Playoffs - 2020 - New England Revolution group
Courtesy of the New England Revolution

New England Revolution rue playoff defeat, but optimistic about 2021: "We're well on our way"

The New England Revolution put together one of the most unexpected pushes of the Audi 2020 MLS Cup Playoffs, but on Sunday, the magic ran out against Columbus Crew SC in the Eastern Conference Final.

After knocking off a pair of favored foes in convincing fashion in the Philadelphia Union and Orlando City SC, the Revs couldn't quite overcome a second-half finish from Crew midfielder Artur and saw their season end at MAPFRE Stadium by a 1-0 scoreline. After the match, head coach Bruce Arena said that while it was frustrating to come so tantalizingly close to a third straight road upset and an MLS Cup berth, he felt as though the result was a fair one based on how the match played out. 

"On the day Columbus was the better team. I think they deserved to win the game," Arena said. "Give them credit for the goal they created, just better at anticipating plays than we were. I thought on the day in the middle third of the field they were good. Not that they did anything that goes in the highlight reel but they won tackles, they anticipated plays and they were a little sharper in the middle of the field.

"They did a good job paying attention to Carles [Gil] and Tajon [Buchanan] and they neutralized us in those positions."

Watch: Artur's game-winner in the Eastern Conference Final

The Revs' attention now turns swiftly to 2021, where the focus will be building on their late-season surge that got them to this point in 2020.

While the key building blocks figure to be in place in the likes of Gil, Gustavo Bou, Adam Buksa, Teal Bunbury and Matt Turner, Arena said he sees areas to be improved on over the offseason to take the team to the next level.

"We made progress last year, we made progress this year," Arena said. "I think we want to continue that. In the offseason we’re looking to bring in two or three players that can solidify our first eleven. We’ve got to get a little bit better there. Technically we’re not as good as we need to be. We need to bring in a few better players to help us in the attacking end of the field. And we can use help in other positions. So we’ll do our best to try and make our roster a little bit better."

The Revs can certainly hang their hat on the strides they've taken since Arena assumed the role part-way through last season, when they were languishing near the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Asked about where he sees the club's development as it pertains to their ultimate aspirations, defender Andrew Farrell said he feels as though his team showed this year that they're not too far off.

"If you asked me [the difference] today it’s just a couple of tackles and a couple of shots on goal from being in an MLS Cup Final," Farrell said. "But I think Bruce asked this last night before the game: He said, if you guys asked me if we would’ve been in an Eastern Conference Final, one step away from MLS Cup, would you guys have believed me? We’ve come a long way.

"But I think you know well as well as I do that Bruce is not happy with losing, he wants to win. I think you can tell his winning mentality has been contagious with the organization and the Krafts also love to win. So this is obviously a great run and we’re happy we made it this far, but Bruce isn’t here to lose in the Eastern Conference Finals, he’s here to win Cups."

It's a sentiment that was echoed by Turner, who established himself as one of the top goalkeepers in MLS this season, and was arguably New England's standout player on Sunday, making a series of highlight-reel saves to keep his team in the game.

"I think we’re well on our way," Turner said. "You see the last few games we played, those are good teams that we played against: Beating Philly in Philly, beating Orlando in Orlando and giving Columbus a really good run for their money here in Columbus, all the way down to the final whistle we were pushing for that equalizer. So I think we’re well on our way.

"We’re going to have higher standards next year from the start, we’re not going to able to accept mediocrity. I think people now see the culture and what it takes to be successful in this league and to win and get the ultimate goal, which is MLS Cup. I imagine that preseason will be very intense and hopefully we can start the year off on a strong foot rather than picking up steam down the stretch."