When the New England Revolution make their first Concacaf Champions League appearance since 2008 Wednesday night against Liga MX's Pumas UNAM at Gillette Stadium (8 pm ET | FS2, TUDN), they’ll do so as the Major League Soccer team with the least international experience remaining in the competition.
Making things even more challenging for New England is they’re also the only quarterfinalist that didn't play in the previous stage, with Haitian side Cavaly AS forfeiting their games because of visa issues.
And they’ll be without goalkeeper Matt Turner for at least a couple more weeks with a “foot/ankle” injury, as Revs coach and sporting director Bruce Arena said. Turner's summertime transfer to Arsenal in the English Premier League was partially postponed to compete in CCL, presenting yet another wrinkle for New England to manage.
“For our team, this is certainly a challenge,” Arena said in a virtual press availability Tuesday. "We aren’t a team with a lot of experience with games at the international level. So, this will be a real challenge. The different style of opponent, different officiating, things that we're not used to, it'll be interesting to see how players are able to adjust and try to be successful tomorrow.”
That’s not to say New England have no experience in matches like this. Arena brought in veterans he’s previously coached in Omar Gonzalez, Sebastian Lletget and Jozy Altidore in the offseason – all three no strangers to Concacaf competitions, be it at the club level or with the US men's national team.
"For the guys who have the lack of experience, they're going to get it tomorrow," Gonzalez said. "So, they shouldn't be timid, they should go out and play as if it's just another game. Of course, there's more on the line, but like I said earlier, we have a lot of quality and so we have to bring the game to them. We have to be the protagonist.”
Another factor Wednesday night could be the weather, with snow in the forecast. While Arena said that should give the Revs an advantage, Gonzalez was quick to point out it’s only an advantage if New England can capitalize on their opportunity.
"The snow, the circumstances are going to be for both teams," Gonzalez said. "For us, can we have that mentality of just 'So what? Who cares if this is happening, who cares if it's snowing, if it's hailing or whatever.' We still have to play the game. The other team has to go through it too. So, can we have that strong mentality of it doesn't matter what's happening, we're going to come at you with all we've got?"
The 2021 MLS Supporters' Shield winners will venture to Estadio Olímpico Universitario in Mexico City next week for Leg 2. The winner will advance to the semifinals in April, facing either CF Montréal or Liga MX's Cruz Azul while looking to book a FIFA World Cup spot and become MLS's first-ever winner of the modern-day CCL.
"It's important for any of the MLS clubs to have these opportunities and to see how our league sizes up in Concacaf," said Arena, fresh off becoming MLS's all-time winningest coach. "And certainly, for this franchise that has had very few opportunities at this level, I think it's an important game for our club."