FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution interim head coach Clint Peay believes the Revs’ Decision Day victory over the Philadelphia Union provided the ideal preparation for their Round One playoff challenge.
The Revolution battled back from a goal down to triumph 2-1 at Gillette Stadium in the final game of the MLS regular season, as a Gustavo Bou double (the club’s third brace in as many games) turned the game on its head after Julián Carranza’s opener.
Though the three points were not enough to claim a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference and earn homefield advantage in the postseason tournament, the result meant New England completed the campaign level on points with fourth-placed Philly, who they will now face in a best-of-three battle in the playoffs.
Both sides ended the year with identical 15-9-10 (55 pts.) records from their 34 games, but the Union’s superior goal difference (16-12) edged Jim Curtin’s side ahead, ensuring the Pennsylvania outfit will open the postseason series at home, and host the third fixture if required. Peay admitted his men face a stern test to progress but believes the final day win sparked a much-needed confidence boost, and highlighted useful lessons.
“It’s going to be a difficult game,” he declared. “You can see they’re a physical team – they're aggressive; they've got a lot of size, so set pieces is an area where in these sort of games, you can lock it down and just play for percentages of set pieces and things like that.
“In a knockout sort of situation, they're a difficult to team to face, because they don't mind that you have the ball. A one-goal win for them is perfect, and so it won't be easy. They've got potentially two home games if we go to three [matches], so traveling and going there will be a challenge.
“In terms of momentum, wins gloss over things that maybe could have been better, so the feeling is good. This is playoff time, and you want to do it any way you can, and [Saturday] was one of those examples where we had to dig deep and fight through until the end.”
Bou celebrated his 100th MLS regular season appearance with a superb double, leveling the score from the penalty spot after a Damion Lowe handball, and netting his 50th goal for the club by latching onto Team MVP Carles Gil’s excellent through ball and powering past Andre Blake.
Having returned to the starting XI in last weekend’s trip to Nashville SC where he crafted an assist for Tomás Chancalay, the Argentine forward has found his creative touch at a crucial time, while Peay was also pleased to welcome back DeJuan Jones from international duty, and Tommy McNamara for his first start of 2023 after injury.
“They’re good players that we think we’re going to have to rely on,” he added. “Getting them back, giving them minutes, and integrating them back into the team after being out for a period of time has been really beneficial.
“Tommy did well coming in for the last game in the second half. We wanted to reward him for that and see how it would work out.
“We haven’t performed collectively as a group, and we wanted to make some changes to try to see if we would be a better group collectively – what’s the right mix. He had another good game, steady.”
In the buildup to Saturday’s Decision Day encounter, Peay had spoken of the importance of an improved collective display to end the regular season on a positive note and kickstart the Revs’ playoff charge.
Employing a 4-3-2-1 formation with Bou leading the line, the interim head coach felt the team looked more comfortable, confident and cohesive, having worked together to identify the best plan of action.
“I think they’re comfortable in that,” he noted. “It gives them a bit of familiarity in terms of how they want to move off each other and how they want to defend. I think the biggest thing for us was making sure – against a Philly team that will hurt you on the transition – that we had the right balance as we attacked. I thought overall the guys did a pretty good job in that.
“For me as a coach, I want the ball and I think it's important for our guys to have the ball – you can control it and dictate things in the game in that regard, but it's just about making good decisions. Ultimately, if it's two passes and we get to goal versus 10 passes, it doesn't matter – I just want good decision-making and us taking care of the ball in a positive way, so that we don't give it away and give opportunities to the opponent to add transitions that catch us out. I thought the guys did well in that.
“All we’re looking for is understanding, clarity, and that we’re on the same page. We want to make sure that what we’re asking the guys to do, they feel they’re capable of doing it, and [we’re] hearing how they feel about certain things. At the end of the day, it’s a game about the players – they’re the guys who have to execute, and you want to make sure that they feel comfortable in doing whatever it is that you’re asking them to do.”
Though New England produced a much-improved defensive display, Peay admitted Philadelphia’s opener could have been avoided.
As Jacob Jackson and Dave Romney attempted to deal with a lofted pass, a miscommunication led to the ball ricocheting into Carranza’s path for the Union forward to pounce. However, Peay was proud of the way Jackson and the team responded to the error, and the young shot-stopper himself was thrilled to have bounced back to help mark his home debut with a win.
“Obviously, it was a difficult moment,” Peay continued. “I don’t know exactly what happened, but there was a little lack of communication between him and Dave Romney.
“For a young guy, it could have gone bad, and I think he responded. [He had] great confidence with the ball at his feet, and had a couple of shots at him that he held really well. I thought he showed really good poise and maturity.”
Jackson, who made two key saves on his first senior appearance at Gillette Stadium, described taking his place between the sticks in front of a season-high 41,355 fans as a special achievement.
Ever keen to improve, the shot-stopper believes he has learned a lot from his first full starts for the club, noting areas of improvement and expressing gratitude for the support and guidance of his teammates.
“It was awesome, getting my first win, playing on the first team,” he grinned. “It’s an exciting experience.
“I think it's also a learning moment – I definitely contributed to getting scored on. I can look back on that and look about how I spoke to Romney – he couldn't hear me, and I think that's on me. As the goalie, you've got to be loud and command everything, so I take blame for the goal – but again: learning experience.
“Romney and [Andrew] Farrell came up to me and said: ‘Let it go, have a short-term memory. We’ve still got 45 minutes to play' and then luckily Gustavo gets two goals and that just helps get my lack of experience – I don't want to say ‘anxiety’ – but the anxiety away, knowing that I have such experience in front of me. Move on, and now look to try to push forward in playoffs.
“In all honestly, I think it was a lot harder [than my first start] because we have home fans and I'm a very big believer that without the fans, it's just a bunch of guys playing soccer for fun. After the goal, I was like: ‘Oh man! I want the fans to support us, stay behind us all the way because we will need them in playoffs, and we need them throughout the days.’ It’s a long season so without them pushing us, demanding more of us, we don't really get anywhere.
“I think it was a lot harder than Nashville but it was a pleasure playing at home. Hopefully, I can continue starting but if not, Earl [Edwards Jr.] and Tomáš Vaclík are both great goalkeepers and so I will support them.
“You’ve got to keep working, and then when you get your number called, that's when it matters – you’ve just got to show up. That’s [the case for] a lot of the guys – we work hard every day in practice and then we wait for gamedays and wait for our numbers to get called. [Ryan] Spaulding came in and was great, Tommy looked great, Gustavo coming back from injury … All those guys get their numbers called and we have to show up, and we showed up.
“We're always trying to be better so that when it does come to the game, whoever starts, all of us support them; we can trust that they're going to do what they need to do. I hope to continue being the guy but if I don't, then I’ve got to look back and support whoever is involved and back them because at the end of the day, I really want to win the playoffs – that sounds so cool to hold the trophy.”