FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If you’d mentioned the MLS Cup Playoffs to Bruce Arena when he joined the New England Revolution as sporting director and head coach in mid-May, he likely would’ve channeled his inner Jim Mora circa 2001.
Playoffs?! Don’t talk about playoffs! You kidding me?! Playoffs?!
Three months and one remarkable 11-game unbeaten run later, Arena has changed his tune.
“If you’d asked me [three] months ago, I’d say you were crazy,” Arena said on Tuesday morning as the Revs prepared to visit Seattle Sounders FC for a Saturday afternoon showdown. “I still think you’re crazy, but I think we’re more optimistic at the point.”
The truth is there’s every reason for the Revs to be optimistic about their postseason hopes. They enter the final 10 games of the regular season above the playoff line in the Eastern Conference, tied with the Montreal Impact for sixth place and with a game in hand. Further, they’re just three points back of fourth-place D.C. United with a game in hand, and six points back of second-place Atlanta United FC.
Any way you slice it, the Revs are very much in the mix.
“We’re in control of our own destiny right now, which is huge,” said goalkeeper Matt Turner, who has lowered his goals against average to 1.18 in recent weeks, good for fourth-best in MLS. “Ten games left, we don’t really need any help except our own, which is all we really want to have to rely on.”
Following this weekend’s trip to the Pacific Northwest, seven of the Revs’ final nine games will be against Eastern Conference teams, all of whom are currently within six points of New England one way or another. That essentially makes seven of the Revs’ final nine games six-point affairs.
While plenty of work remains these next two months to make postseason dreams a reality, the Revs – and Arena – are confident they have the fortitude to make it happen, particularly after following a 2-8-2 start with a 7-0-4 run to match the longest unbeaten run in club history.
“They’ve been – I don’t know what the right word is – a resilient group,” Arena said. “They’ve been mentally tough the whole year, because they’ve had a bit of a peaks-and-valleys type of season, where there were a lot of valleys in the early going, and they hung in there, to their credit. It’s a team with a lot of character.”
It’s a team not only with a lot of character, but also with a legitimate chance to return to the playoffs for the first time since 2015, and considering the Revs’ position at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings less than three months ago, that’s remarkable in and of itself.