Atlanta United has not lost to the Revolution in their three seasons of existence, the latest match resulting in a 3-1 win two weeks ago. But Five Stripes midfielder Jeff Larentowicz will not be underestimating the Revolution when the teams meet in the MLS Cup playoffs Saturday at Mercedes-Benz Stadium.
“I think it will be a much tighter game, it just naturally seems the way playoff games play out,” Larentowicz said Tuesday. “It ended up 3-1, but we had chances and they had chances, and in the early stages it could’ve gone either way. I’m sure Bruce [Arena] and his staff are going to adapt. They’re watching film, like we are.”
Larentowicz was a member of the Revolution’s MLS Cup finalists from 2005-07 and played for the Los Angeles Galaxy under Arena, now the Revolution’s sporting director/head coach.
“Different feel, different mentality,” Larentowicz said of the Revolution’s transformation from a last-place team in May. “With Bruce, I’m not surprised they’ve turned their season around. He gives players a belief, and he has an understanding of how things work in the league better than anybody. Their roster’s full of talent. They were coming out of a difficult time and he’s good at making players feel good about themselves. There’s no coach as successful as him in the history of the league. Sigi [Schmid] has the wins record, but Bruce has won the most championships [five].”
Atlanta will be defending the MLS Cup title it won before a crowd of 73,019 at Mercedes-Benz last December.
“We’re at home and we want to push the tempo and control the game,” Larentowicz said. “Home games are great. There will be tons of people and the atmosphere in the stadium is very good. But we’ve played there in the playoffs and lost in a one-off situation [in 2017], like it will be Saturday. We don’t want that to happen again.”
Larentowicz joined the Revolution as a late choice in the ’05 Supplemental Draft, after having trained with the team while at Brown. Larentowicz earned a starting role as a holding midfielder in his second season, then left the Revolution after a contract dispute in 2009, and won the 2010 MLS Cup with the Colorado Rapids.
He is part of an Atlanta-New England connection that includes midfielder Julian Gressel (Providence College), former Revolution defender Michael Parkhurst (Cranston, R.I.), defender Miles Robinson (Arlington, Mass.), plus owner Arthur Blank (Babson College), team president Darren Eales (Brown), and assistant coach Rob Valentino, a former Revolution defender.
“Those were incredible times,” Larentowicz said of playing for the Revolution. “A lot of people very quick to downgrade the league at that time, and I understand that in a sense, but those were really good teams. The intensity was there. When they shut down Bridgeview [former home of the Chicago Fire], they showed games between the Fire and Revs, and if you want to know about playoff intensity, watch some of those games.”
Larentowicz, 36, expanded his repertoire and became a scoring threat, totaling 44 goals in all competitions.
“My role is to get plugged in when Frank [de Boer] needs a player like me,” Larentowicz said. “I do something distinct from other midfielders. This is the fewest minutes I’ve played since my first season, and it’s tough on me as a professional.
“We’ll see. I’ve been on year-to-year contracts since I got to Atlanta. It’s just about performance and if the team decides to bring me back. If they don’t, I’ll sit down with my family and decide. We have two kids in school and it’s not just me any more, packing up a few bags and moving to Colorado.”
One to watch
Arena, who has guided two teams (D.C. United and the Galaxy) to five MLS titles in 15 seasons, believes the single-game playoff format can favor underdog teams.
“I think the format is excellent,” Arena said. “I don’t think anyone should be grossly rewarded for regular season, except for the teams that finish first – it’s appropriate they have a bye, and everybody else gets after it, and see what happens.
“LAFC and NYC FC were the best teams in the league during the regular season, for sure. The playoffs will be different. This is the beauty of American sports. With a one-off, there will be upsets in this tournament. I think there’ll be a bunch of surprises. I mean, one-off, the sport of soccer is low scoring, anything can happen. You never know.”
The big dance
The Revolution finished in seventh in the Eastern Conference, advancing to the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
“They’re defending champions, so I would say the pressure’s on them,” Arena said of Atlanta. “We’re good with it. I’m looking forward to this game. I mean, I know what it’s about, I think I know how to prepare a team for this game, and we’ll give it our best shot.
“The format, one and done, is exciting, kind of like NCAA basketball. It could be like Virginia. They lost the first game to Maryland-Baltimore County in 2018, and then the next year, they won [the championship].”
Liverpool in groove
Fenway Sports Group sealed the deal to purchase Liverpool FC on Oct. 15, 2010, signaling the rebirth of the club. The Reds finished in eighth place in the Premier League that season and have been in the top three only twice during FSG’s reign. Now, though, Liverpool (8-0-0, 24 points) could have its best chance of winning the league since 1990.
Manchester United, which will play host to LFC on Sunday, won the 2010-11 Premier League title, but began declining after capturing its 20th championship in 2013.
United (2-3-3, 9 points) is tied for 12th place and has not scored more than one goal in 10 matches in all competitions since the season opener, a 4-0 victory over Chelsea.