A break is always a good chance for a team to get some much-needed rest in the middle of a long season, nursing injuries, recharging batteries, and maybe traveling to see family and get heads on straight. The New England Revolution, however, could have been forgiven for wanting their break to be shorter after the disappointment of losing 4-3 in Vancouver. A spectacular capitulation at the end of the first half after going a man down cost them what had previously looked to be a certain three points, and really should have at least been one.
Nonetheless, the Revs sat and watched as the rest of the league continued play this past weekend, and several Eastern Conference results had heads turning. At the end of a week that consisted of three match days (Wednesday, Saturday, and Sunday), New England sits in seventh place, tied with Columbus on points but behind in goals scored, with a game in hand on all but one of the clubs ahead of them (Montreal).
Looking ahead of the Revs, the team that seems to have taken on the worst results is Houston. The Dynamo dropped two results this week, losing 2-0 to the Conference-leading Impact in Canada before falling to a shock 0-0 draw with Toronto at home. They Dynamo, veterans of the last two MLS Cup Finals, now sit in fifth place, just three points ahead of the Revolution after having played one more game.
Furthermore, the Dynamo aren't exactly lighting up the scoring charts, either. They've scored just one more game than the Revs, and with goals scored now in use as the tie-breaker, their recent run of poor form and poor offense could prove costly if it comes down to them and New England for a playoff spot. Right now, a victory by any margin would propel the Revs past the Dynamo and into fifth place, tied on points but ahead in goals scored.
Next in line in the "bad week" column would probably be Columbus. The Crew played once, losing 2-1 at home to Chicago in a match that, given the Fire's early-season difficulties, many would probably have expected Columbus to win. That may be unfair to the Fire, which we'll address later, but in any event, the Crew's 5-6-5 record belies a season rife with puzzling inconsistency that has hampered them since round one. Also, like Houston, they aren't a team that scores a lot of goals, once again sitting just one strike above the Revs with 19, having also played one more game. The Revs are a two-goal performance away from forging ahead of the Crew already; if the second tie-breakers is goal differential, a one-goal performance would actually do the trick, too.
New York is the final team to have been a bit troubled this week. Their only result was a 3-0 loss to the Union in which they looked flat and lacking ideas for much of the match. A red card to Lloyd Sam didn't help matters, but Conor Casey and Sebastien Le Toux were already pummeling the Red Bulls into submission long before the winger went in two-footed on Danny Cruz. That loss capped off a three-match losing streak, including their 4-2 loss to the Revs in the Open Cup.
Most worrying for the Red Bulls is probably their matches-played category. They're now up to 17, which is the most in the conference. As the season hits the stretch run in August and September, that extra match (or two, as they have over the Revs, or three, as they have over Montreal) starts to become really significant. Right now they're in third, and with 1.47 points per match, that's right about where they'd sit if all games played were equal, but the recent form has to be weighing on the minds of the players and staff at Red Bull Arena.
Now on to the clubs whose bye-week improvement should trouble the Revs, and really there's only one. Montreal may have continued to assert their dominance, and Philadelphia certainly made a statement against New York, but it's the ascent of the Chicago Fire that should have most Revolution fans looking over their shoulders. After an abysmal start, Chicago is just two points behind the Revs and level on games played, riding a five game unbeaten streak.
The acquisition of Mike Magee seems to really have put the Fire in a good place, and the former Galaxy man notched his tenth goal of the season - the game-winner - to seal the victory for Chicago against Columbus this past weekend. Chicago was a team that played well last season, and their awful start was puzzling to many. Now, though, the talent that everyone already knew was there is starting to play well again, and if New England doesn't get serious and cut some of the youthful mistakes (playing down to your opponent against D.C., totally losing control when going a man down), the Fire could well mount a serious challenge and usurp that last playoff spot that the Revs are targeting.
After the Open Cup game against D.C. on Wednesday, the Revs have an immediate swing to the West Coast against Chivas. While the Goats are a comedy show both on and off the field, the Revs are a team that doesn't handle the Pacific Time Zone very well, and it will be their second trip of the week after going down to the Nation's Capital in midweek. It's not going to be easy, but the match should absolutely be seen as a must-win for three valuable road points.
Following that, the Revs have two home matches against San Jose and Houston. Those are both beatable teams, especially at home, but they are also teams that like to play physical (especially the Quakes, who can be positively brutal) and are probably more talented than their recent play has reflected (again, especially the Quakes). Seven points from the next three matches will be a battle, but certainly isn't unlikely given how well the Revs offense and defense has played when all eleven of them remain on the pitch. That should be the target, and if they can pull that off, we may see New England in a playoff spot in mid-July.
When's the last time that happened?