FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Currently seven points out of the final postseason spot with 10 games remaining on the regular-season schedule, we’ll soon find out whether the New England Revolution can put together a spirited late-season charge and secure a place in the MLS Cup Playoffs for the ninth straight year. But while the Revolution’s postseason fate is yet to be determined, one thing is guaranteed: Saturday night’s clash against the Philadelphia Union will bring a playoff-like atmosphere to Gillette Stadium.
Following last week’s disappointing road trip through Chicago and Kansas City – which included a 2-1 loss to the Fire and a 4-1 loss to the Wizards – the Revs (6-11-3, 21 pts.) now occupy sixth place in the Eastern Conference standings and 13th in the overall league table. The Union (4-11-5, 17 pts.), meanwhile, sits four points behind the Revolution and a daunting 11 points behind the Colorado Rapids (7-6-7, 28 pts.), the club which currently holds the eighth and final playoff spot.
Historical results have proven 40 points to be the approximate playoff barrier, although that figure tends to rise exponentially each season as the league continues to expand. For the Revs to reach the magical 40-point mark, they’ll have to finish the season with a record of 6-3-1 or 5-1-4 in their 10 remaining games, at the very least. The situation is even more urgent for Philadelphia, which is second from bottom in the league table ahead of only D.C. United.
Considering the vital need for points, the Revolution must approach each game with a must-win mentality from now through the end of the season. With that type of outlook, each match takes on the relative importance of a playoff game.
“From here on out we have to get three points everywhere we go,” said captain Shalrie Joseph, who has been involved in the postseason every year since he joined the Revs in 2003. “We’ve got to realize that our backs are against the wall and that we need three points to be one of those teams in the eight (playoff teams) at the end of the season. Going against Philadelphia, we know we’ve got to get three at home.”
While the Revs will be searching for three points no matter the venue, their five remaining matches in Foxborough now take on extra significance. Five of the Revolution’s six regular-season victories have come within the familiar confines of Gillette Stadium, and the club has gone just 1-8-1 away from home in league play. With difficult road games against Chivas USA, FC Dallas, Houston Dynamo, New York Red Bulls and Colorado still to come, the Revs will need to rack up as many points as possible at home.
At the same time, the Revolution must be careful not to think too far ahead. After all, the Revs can’t make up the entire seven-point gap in one night.
“We need three points out of everything now, but one game at a time,” said Pat Phelan. “We can’t be looking ahead to SuperLiga or to the next (league) game after Philadelphia. (We’ll take it) one game at a time and just focus on getting those three points.”
Although the Revs find themselves in a tenuous position entering the last third of the regular season, in a way they do have history on their side. On more than one occasion in recent years the Revolution has entered the stretch run of the schedule needing to scrape together results to secure a postseason berth. Just last season the Revs traveled to Columbus on the final weekend needing not only at least a draw against the Crew, but also for a string of other results to fall in their favor to pave the way to the playoffs. Of course, the other results unfolded perfectly and the Revolution claimed a critical 1-0 win over the Crew to head to the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“It’s not ideal by any measure, but we know we can do it,” said Phelan. “I think we have the mentality for it and I think we have the players who can pull those types of performances out. I think we’ve shown that the last couple of years. That’s the situation we’re in now, so we just have to take it for what it is, and like I said, one game at a time and grind out some points.”
Head coach Steve Nicol has guided the Revs into the playoffs each year since taking charge of the club midway through the 2002 season, so it’s safe to say he knows a thing or two about what it takes to succeed in this league. While he fully understands the current postseason situation and agrees the Revs need to approach each game with a must-win mentality, Nicol believes they’ve been doing just that since the season began in March.
“We do that with every game anyway,” he said when asked if each game was now a must win. “We don’t want to say every time we step on the field it’s a must win – we want to go and win games anyway. We set our stall out every time we step on the field to win the game and that’s the kind of mentality that we’re going to take into the next 10 games.”