CHICAGO – As the clock ticked past 90 minutes and into stoppage time on Wednesday night at Soldier Field, it looked for all the world like the New England Revolution’s inevitable march towards an official spot in the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs would have to wait until the weekend.
But then Carles Gil happened.
The Revolution captain, who entered as a halftime substitute, scored his third goal of the season in the 91st minute, securing a 3-2 win over Chicago Fire FC and officially making New England the first MLS side to book a spot in the 2021 postseason.
It’s the third straight year the Revs will be headed to the playoffs, but the first time they’ve ever clinched quite this early, with still seven games remaining on the regular season schedule.
“It’s interesting. It’s kind of weird, actually,” Teal Bunbury said of securing a playoff spot in mid-September, almost two months before Decision Day. “We still have a lot of games left. Our ultimate goal is finishing first in the East, to have homefield advantage. For us, it’s like our job isn’t done. Our goal is always to make it into the playoffs, so it happening this soon is great. We’re excited and we’re happy, but we’re still thinking about things we could’ve done better in tonight’s game in Chicago.”
Head coach Bruce Arena echoed those sentiments, specifically noting a potential first-place finish in the Eastern Conference – the Revs have a 15-point lead over Nashville SC – and the homefield advantage that would provide in the playoffs. The Revs are 10-1-2 at Gillette Stadium this season.
“I think we accomplished one of our objectives tonight – we qualified for the playoffs. So that’s official, which is great,” said Arena. “Now we want to make sure we get homefield advantage. I think we’re pretty close to that. Then thirdly, we want to be the first seed in the Eastern Conference. So, we’re moving forward. Those are the things we want to achieve.”
Plenty has already been achieved in 2021, with several milestones solidified on Wednesday night. The win was New England’s 18th of the year, establishing a new single-season club record. Their 59 points have tied the single-season club record. Their eight road wins are a club record, and their 15 one-goal wins are an MLS record.
Arena isn’t one for celebrating accomplishments with seven games left in the season, but he acknowledged that his players and coaching staff should be proud of what they’ve achieved this year.
“Currently we have a record with victories and points. That’s nice,” said Arena. “That’s certainly an accomplishment that needs to be recognized. I need to applaud our players, obviously, number one. My staff is wonderful, and they deserve a lot of credit. Everything we do is about the team, so that’s a great accomplishment for our team.”
There’s still so much more to achieve this season, however, and that was the general sentiment in the Revolution locker room on Wednesday night. Clinching a playoff spot checked off an important box, but for the Revs it’s simply the first step towards bigger and better things still looming on the horizon.
“The feeling in the locker room is good,” said Henry Kessler, who scored his second career goal and added a vital goal-line clearance in the late stages. “Happy to have clinched a playoff spot, but I think we were pretty sure that was going to be the case as we got further and further into the season. So, as you said, we have our sights set on achieving even more.”