FOXBORO — With two weeks of preparation, Bruce Arena and the New England Revolution fear not Atlanta United FC in the first round of the MLS playoffs Saturday.
“It’s a whole different ballgame,” Arena said of the 90 minutes and the new MLS single match playoff format. “The one-game playoff series is really interesting. I think it probably favors the underdog more than the favorite.
“I think in a two-game series, the home team really has an advantage. One game off, anything can happen. Our guys don’t step on the field thinking they’re going to lose a game.”
The Revolution (11-11-12, 45 points) concluded the regular season with a 3-1 loss at Atlanta United FC, where another crowd of 44,617 is expected at Mercedes-Benz Stadium Saturday.
New England is the No. 7 seed for the knockout single-match playoff round against No. 2 Atlanta — the Revolution’s first postseason appearance since 2015.
“The new format allows anybody to advance, to be honest,” Arena added. “In one game, anything can happen. Over two games in an aggregate, you would tend to think the stronger team has the advantage. So I think the one-game elimination will make things interesting, and I think there’s going to be a lot of upsets in the opening games.”
New England had taken points in 19 of its final 22 matches dating back to May 11. And the loss at Atlanta was just the Revolution’s second in their final 11 matches away from Gillette Stadium.
“There’s been a belief in this group for the entirety of it, from when we were in last place in May until now,” goalkeeper Matt Turner said. “We still have work to do — making the playoffs is one thing. Now we will buckle down and we’ve got Atlanta.
“We want to do well in the playoffs — we’re not there just to be there. We all play this game because we want to win and win trophies.”
Notably, New England has never beaten Atlanta in six meetings (0-4-2), including an 0-3 mark on the road.
“It’s always a big game in Atlanta — they get a great crowd,” Arena said. “They have an outstanding team and it’s just another good challenge for us on the road. And we’ve done well on the road. We can go into a playoff game with the confidence that we can hang in there and hopefully win a game.”
New England first-year midfielder Carles Gil, the Revolution’s MVP, totaled 10 goals, while another first-year player, Gustavo Bou, scored nine goals. Cristian Penilla and Teal Bunbury both tallied six times. Gil became the second player in Revolution history to reach 34 regular starts (Jose Gonsalves, 2013), just the fifth player in club history to appear in all 34 regular-season games.
“We are happy to be in the dance, but that part is kind of already over,” said forward Juan Agudelo. “We’re just thinking about getting as far as we can. We understand it’s one team at a time — guys know what’s at stake and everyone’s pretty anxious for that game to come around.”
Arena is an MLS playoff mainstay, collecting more wins (32) than any other coach in league history, and he owns a record five MLS Cup titles (1996, 1997, 2011, 2012, 2014). He is currently the winningest active head coach in MLS, one of only two with 200 wins.
“We’ve all learned as the season’s continued how to work as a unit,” Arena continued. “Our backline has done well. Our midfield joins in. We have a good mentality, as to how to play with each other. We need to be a strong team defensively to position ourselves to hopefully win a playoff game.
“They have a good competitive mentality, and the playoffs are close games usually,” Arena added. “They’re hard-fought. I think we have the right characteristics to compete in those type of games. So hopefully, that’ll be the case.”