Of the New England Revolution’s league-leading 45 goals scored this year (and counting), odds are it won’t end up on many season-ending highlight reels.
But central midfielder Matt Polster would do it all over again, putting his body on the line.
“When I made the run and got in front of the defenders, I knew I was going to hit the post,” Polster told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week. “I knew I was going to get to the ball, I knew I was going to crash in. There was nowhere else to go. I'll take the goal and take three points any day of the week, even if it's hitting the post at the same time.”
The 28-year-old, of course, was referencing his bundled-home shot in last weekend’s 1-0 win at the Philadelphia Union, the difference-maker on an inswinging free kick from Arnor Traustason. His back/ribs slammed into the woodwork, which couldn't have felt pleasant, but it was enough for the 10-man Revolution to stay on pace to surpass LAFC’s record-setting points total from the 2019 campaign – and possibly lift the Supporters’ Shield as well. So the unpleasantries between his midsection and the post were quickly forgotten.
It’s a moment that reinforces how as many stars as New England have, you need guys like Polster. For as much as MVP frontrunner Carles Gil, rising Canadian star Tajon Buchanan, US men’s national team goalkeeper Matt Turner and Golden Boot presented by Audi chasers Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa bring to the side, complementary pieces like Polster often provide the backbone in MLS.
And Polster does a lot of the unheralded, grinding, less glamorous work in the Revolution’s midfield. That’s just fine by him, by the way.
“If you think I'm underrated, great. If you think I'm overrated, great,” Polster said. “To me, I just want to win something this year. I want to win with this group of players. We have an incredible group, we have a lot of talented players and we just gel together. That's genuinely what I care about most. It's all about winning.”
That also reinforces why Polster finds himself at this juncture whatsoever, returning to MLS in July 2020 after playing two seasons at Scottish Premier League powerhouse Rangers FC. He originally spent 2015-18 in the league, featuring at right back and central midfield for Chicago Fire FC after being a first-round SuperDraft pick.
But when he was a free agent, Polster decided to head overseas and test himself at Rangers – the same club that famously featured USMNT alums like Claudio Reyna, Carlos Bocanegra, Alejandro Bedoya and Maurice Edu. And he’d get to play under legendary Liverpool and England midfielder Steven Gerrard in his managerial career’s early days, providing a platform to test himself in Europe like he long desired.
Yet he made just 10 total appearances at Rangers, a once-capped USMNT player who found himself unable to truly settle. He still valued the experience, though, for its ups and downs.
“It was just a different level of mentality that took me time to adapt to,” Polster said. “Maybe I was slower on that front and that's what kept me from getting over that threshold, but for me, I've come back and feel as if I've brought that mentality to New England. It’s wanting to win every game regardless of the situation and trying to push my teammates to those same goals.”
Funny enough, Polster wasn’t looking to depart Rangers. Then he heard from his agent that three MLS clubs were looking to bring him back stateside. Immediately, the Revolution possibility jumped off the page for one specific reason: Bruce Arena.
The five-time MLS Cup champion, then in his second year as New England’s head coach and sporting director, showed significant interest. And when someone with that much experience, success and reverence in American soccer circles comes calling, you pick up the phone and see what the project entails.
Some extra steps needed to get ironed out – the Revolution traded $100,000 in 2021 allocation money to Chicago for his MLS rights – but things eventually got over the finish line. The transfer all “moved so quickly,” Polster said.
“I don't think I would have left for any other club or any other manager,” Polster said. “Because it was New England and it was Bruce, I knew that he could win in MLS and bring the right players to help. I wanted to be part of that group to achieve something here. I didn't really have any intention of leaving, I wanted to stay a bit longer but I also wanted to play a little bit more and be part of a winning team. I knew Bruce could do that here in New England.”
That gamble proved spot-on, and now Polster finds himself as a vital cog – if not overlooked at times – on a team that enters MLS Week 24 with a 10-point lead atop the Shield standings and a 14-point gap between them and Orlando City SC and Nashville SC for the East’s top spot.
Their next challenge comes Saturday when hosting New York City FC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+), another contender that’s fighting for Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs seeding. And they’re hoping for revenge after taking a 2-0 loss at Yankee Stadium two weeks back, albeit one where they were shorthanded.
Whatever comes, it’s been a remarkable year for Polster in New England’s engine room – and there’s exciting news on the personal front as well. He and his wife, Brittany, are expecting a baby girl in the coming weeks.
“You’re in the middle of the season and you're trying to help your pregnant wife at the same time as focusing on games,” Polster said. “It's making sure she's okay, heading to the ultrasounds and making sure the baby is healthy. It is chaotic and fun all at once. It's definitely overwhelming at times.
“There are times where the baby's getting strong enough where you can see her kicking her stomach and I look terrified in my eyes at that. But also I'm excited, so it's balancing all those emotions.”
The possibility of a newborn, MLS Cup and Supporters’ Shield in his first full season with the Revolution? Polster can’t help but get excited, though is quick to temper things as well.
“We’ll see,” Polster said. “It’s been a busy year.”