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Arena: Revolution's pressure-packed season is perfect playoff preparation

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Ask Bruce Arena what interests him about the Saturday’s matchup between the New England Revolution and Atlanta United in Round One of the Audi 2019 MLS Cup Playoffs on Saturday (1 pm ET | Univision, TUDN in US; TSN4, TVAS in Canada), and the Revolution coach states the obvious, punctuated with a trademark zinger.

“What's interesting about this particular matchup is simply we just played each other,” said Arena. “So, in some ways, we are in a two-game playoff, except the first one didn't count.”

That is true. New England lost 3-1 at Atlanta on Decision Day presented by AT&T, but luckily for them there is no aggregate deficit to overturn.

“We don’t have to win the aggregate, just win the game,” Arena said.

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The Revs are seeded seventh in the Eastern Conference, after they rallied from a 2-8-2 start when they hired Arena, who has won a record five MLS Cups as coach. The Five Stripes, the current MLS Cup holders, are seeded second and playing host at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, where more than 50,000 supporters will create a raucous atmosphere for the start of their title defense.

When it comes to labels, Arena does not subscribe to New England being an underdog.

“I've had years [coaching] where we haven't been the higher seed and I've had a lot of years we have been highest seed in the game,” Arena said.

Arena also is completely uninterested in the Revs’ previous playoff history, which includes losing in five MLS Cup finals and reaching the playoffs this season for the first time since 2015.

“I can’t imagine that has anything to do with this game,” Arena said the Revs’ past playoff heartbreak. “How could that have anything to do with this game?”

Arena added that the players do not dwell on the team’s playoff history, either.

“I don’t think anyone here is thinking about losing a game in 2014 or 2008 or whatever,” Arena said.

Even though Arena has only added one player to the squad since he was hired in May — high-scoring Gustavo Bou as a Designated Player in July — he has set out to change the culture and expectations, which includes becoming an MLS Cup contender.

“I consider this a new team, it is for me,” Arena said. “I don’t know how the players feel but I think this is just part of our new adventure and trying to get better as a team.”

Due to digging an early hole in the campaign, New England have not had much margin for error since mid-May. The Revs have only lost three MLS games (to LAFC, NYCFC, and Atlanta) in that span. Given the way the season has gone, Arena thinks the Revs would be ready for the moment on Saturday.

“I wouldn’t call it a playoff mentality but we've been in a survival mode for a while,” Arena said. “The playoffs are certainly different than that but [the players have] had enough pressure on them that this isn't going to overwhelm them by any means.”

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