Saturday’s 2-1 loss to the Houston Dynamo was a tough blow for the New England Revolution. Houston sits directly in front of New England in the Eastern Conference standings, holding the fifth and final playoff spot.
Considering the fact that the Revolution were at home, where they often thrive, and are aiming to end a three-year playoff drought, it stings. However, the Revs, now 6-6-6, fully expect to be a factor down the stretch. At the very least, a different mindset has been established at Gillette Stadium.
“The last couple of years we don’t feel like we’ve been in striking distance, but now we feel like we have a team and we’re within striking distance so that’s the optimism right there speaking,” general manager Mike Burns told Metro prior to the weekend setback. “But we haven’t done enough to get in there so the second half of the year is obviously critical.”
Saturday represented a departure from the norm for a team that has showcased an exceptional defensive game. The Revs, who are still 4-2-2 in their last eight contests, have allowed a league-low 16 goals, half of those coming in two tough road losses.
Burns is pleased with the team’s stingy nature.
“As a team defensively I don’t honestly think that we could’ve asked a whole lot more,” he said. “I don’t say that’s just the goaltender or just the back four, but as a team…we’ve felt pretty good about our performance defensively and I think the whole team deserves credit.”
In addition to a standout defensive club and a degree of optimism after some down years, New England has other factors working in its favor as it eyes the stretch run. Burns has succeeded in his mission of building depth, creating weekly competition for playing time and providing insurance for the inevitable injury or suspension. This should allow for fresh legs and multiple options as the long season wears on.
In addition, dynamic striker Saer Sene is hitting his stride after a speedy return from ACL surgery. Sene has a goal in each of his last two games and has found the net in three of his six starts.
“At times Saer has certainly shown flashes of his form last year, but it’s important for us that in the second half of the year he continues to improve and we feel that he will,” Burns added.
If that improvement comes and boosts what has been an inconsistent attack, and if the defense remains dominant and if the optimism and relative momentum yields enough points to leap into that fifth position, or higher, the Revs will be looking to make some noise this fall.
Just the fact that the attitude around the club is what it is means things are headed in the right direction.
“This year there is definitely an optimism and there’s a belief that if we can play a little bit more consistently in the second half of the year as we did at times during the first half of the year, we’re capable of playing with and beating anyone in the league, and we honestly feel that,” Burns said. “And that definitely is a change in the belief and the mindset from what we’ve had over the last couple of years.”