Following a rout of Philadelphia on Aug. 25, the New England Revolution was a hard-charging unit in the Eastern Conference, nestled (precariously) into one of the East’s playoff spots and feeling pretty good about itself.
An 0-2-1 stretch, capped by a tough-to-take 3-2 setback last Saturday at Chicago, has caused a notable shift in the state of affairs. Entering this weekend’s contest at home against D.C. United, the Revolution sit in seventh place in the conference, two points out of a playoff spot, with six matches remaining.
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Here is a quick look at some factors coming down the stretch.
1. Time to recover: The Revs led Chicago 2-1 at the half and appeared to take charge on one of the teams they were fending off in the East when Saer Sene booted one in early in the second half. However, he was whistled for a controversial offsides call and New England never recovered, giving up the next two goals in a crushing defeat.
The turn of events provided one of those punches in the gut that can derail a unit, unless it finds a way to move on. And quick.
“We’ll turn the page,” head coach Jay Heaps told reporters. “I think we’ll learn from our mistakes. We’ll take our medicine and get back after it.”
New England has chosen to develop its organization with an eye on youth. There may be a day when many members of the core group reach their peak around the same time and the club is a more formidable unit. Trying times such as this will help in that maturation process. The final six games are a great test for one of the league’s younger teams.
2. Must win: They are all important from here on out, but if the Revs are going to climb back into a playoff spot a victory this Saturday is nearly imperative. D.C. United is far and away the worst team in the league and is 0-11-3 on the road this season.
However, D.C. gained one of its three road ties in its only trip to Gillette Stadium earlier this year and did defeat New England at home in an Open Cup match in June.
Anything can happen on the pitch, but protecting its turf against an also-ran like is critical for the Revs.
3. Defense! Defense! Defense?: While throwing in the occasional high-octane attack, New England made its mark through most of the season on the strength of a stingy defense. It has now allowed goals in a season-high four straight games and has given up seven combined in its last two. And the club’s inability to protect the lead twice at Chicago was particular painful for a team that was used to being able to close the door.
“We aren’t a really happy group because we didn’t finish or play well in terms of when we got the lead or even at 2-2 at the end of the game,” Heaps said. “We need to be smarter and not give up the last goal.”
Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth returned last Saturday with veteran Matt Reis suspended. Shuttleworth had some nice moments early in the season when he took over the starting job before losing it to Reis, but has been in net for all seven goals against in the last two games.