Things didn’t look great for the New England Revolution in mid-September. Back-to-back losses to conference foes Montreal and Chicago dropped the Revs below the .500 mark as they slipped into seventh place and out of the playoff positions in the East. The road back to the postseason was beginning to look long and arduous.
With six games remaining – three at home, three on the road – and ground to make up on multiple opponents, there was no room for error. The Revs certainly couldn’t afford to lose and they likely needed to win at least four of their remaining six matches to give themselves a shot.
It was a daunting prospect, to be sure, but a season-long mantra – “one game at a time” – helped keep the focus on the task at hand. Deep down the Revs knew they’d need to string together multiple results to clinch the desired postseason berth, but they couldn’t do it all at once. Get one job done and move on. That’s all they could do.
It started at home against D.C. United …
If New England was going to make a legitimate run at the playoffs, three points at home against last-place D.C. United was an absolute must.
The evening started ominously when the unfortunate Scott Caldwell turned the ball into his own net while stretching to block a cross, putting the Revs in a 1-0 hole entering halftime. An overwhelming sense that maybe it just wasn’t to be grew even stronger when Lee Nguyen saw his penalty kick saved early in the second half.
But that sense was quashed just minutes later when Diego Fagundez drew the Revolution level, beating the offside trap and sliding a shot past Bill Hamid. Hope then turned to belief in the late stages when Nguyen was given a second chance from the penalty spot, this time chipping down the middle to secure the Revs’ 2-1 win.
Mission accomplished and on to the next one.
The Revolution closed out September by hosting the Houston Dynamo in what was billed as the biggest match in New England’s recent history. Trailing the Dynamo by three points entering the night, there was a chance for the Revs to climb into fourth place in the Eastern Conference.
Midway through the second half it looked like the Revs would do just that when Saer Sene scored a spectacular goal to give the hosts a 1-0 lead. But it wasn’t to be as Will Bruin fired a shot under the crossbar just as the game entered the final 15 minutes and the teams finished level at 1-1.
It wasn’t an ideal result for the Revs, but it was far from disaster. The challenge would only grow, however, as they prepared to head on the road for three of their final four matches in the month of October.
Hovering at the .500 mark, the Revs kicked off the season’s final month by visiting the league-leading New York Red Bulls in search of their first-ever points at Red Bull Arena.
Controversy ruled the night.
Fabian Espindola gave the hosts a deserved 1-0 lead in the 15th minute and the Red Bulls carried that advantage into the dying stages, but there was a lifeline for New England when Jamison Olave was adjudged to have handled Sene’s cross and Nguyen converted the ensuing spot-kick in the 85th minute.
Just moments after the restart, however, Andy Dorman was issued a straight red card for a challenge on Eric Alexander, presumably leaving the 10-man Revs to try to hold on to their 1-1 draw through the closing minutes. One point, in the situation, would’ve been sufficient.
But nervousness turned to euphoria in the 91st minute when Fagundez picked the ball off Red Bulls defender David Carney and raced into the box, firing a shot past Luis Robles and putting the Revolution in front.
And only THEN did things get really crazy.
The Red Bulls began pushing for an equalizer – literally – as Thierry Henry shoved Andrew Farrell into onrushing goalkeeper Matt Reis, bloodying the Revolution’s rookie defender and forcing him off the field to receive treatment. While Farrell was sidelined, it looked as if the Revs would have their chance to ice the game from the penalty spot when Dimitry Imbongo was cleaned out by Robles inside the box, but play was waved on.
Play continued into the seventh minute of stoppage time – despite the initial signal for four – and New York was awarded a free kick down the left channel. As the Revs prepared to defend the set piece, Farrell was inexplicably sent off the field because of apparent blood on his face, despite the fact that he’d already been approved to return to the field by the fourth official.
Predictably, Tim Cahill got on the end of the free kick and headed home a dramatic equalizer, clinching a playoff spot for the Red Bulls and leaving the Revs with a bitter taste from a 2-2 draw.
It was a result which could’ve buried the Revs, but instead it propelled them into a remarkable finish.
For the second straight weekend the Revs visited one of the Eastern Conference’s top teams, this time heading north of the border for a meeting with the Impact. Draws would no longer suffice. Three points were a necessity.
The Revs were dealt a massive blow midway through the first half when Sene suffered a gruesome injury under the challenge of Davy Arnaud, resulting in a dislocated left ankle and broken left fibula. Not only did it rob the Revs of one of their best attackers, but it shook the players to witness such a vicious injury.
Captain Jose Goncalves regrouped his side and stepped up in the biggest way possible, scoring the game-winning goal in the 31st minute and helping shut down the powerful Impact attack en route to a 1-0 win.
Goncalves’ goal was critical, but perhaps his most memorable contribution that game arrived deep into stoppage time when he picked off a pass near his own box and raced the full length of the field, bringing the ball to the corner and shielding off an opponent to kill time.
There was still hope.
Teetering on the edge of the playoff places, New England closed out the regular season with a home-and-home set against the Columbus Crew. Only two more wins would give the Revs a legitimate shot at the postseason.
The two-game set started with the Revolution’s regular-season home finale, and it was a wild one. The teams traded goals twice through the first 71 minutes – A.J. Soares and Chris Tierney giving New England a pair of leads, Dominic Oduro and Aaron Schoenfeld answering for Columbus – to set up a grandstand finish.
Fagundez, as he had all season, came up huge when the Revs needed him most, finishing off Dorman’s perfectly-weighted pass in the 76th minute to earn the home side a dramatic 3-2 win and ensure their playoff fate would come down to the final weekend.
After a bit of scoreboard watching the previous afternoon, New England entered the regular-season finale at Crew Stadium knowing a victory would clinch a playoff spot, while anything less would mean the end of the season.
Hearts were in throats in just the third minute when Reis made a huge save to keep Columbus off the board and Goncalves came up limping after tracking back on the play. It appeared as if the captain would have to be subbed off with a hamstring injury, but Goncalves shook off the complaint and soldiered on.
It was a remarkable effort and Goncalves was critical in helping shut out the Crew, making Juan Agudelo’s 28th-minute goal stand up as the Revs returned to the postseason for the first time since 2009 with a 1-0 win.
New England’s playoff run ended in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, although the Revs pushed Sporting Kansas City to extra time before succumbing, 4-3 on aggregate. There is more to come from this team.
But the run which put the Revs into the 2013 MLS Cup Playoffs – going 4-0-2 down the stretch, including three straight wins to close the season – will go down as one of the most memorable finishes to a season in club history.