FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When Major League Soccer laid out the scenarios for playoff qualification and elimination ahead of this past weekend’s round of games, the New England Revolution was told its postseason hopes could only be ended by a combination of results which included a loss to the Columbus Crew, victories by the San Jose Earthquakes and Seattle Sounders FC, and at least a draw by the Colorado Rapids.
As it turned out, the “other” results all happened, as the Earthquakes and Sounders managed wins and the Rapids held on for a 1-1 draw with Real Salt Lake. However, the Revs seemingly did enough on their end to keep their slim playoff hopes alive by earning a 2-2 draw with the Crew.
But on Monday morning the league called to apologize; the original math was wrong, and the Revolution had in fact been eliminated from postseason contention for the first time since 2001.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” said captain Shalrie Joseph, who reached the playoffs in each of his first seven years with the Revs from 2003-09. “I guess when the regular season’s done, then it’ll fully hit me. Right now, we’re just trying to practice and stay focused. We’ve still got a couple of games left and we’ve still got to finish strong.”
“We’ve been trying to avoid [elimination] for a while and it’s disappointing for everyone,” said Pat Phelan, who as a third-year midfielder is also experiencing his first-ever professional season without a playoff appearance. “It’s tough to keep going at this point. There are a lot of things to look forward to, but at the same time, you want to be playing in late fall.”
For the first time in nine years, the Revs will take the field for their final regular-season games knowing the postseason is out of reach. In professional sports, matches which hold no bearing in the playoff standings are occasionally referred to as “meaningless” games, but with 12 points still on the table and their pride dented, the Revs can find plenty of meaning in the remainder of their schedule.
Asked about the objectives for the rest of the season now that the playoffs are no longer a possibility, head coach Steve Nicol – who led the Revs to the postseason in each of his first eight seasons at the helm – said the mindset hasn’t changed.
“The objective is to win on Saturday,” he said. “I keep saying that wherever we are in the table, the objective is always going to be the same and it won’t change for Saturday coming up (against Real Salt Lake).”
The same question was posed to Joseph and Phelan and it elicited a similar sentiment, as the players called on pride and the never-ending desire to win, no matter the circumstances.
“Just win,” said Joseph. “Every time we play, when we step out there, we want to put on a good performance … We still want to win, we still want to give our all and come out there victorious on Saturday.”
“Regardless of [being eliminated from playoff contention], we’re still going to go out there,” Phelan added. “We’ve got pride to play for – if you want to be protected (in the expansion draft), if you want to be here next year. Every time you step on the field, you want to win the game, so the fact that we’re not in the playoffs doesn’t mean that we’re not going to come out and play. We’ve got to give our fans something to come back for next year.”
Road trips to face the Houston Dynamo (Oct. 10) and New York Red Bulls (Oct. 21) still remain, but the players feel a particular responsibility to perform in their final two home games against Real Salt Lake (Oct. 2) and the Kansas City Wizards (Oct. 16). Following a difficult season, the Revs would love nothing more than to send their home fans into the offseason with a pair of victories to remember.
“If you look at the organization over the last [eight] years, it’s been easy for people to be Revs fans,” said Phelan, referring to the club’s eight consecutive years in the postseason and four MLS Cup appearances during that span. “The last couple years have been a little tougher, and this year’s been the toughest.
“We want to turn that around,” he continued. “We want to get people in the stands for next year. We want to give them something to be proud of and something to be hopeful for.”