Cristian Penilla at Atlanta United (2019 Colonial, playoffs)
David Silverman

Revs push defending champs to the brink, but season ends courtesy of “one big play”

ATLANTA – In a single-elimination playoff format, games – and therefore, entire seasons – are often decided by one moment. It could be a mistake, or it could be a flash of inspiration. But it’s always a moment.

That was the case on Saturday afternoon at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where the New England Revolution’s remarkable 2019 campaign came to an end at the hands of the defending champions, Atlanta United FC, who claimed a 1-0 win in front of 66,114 in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs.

The moment arrived in the 70th minute. Ezequiel Barco’s clever chip sent Franco Escobar into the right side of the box, and the Atlanta defender’s rasping drive found the near upper corner.

That was it. One sequence to separate the sides.

“All these little plays are the difference in the game,” said head coach Bruce Arena. “We knew it would be one play. We fully expected to be able to go toe-to-toe with them for 90 minutes, and we did, but we fell short.

“The effort was outstanding today. I thought it was a good game, and we could’ve been the team walking off the field 1-0 (winners). Both teams had chances. They converted one, we did not. I thought for the most part, we played well.”

New England’s largely positive performance on Saturday was due in part to a measured game plan and a pair of changes designed to eradicate some of the issues they faced two weeks ago on Decision Day, when they suffered a 3-1 loss at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.

DeJuan Jones started at left back – tasked with limiting the space provided to Julian Gressel – while Scott Caldwell made just his third start since early May, a move Arena said was designed to provide balance in central midfield and aid the Revolution in possession.

“We didn’t want to let any balls get in behind us and the defenders,” said Caldwell. “I thought for the most part we did a good job of that. Ultimately, they came away. They finished one chance and we’ve got to try to prevent that. We’ll learn from it in the offseason.”

New England had their chances, as well, most notably a first-half effort from Cristian Penilla that forced a strong save from Atlanta goalkeeper Brad Guzan, and a pair of late opportunities for second-half substitutes Juan Agudelo and Juan Fernando Caicedo.

But where the Revs failed to convert, Atlanta found their match-winning moment through Escobar.

And that was enough. A single moment.

“This game was probably going to be someone making one big play, and I think Escobar was the one who made it,” said Andrew Farrell. “We had a chance to tie it up there at the end. Credit to them, they played well. That’s why they’re the defending champs. I’m still proud of how we fought and how far we’ve come.”