Disappointed Revs take pride in playoff run
Although Sporting Kansas City bounced the New England Revolution from the postseason by claiming a 3-1 win (4-3 on aggregate), the tone from center back A.J. Soares was much different than it was a year ago at this time.
"First of all, you keep in mind the feeling of losing," Soares told the media after the match. "That (stinks) and you don't want to feel that again. It's not fun. Everyone feels terrible about not getting the result.”
Soares may not have been pleased with the way Wednesday's affair -- which saw Kansas City score the series winner in the 113th minute -- played out. But the thought that he and his teammates felt a collective punch to the gut after the final whistle is something that should actually serve as a welcome development.
In previous seasons, the Revolution found themselves out of contention before the leaves fell. There was no bitterness or melancholy -- just resignation. Resignation knowing that there was little to play for during the waning weeks of the regular season.
But this year, instead of playing out the string for the fourth season in a row, the Revolution came alive down the stretch. They went on a six-game unbeaten run (4-0-2) that propelled them to a third-place finish, their highest since 2009.
"I'm extremely proud of this team," Revolution left back Darrius Barnes told the media after the match. "At the beginning of the season, nobody thought this team would be here. This team showed a lot of resiliency, a lot of character. Everyone this season improved dramatically. We improved as a team and individually, and I don't think this is the last you will see of this team."
Barnes isn't alone in that assertion. Following Wednesday's playoff exit, many pundits were proclaiming the Revolution as a club on the rise, and one that could find even more success in 2014.
In fact, Barnes, who is only one of four players on the roster around for the Revolution's last trip to the postseason in 2009, made a bold prediction about where his team will be next November.
"This team is going to be back here next year, in a more dominant position ready to make a run at this thing," Barnes said. "With the talent, the young guys, and the experience we have on this team, next year could be a pretty big year for this team."
Of course, replicating what the club accomplished this season won't be easy for coach Jay Heaps and general manager Michael Burns.
For starters, talented striker Juan Agudelo -- whose impact on the team's success was undeniable after he was acquired in May -- has already signed a pre-contract with English Premier League side Stoke City for 2014. So gone are the days in which the Revolution boasted one of the best young strikers in MLS.
Another area of concern: the midfield. While rookie Scott Caldwell's contributions were a welcome revelation, it became increasingly clear that the Homegrown Player needed help from the likes of Lee Nguyen and Andy Dorman to shore up the club's form in the defensive edge of the middle third.
But for all the concerns about filling the holes, there's plenty to be optimistic about. Eighteen-year-old Diego Fagundez authored a tour de force campaign, while Soares (24), Caldwell (22), Andrew Farrell (20), Kelyn Rowe (21) and Dimitry Imbongo (23) all made significant contributions in the Revolution's run to the postseason.
Perhaps it's because of that unexpected run -- backed by some of the youngest players in the league -- that Soares was bitter. The loss was a sudden and unwelcome return to reality.
But Soares was able to step back and look at the big picture. Gone were the days of a muted, post-game locker room; in recent weeks it was filled with smiles, jokes and, most importantly, optimism.
And even with the sting of Wednesday’s playoff exit still fresh, Soares acknowledged how much the team matured down the stretch, and what it says about the Revs' future.
"We know how to win. We know how to win crucial games on the road,” Soares said. “We showed that, and everybody is young on this team. We can go forward learning, having been in a playoff series now. That experience is always huge going forward."