FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The playoffs are about proving yourself on the biggest stage. Rising to the occasion. Being at your best when the lights are shining brightest.
And sometimes, playoffs are simply about proving to yourself that you’re capable of more.
New England Revolution II did just that in the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference Semifinals on Friday night at Gillette Stadium, claiming a gutsy 2-1 win over a New York Red Bulls II side that had gotten the better of them on all three occasions in the regular season. But when it mattered most, with their season on the line, Revs II did what they’ve done against pretty much everyone else for most of the year; they dug deep and found a way to win.
“I think that’s the only team we hadn’t beaten, and maybe the only team that we played three times that we hadn’t beaten twice,” said Malcolm Fry, who opened the scoring in the 12th minute after taking a feed from Marcos Dias, cutting inside onto his left foot, and firing home a low drive. “We’ve had a good year – a really good year – and to not beat a team, that’s surprising. So, we’re used to going into games kind of feeling pretty comfortable against anyone but Red Bull. They kind of put up a little bit of doubt.”
Fry’s early goal helped quell that doubt, and when Victor Souza headed home Jack Panayotou’s free kick in the 69th minute to double New England’s lead, belief started to build. Revolution II’s resolve was tested mightily when the visitors responded immediately to cut the lead to 2-1 in the 72nd minute, but a ferocious defensive display allowed just one shot on target the rest of the way, and at the final whistle, Revs II had booked their place in the MLS NEXT Pro Eastern Conference Final.
“Soccer has a weird way of making doubt creep into your mind, and I think that it kind of plants seeds of doubt where you don’t really notice in your subconscious,” said 18-year-old Academy product Fry. “I think on days like today when the pressure is a bit higher, and the emotions are higher, and what’s on the line is a bit higher, I think some teams don’t rise to that occasion.
“I think our biggest strength – I’ve talked about a lot of our strengths – but our biggest strength is that we rise to the occasion. In front of the fans, at home; we love playing here. We love playing anywhere, but we love playing here. I’m really proud of the group that we were able to do that.”
Oftentimes this year Revs II have simply blown teams away – they averaged more than two goals per game in the regular season and scored five on four separate occasions – but they’ve also won nine games by a single goal, including their first-ever playoff victory over Philadelphia Union II last weekend. That ability to get over the finish line proved vital on Friday night.
“Some games you dominate and just, everything feels good, and you get the ball and you don’t score every chance, but every time you get the ball, it feels like you’re going to score, and I love those games,” said Fry, who has now scored five goals this season, all in Revolution II victories. “And then some games, you have to suffer. You have to defend a lot. You have to take your chances when they come. And I love those games, too. I think as a team, one of our strengths is we can do both kind of perfectly.”
Fry certainly suffered on Friday night, battling through 87 minutes before succumbing to cramps so painful he had to be helped to the bench by a pair of teammates. But that didn’t stop him celebrating at the final whistle, and it couldn’t wipe the smile from his face more than 20 minutes later as he conducted multiple postgame interviews on the field.
It’s a smile Fry will likely continue to wear on Sunday afternoon when he gets together with several of his Revolution II teammates to watch top-seeded Crown Legacy FC host Columbus Crew 2 (3 p.m. ET, MLS Season Pass) in the game that will decide New England’s opponent in the Eastern Conference Final. Revs II split with both teams in the regular season, winning at home and falling on the road.
A Crown Legacy win on Sunday would send Revolution II on the road to North Carolina next weekend, while a Columbus victory would give New England the chance to host in Foxborough.
Either way, Fry will be smiling, confident in his team’s ability and enjoying the game he loves.
“I cannot stop smiling. I mean, I love soccer, man,” Fry beamed. “I just love this. I can’t stop smiling. I love this game.”