COLUMBUS, Ohio – Another week, another “must-win” game for the New England Revolution.
Only this time the Revs control their own playoff destiny.
Perched in fifth place in the Eastern Conference standings entering the final weekend, the Revs (13-11-9, 48 pts.) can clinch a berth in the MLS Cup Playoffs with a win in Sunday afternoon’s regular-season finale against the Columbus Crew (12-16-5, 41 pts.), barring a record-setting offensive output from the Houston Dynamo.
Note: The Revolution’s edge on the Dynamo comes from a +9 advantage in goals scored
While a win at Crew Stadium virtually guarantees postseason soccer, New England can also qualify with a loss or draw against Columbus depending on other results. The Revs would qualify with a draw should Houston lose or draw, while they’d qualify even with a loss if Houston lost AND the Philadelphia Union lost or tied.
But the focus remains squarely on the Revs, who’ll kick off against the Crew at 4 p.m. ET on Sunday afternoon. Comcast SportsNet and 98.5 The Sports Hub’s HD2 channel will provide regional coverage.
Current Form: Five-game unbeaten run has Revs on verge of returning to postseason
One of Major League Soccer’s hottest teams coming down the home stretch, the Revs extended their unbeaten run to five games (3-0-2) last weekend with a thrilling 3-2 victory over the same Crew side they’ll face on Sunday. The five-game stretch without a loss matches New England’s longest unbeaten run this season.
Twice the Revs went ahead through A.J. Soares and Chris Tierney – both of whom picked the ideal time to notch their first goals of the season – only for the Crew to hit back, but Diego Fagundez, on the night he was named the youngest MVP in Revolution history, came up huge again with the game-winning goal in the 76th minute.
Now, having taken care of business at home, the Revs will look to repeat that feat on the road.
“First of all, they’re at their home field, so it’s going to be a tougher game for us,” Fagundez said. “It’s going to be the same fight as it was here. They’re going to have a couple players that weren’t here and maybe it’s going to make it a different game. But of course we have to go out there and fix everything we can from last game and hopefully get a result.”
Last weekend’s loss at Gillette Stadium officially eliminated the Crew from playoff contention, but the players will no doubt be eager to finish the season on a high note, particularly in front of the home crowd.
Past Meetings: Familiar foes do battle for the second time in eight days
A scheduling quirk pairs the Revs and Crew on back-to-back weekends to close the regular season, presenting a unique challenge for both sides as they tweak their game plans between matches.
“We’re just going to have to go over a little bit of what they’re about,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis. “It should be all fresh in our minds as to what they do. They changed things up there in the second half (last weekend) and we’ll have to be ready for that.”
The Revs will be looking to complete a three-game series sweep against the Crew, having already claimed six points from the first two meetings this season. In addition to last weekend’s victory in Foxborough, the Revs also used a pair of stoppage-time goals to secure a dramatic 2-0 win over the Crew in Columbus on July 20.
Injury Report: Nguyen returns from suspension, provides Revs another option
Playmaking midfielder Lee Nguyen is eligible to return on Sunday after missing last weekend’s win while serving a suspension for caution accumulation. It was the first game Nguyen missed this season after starting all but one of the first 32 matches (while registering two assists in his lone substitute appearance – at Crew Stadium).
Nguyen’s return leaves head coach Jay Heaps with a decision to make about his lineup after stand-in Andy Dorman put forth a Man-of-the-Match performance in just his second start of the season last weekend.
It’s a problem Heaps is happy to have.
“It’s good; you want to have choices as a manager,” he said. “Obviously we would’ve liked to have Lee available for the last game, but he wasn’t, and I think Dorman stepped up admirably. Now he’s a choice for Sunday’s game.”
Saer Sene, of course, remains out while recovering from lower leg surgery, while Tierney – who was replaced in the 78th minute of last weekend’s win over the Crew – is listed as questionable with right ankle irritation.
The Crew’s injury report looks much like it did last week. Both Eddie Gaven and Glauber were long ago lost for the season to torn ACLs, while attacking conduit Federico Higuain – who didn’t travel to Foxborough last weekend – is once again listed as questionable with a right hip injury.
Final Thoughts: Heaps says opportunity to clinch is “what you work for” all season
“It’s obviously what you work for and it’s a position to be in to control your destiny if you win, but it’s a tough destiny,” Heaps said. “We’re going to a tough place to play and we have to be able to prepare ourselves and have that focus and attention to detail.”