play our best game. Hopefully, it makes it easier for us, feeling comfortable at home with our fans and families.”
Romney, who has played every minute of MLS and postseason action this year, also asserts he and the team are desperate to repay the Revs fans unwavering support with a positive result and strong playoff run.
Unbeaten in regulation time of their last 14 home playoff matches (10-0-4) dating back to 2003, New England also notched a club record 40 points with a 12-1-4 regular season streak at Gillette in 2023. The center back noted the significant part a fervent and passionate Foxborough crowd can play, crediting his side’s impressive home record to the Revolution faithful.
“We’ve had good fans all year,” he hailed. “I remember the first game. It was a little bleak – it was like 25 degrees outside – but this whole summer has been amazing. The fans have showed up, and they’ve been such an immense help for us at home.
“It’s why we had such a good home record. I desperately want to get a playoff win for them and keep this run going. They’ve showed up for us this whole year, so [we] definitely are going to show up for them in this playoff game.”