“We didn’t give up, we just kept battling” | Williams hails fighting spirit in Leagues Cup comeback

8_3_23 Gustavo Bou vs. Atlas FC

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution assistant coach Richie Williams spoke of his pride for the team’s determination and resilience in Thursday night’s enthralling Leagues Cup victory over Atlas FC.

The Revs overcame a challenging start (conceding two goals inside the opening 11 minutes), to clinch a place in the Round of 16, leveling through a Gustavo Bou brace before triumphing 8-7 in a thrilling penalty shootout.

Though disappointed to have witnessed a slow opening, Williams was pleased with the way the Revs rallied to battle back, highlighting the team’s character and a tactical tweak as key factors in the comeback.

“I just think the game itself was exciting,” he reflected. “But we did get off to a slow start – whether that was from what the week looked like (though we did have good training), I guess we could use that as an excuse if we wanted to, but we didn't have a good start to the game.

“Midway through the first half towards the end – the last 15-20 minutes – we started coming back in the game. It was crucial [to score before halftime]. We definitely did not have a good start to the game, giving up two goals in the first 12 minutes or so. We really had our backs up against the wall, but these guys are competitive – they didn't give up, they just kept battling, and I think over the course of the game we probably were the better team.

“We made a little bit of a formation change, which we thought definitely helped. The second half, I thought we were the better team and potentially could have won it in regulation. We changed the formation to a bit of a diamond where we put Matt Polster holding a little bit as just a six, and Mark-Anthony Kaye on the left and Noel Buck to the right, and we brought Gustavo a little bit more central with Giacomo [Vrioni] in more of a 4-4-2 diamond where we basically had a 4-3-3 before that.

“We thought that worked, especially with the spacing and the position of our midfielders – Mark and Noel on the left and right could find space in the pockets, and then obviously Gustavo was closer to goal. He was getting caught a little more out wide, and obviously as you can see with Gustavo a little bit closer to the goal, he has the ability to score goals.

“And then I do think the substitutions that came in did a really good job. We made the change – Ema [Boateng] and Ian [Harkes] especially when they came in, and Nacho [Gil], did a great job. I don’t think I’m leaving anybody out. They did a great job to come in and compete. It wasn’t an easy game – it’s a hard, competitive game, so they made a difference.

“We weren't able to get a third goal. They hung in there, and even at the end when everybody was tired, they did a great job. It was very important for Gustavo, and then he has to make it interesting with his penalty getting saved and following it up! But that's Gustavo – he scores goals, and it's a special talent of his, for sure.

“We're excited just to win. We hung in there to draw, and then to take the penalties – obviously in this tournament format, you're just trying to advance to the next round. So, it was an exciting way to end the game for the fans and for us, and we're just going to have to now prepare for the next game.”

The decisive moment fell to the club’s all-time appearance maker Andrew Farrell, who stepped up to convert the winning penalty after Javier Abella had struck the crossbar for Atlas. Having had an injury-time equalizer harshly ruled out last month against the New York Red Bulls in league play, it was a special moment for the defender, and Williams was delighted for the center back.

“Andrew is a big part of our team,” the assistant coach added. “He's obviously been here a long time. He's a great competitor, he's a great teammate. I'm really happy for Andrew.

“You mentioned the goal that got called back in New York, but what a way to end the penalties with him getting the winning penalty there.

“We were just all excited obviously to advance, but it's great for Andrew – he got up there and took the penalty with confidence, and now we're through.”

Farrell himself praised goalkeeper Earl Edwards Jr. for his crucial contribution. The shot-stopper made six key saves to keep the Revs in the game, and Williams was equally impressed with his display [in Djordje Petrović’s absence].

“Earl has been a really good pro for us,” Williams continued. “I think his last game was when we won 3-1 against Orlando and he did a really good job.

“He’s been training hard, and the players are confident in Earl when he’s back there, so I think he did a good job. Whenever he’s called upon, I think he’ll do a good job and help us.”

Also reflecting on the game, Edwards Jr. hailed the team’s adaptability and leadership, and noted the importance of building momentum with New England enjoying an impressive campaign so far, sitting in second spot in the Supporters’ Shield standings.

“Obviously, it was a slow start for us – it looked like it was going to be a long night – but the guys stuck with it,” the goalkeeper said.

“Playing a team from a different league with a little bit of a different style maybe caught us off guard or something, but it happens in sports. We were able to adapt and change our game plan a bit and get the result in the end.

“I think every ‘keeper goes into a penalty shootout with a lot of confidence – you trust that you're going make saves. As it drags on, you just keep hoping your guys make their shots, and keep giving you chances, and fortunately again, we were able to come up with the win.

“Having guys like Carles [Gil] on the field really pulled the team forward. It was unfortunate to see him go down [with injury], but to come out with the result is nice and hopefully, guys will get healthy for the next one.

“In the locker room, we're confident in what we have, and it's been a good season so far, and we're confident we'll keep that going.”

Despite the post-match elation, there was some cause for concern with Carles Gil and Brandon Bye forced off through injury in the second half in what proved to be a physical and fiercely-contested clash.

Williams admitted it was too soon to know the extent of both knocks, but again expressed his admiration for the Revs’ handling of a tough situation.

“It definitely was a physical game, for sure,” he said. “In terms of Carles, he got a knock on his knee – not a twist or anything serious, but it just basically got swollen, so it was very difficult for him to continue on.

“We're not sure of [Brandon] yet. We'll see more tomorrow. We're hoping it's not a serious injury.

“We got whacked a little bit on the field, but the guys hung in there, they battled and they competed, and obviously got the result at the end.”

The assistant coach also reserved praise for both sets of fans who turned out for a Thursday night encounter, acknowledging the impact of the Revs faithful, who helped spur the team onto victory, as New England maintained their impressive record on home soil in 2023.

“It seemed like there was a decent amount of Atlas fans when they were announcing the teams, which is great,” he added. “It’s great that they come out and support their club.

“Our fans are great here in New England and with the Revs. They come out – even when it’s a small crowd, supporting us, cheering us on – and we’re grateful to have great fans that come out and help us.

“They were really excited obviously at the end of the game after the penalties and the win, and it really helps – it pushes the players on the field.”

The triumph set up a Round of 16 clash with another Liga MX outfit in Querétaro FC to be played at Gillette Stadium on Monday.

Williams anticipates another testing fixture against Mexican opposition, and hopes the squad will heed the lessons learned from the victories over Atlético de San Luis and Atlas, as the Revs look to progress further in the tournament.

“Our expectations are to win the game,” he stated. “We’ll be home again. The expectations are to get off to a better start in the next game for sure, but all of these games are competitive.

“Mexican teams are very good, the Mexican league is a top league, so it’s going to be competitive, and you saw out there (in between the soccer with the tackles and the fouls and whatnot), it’s going to be competitive.

“Even in the San Luis game early in the game, they’re technical, they’re competitive, they will play. San Luis I thought early in the game for us last week, they played good football, they created opportunities.

“Obviously it was 1-1 and we kind of wore them down, and scored some goals at the end, but they’re not easy. They’re passionate, they’re competitive, and they want to win, so it’s going to be another tough game, a competitive game, a rivalry game a little bit with Mexico vs. U.S.

“We’ll be prepared, we’ll be ready, and we’ll make sure that we’re competitive, and basically need to be competitive from the first minute.

“You have to be ready to play, and our expectation is to keep moving on in the tournament. We feel confident, we played well in spurts and obviously to come away with a penalty win, it’s great. Our expectations are to prepare over the next three days, and get ready for the game on Monday, and get a result.”