By Ryan Fleming
Coming into the season, like every other team in the MLS, the New England Revolution’s main goal was to win the MLS Cup. About a month ago, that goal changed after the Revs were eliminated from the playoffs following a 2-2 tie to Columbus on Sept. 26th.
“It still hasn’t hit me yet,” said Revolution captain Shalrie Joseph following the game. “I guess when the regular season’s done, then it’ll fully hit me. Right now, we’re just trying to practice and stay focused. We’ve still got a couple of games left and we’ve still got to finish strong.”
Well, Joseph has followed up on his words. The Revs are having more fun – playing more like a team, more smiles are being seen on the field – probably a result of their record since the bad news of their first playoff absence in nine years. New England posted a 2-1 record since the elimination; both wins were impressive ones over Houston and a dire Kansas City squad that was eliminated from the postseason after the loss.
According the midfielder Pat Phelan, the Revs are playing for pride and a spot in next year’s team. With the expansion draft coming up, those who want to see themselves in a red, white and blue kit next year are playing for a chance to keep their spot on the Revs. It’s been evident with the team’s performance as of late.
With the pressure off, the Revolution aren’t over thinking things. Rather, they’re attempting new tactics and finding luck with it.
“What we have to do is take that into next season and try and play like that when it really, really matters,” said New England coach Steve Nichol after the Kansas City game on Oct. 16.
When it really matters, though, the Revs have continuously come up short. Finishing in the final third has been dismal. Passes have been errant and even if they were holding possession all game, the Revs always found a way to let their opposition find a way to score, relinquishing three points.
“The team showed a lot of heart, and that’s what’s so frustrating about this team, that we can be up one-nothing … and when we are on the road, we’re 2-0 up and we give away goals,” Joseph said after the win over Kansas City.
That’s how the season has gone for the lowly Revs. Things haven’t been working out – facing injuries, suspensions and a multi-game absence of their best player, Joseph, their figurative success compass was always pointed in the other direction.
But now the Revs are on their way to forcing the arrow in the different direction. They’re playing with a purpose, working for next season – trying to keep their fans and get new ones.
“We have been having a tough season all year long, but right now we are just trying to get a good finish,” Revs forward Kheli Dube said following the team’s win against Houston. “We are just trying to finish the season on a high note. It’s going to be the same thing for the last game.”
Their last game is tomorrow against the Red Bulls in New York, who are going to make sure first place in the Eastern Conference is theirs. The Revs will once again try to play spoiler and ultimately show that they played with a purpose this year, that the season wasn’t a loss. One thing is for sure, this team sure has a lot of heart.
Ryan Fleming can be reached at Ryan.Fleming@thesoccerguysonline.com.