CHESTER, Pa. – It’s artistry and skill that earned soccer the “beautiful game” moniker, but sometimes sheer will and determination can be just as magnificent. That’s exactly what carried the New England Revolution to their 1-0 win over the Philadelphia Union on Friday night at Subaru Park.
Down to 10 men for the final 31 minutes following Arnór Traustason’s sending off, New England scratched and clawed their way to the final whistle, making Matt Polster’s first-half goal stand up as Brad Knighton won his fifth straight start, a stretch that includes three clean sheets.
“This group just wants to win,” said Polster, whose only other goal this season came on August 8 against the Union. “I think the boys have said it a couple times – sometimes we don’t care how we win, we just want to win. Granted, I don’t think we’d want to go and do that again, per se, but it’s good to show that kind of grit, and character, and winning mentality in these kinds of environments.”
Already down a quartet of starters in Adam Buksa (international duty), Tajon Buchanan (international duty), Matt Turner (international duty), and Gustavo Bou (injury) from the opening whistle, it was always going to be a grind for the Revolution. But the path became all the more muddled when the Revs went down to 10 men with more than 30 minutes still remaining.
Head coach Bruce Arena responded by inserting Scott Caldwell and Carles Gil – returning after missing six games with a muscle injury – to provide a bit of balance and possession as the Revs adjusted to an unfamiliar position, playing with 10 men for an extended period for just the second time this season. Gil’s savvy nearly sealed a second goal, while Caldwell – and several others – locked things down at the back.
“A lot of smart play,” Arena said when asked what got the Revs over the finish line. “I think 10 players working together. Brad Knighton came up with some big plays. The backline did a good job. Carles came in the game and gave us possession at times when they needed. I thought Teal [Bunbury] worked very hard. The play of [Tommy] McNamara and Polster in the midfield was excellent. Our whole backline did a good job. So, collectively, the guys did a very good job.”
Friday night’s performance was the perfect response from the Revs, who’d suffered just their fourth loss of the season last weekend at New York City FC. They’re now 2-0-2 following losses this season, while they’re 9-1-1 in their last 11 games to move 10 points clear at the top of the Supporters’ Shield standings with 10 games remaining in the regular season.
The players will be given a well-earned three-day break before getting back to work early next week, as they’ll prepare for a rematch with NYCFC, this time at Gillette Stadium.
“We knew it wasn’t going to be easy, so to come out of here with three points is huge,” said Polster. “Now we have a three-day break and we can just regain, and go for the weekend against City now. So, it’s really positive, really proud of the boys.
“I don’t think we played particularly well, but we can clean that up. I think the most important thing was the mentality we showed tonight, which was whatever it takes to get three points, and we showed we can do that.”