Bruce Arena: “We’re not going to back match fitness.” (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)
By Michael Lewis
When the New England Revolution takes the Gillette Stadium field for its MLS Cup Playoffs game against New York City FC on Tuesday night, head coach Bruce Arena says he won’t be worried about match fitness due to a lack of competition for more than three weeks.
The last time the Revs played a competitive match was way back on Nov. 7, a 1-0 home loss to CF Inter Miami in the team’s final regular season match. That will be 23 days between games come Tuesday night’s 7:30 kickoff.
“We’re not going to lack match fitness,” Arena said during a Monday afternoon conference call with the media. “But that’s not at all going to be the issue. We’re going to be fine in that regard.”
Two factors have conspired to keep the Supporters’ Shield champions Revs on the sidelines. As Eastern Conference winners, New England received a first-round bye. Add the fact that the league took a week off due to the FIFA international window – goalkeeper Matt Turner was called into the U.S. men’s national team – and the Revolution has been spectators after a spectacular regular season.
So, with some well-earned days off sprinkled in here and there, the Revs have trained and watched video.
“It’s good work,” Arena said. “We’re going to find out tomorrow what all this work has meant. Yeah, that’s the true test.”
The Revs did not play any outside clubs in friendlies to keep its rhythm.
“It was very friendly,” Arena said. “We played ourselves.”
That true test will be against NYCFC, which brings in a six-game unbeaten streak into the encounter. City also is one of five teams that have managed to defeat New England, the runaway conference winners, this season.
Asked what kind of game he was expecting, Arena replied: “I really don’t know, to be honest with you. You never know. Things can happen early in a game maybe the team gets an early goal that changes things.”
The Franklin Square, N.Y. native then noted some of the other postseason matches. Real Salt Lake has pulled up a pair of upsets and the Portland Timbers stunned the Western Conference champion Colorado Rapids.
“They’re highly unpredictable,” he said.
Oh, in case you were wondering, Arena did not leave anything for NYCFC to put up on its locker room wall or on social media.
“Certainly New York City is a team that attacks, has good players. They have a good mentality as a team. They’re well coached. But they also defend well as a team, and they’ve defended much better collectively over the last month. They have a good goalkeeper, experienced center backs and in the attack, they obviously have an outstanding goal-scorer. They have a good player in playmaker [Maxi] Moralez. Every player on the field for New York City’s good player.”
That outstanding goalkeeper is striker Taty Castellanos, the league’s Golden Boot winner with 19 goals.
“He’s a very good player,” Arena said. “He’s difficult to play against. He’s simply been outstanding. They have a very good team. And he’s certainly the key player in their attack, although there’s certainly other good players. He can score goals in a variety of ways, off the set pieces, out of the run of play. His movement in the penalty is excellent. So, he’s certainly an outstanding player.”
In contrast to last season, in which there were no fans, the Revs will have their supporters at Gillette Stadium.
“Well, it’s great to play at home and hopefully there’s good some fan support,” Arena said. “I expect that we’ve had a good a good year at home and hopefully that carries through in the playoffs. And hopefully our fans can be a deciding factor in the game tomorrow and maybe they can push ourselves to the top.”