WASHINGTON, D.C. – Sunday’s regular-season finale against New York City FC was billed as a “do or die” game for the New England Revolution in their quest to clinch a spot in the Audi 2015 MLS Cup Playoffs. The reality is that it wasn’t actually “do or die” – it merely felt that way under the circumstances.
But Wednesday night’s Knockout Round meeting with D.C. United? Now that’s do or die.
“You say that loosely throughout the year; there are big games throughout the year, but this one literally is do or die,” said Chris Tierney. “It’s playoff time. We’re ready to go.”
After finishing fifth in the crowded Eastern Conference, New England (14-12-8, 50 pts.) will visit fourth-place D.C. (15-13-6, 51 pts.) in the single-elimination Knockout Round. A winner will be decided on Wednesday night, with extra time (and potentially penalty kicks) required if the score is tied at the end of the 90 minutes.
The winner will advance to the Eastern Conference Semifinals, where they’ll meet either the top seed and Supporters’ Shield champion New York Red Bulls, or the second seed Columbus Crew SC.
Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday night and the game will be televised nationally on UniMas, and regionally on Comcast SportsNet alternate channels. Radio listeners can catch the local call in English on 100.7 WZLX, or in Portuguese on WMVX 1570 AM Nossa Radio USA.
Current Form: Critical win in regular-season finale vaults Revs into the playoffs
As leading scorer Charlie Davies noted in the aftermath of Sunday’s visit to Yankee Stadium, regular-season records go out the window once the MLS Cup Playoffs get underway. All bets are off.
But that doesn’t mean momentum can’t play a role, and the Revs were thrilled with their performance in a 3-1 win over New York City FC to close the regular season, a result which snapped a four-game winless run (0-3-1) and sends the Revs into the postseason with a measure of confidence.
“We talked about building momentum towards what we knew was going to be a game for us midweek,” said Tierney, who recorded his sixth assist of the campaign against NYCFC to mark a new single-season career high. “I think the boys feel good about where we’re at going into this game on Wednesday.”
United, meanwhile, have been somewhat of an enigma in recent weeks. They followed up a six-game winless run (0-5-1) with a pair of big wins over NYCFC and the Chicago Fire to put themselves in great position heading into Decision Day, only to suffer a 5-0 loss to Crew SC and slip down to fourth in the East.
Despite their fluctuating form, one thing’s for sure: Ben Olsen’s experienced side won’t be overawed by the occasion of a single-elimination contest.
“As much as we want to talk about experience, they’ve got loads of it,” said Revs head coach Jay Heaps. “They’ve got guys who’ve been in these types of games with a lot of experience.”
Past Meetings: MLS originals renew playoff rivalry after nine-year hiatus
Based on the history between the Revolution and D.C. United – 66 regular-season meetings and a pair of epic Eastern Conference Championships – it’s somewhat surprising that Wednesday night’s Knockout Round showdown will be just the fourth time these MLS originals have done battle in the postseason.
It’s been almost nine years since Taylor Twellman’s early goal earned the Revolution a 1-0 win in the 2006 Eastern Conference Final, marking the last time New England and D.C. met in the playoffs. They also clashed in the 2004 Eastern Conference Championship – which United won on penalty kicks after a 3-3 draw – and in a two-game series all the way back in 1997, when D.C. moved on to win a second straight title.
“It’s definitely a rivalry that I remember well, just growing up being a Revolution supporter,” said Tierney, who grew up in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and was still a junior in college the last time these teams met in the playoffs. “I think there’s a little something extra to it. It’s obviously a classic Eastern Conference matchup.”
It’s been more than four months since the Revs and United have met in any capacity, as their most recent showdown was back in June. Davies gave the Revolution a halftime lead at RFK Stadium as he scored against his former club, but Chris Rolfe bagged a pair of goals in the final 20 minutes to earn D.C. a 2-1 win.
Davies also scored against United at Gillette Stadium on May 23, when the Revs held on for a 1-1 draw despite playing the final 30-plus minutes with just nine men.
Injury Report: Woodberry sees “some progression” after suffering ankle injury vs. NYCFC
London Woodberry, making his second straight start at right back in the win over NYCFC, suffered a left ankle sprain in the 40th minute of that match when his leg was caught awkwardly under the falling Khiry Shelton.
Woodberry actually returned to the field for a few minutes after receiving treatment, but was eventually replaced by Kevin Alston just before the halftime whistle.
Speaking on Monday afternoon, Heaps said Woodberry was progressing and that the club would continue to evaluate the injury leading into Wednesday night’s Knockout Round meeting.
“It was a tough challenge and tough to take him out, but he was hurting,” said Heaps. “But actually today we’re happy, we’re excited that there’s some progression and we’ll do more evaluations as the days go on.”
Final Thoughts: Revs to draw upon playoff experience in pressure-packed scenario
“I think any time you have guys that have been there and can lead, and anyone that has had that feeling of what the atmosphere feels like, what the pressure feels like, is good,” said Heaps. “We’re going to call on a lot of that, especially on Wednesday.”
“Experience is crucial at this time of year,” added Tierney. “You have to know the scenarios going into the game. You have to know at certain points in the game when it makes sense to put your foot on the gas, or be compact and defend. The experience of last year, I think, will help us.”