The Couch Captain: The Playoff Push

Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports

It's mid-September and the New England Revolution are sitting in a playoff spot. Matty Jollie looks ahead to the final stretch and wonders what it's going to take to stay in the postseason hunt.

The second Matt Reis was shown straight red on Sunday Night, any interest I had in analyzing the match went out the window. There's nothing quite like an entire week's worth of training, preparing, and planning being thrown out the window in 5 minutes.

With that being said, the Revs were lucky to escape last weekend with their playoff spot still intact, due to several other results falling their way. So it's on to more important things: looking ahead to the final stretch of the season.

THE SCHEDULE

It's a mixed-bag, to be fair. All three remaining home matches for the Revolution are winnable games (DC, Houston, Columbus), but it's the road contests that worry me. New England travels to Chicago, New York, Montreal and Columbus, and with the Red Bulls and Impact looking like rather difficult tasks, the three remaining home matches against Eastern Conference foes are absolute must-wins. You don't want to have to travel to New York or Montreal *needing* a win.

So what's it going to take from the final three matches? Victories over Chicago and Houston are of the utmost importance given the fact they're both right behind the Revs in the standings. If you can take maximum points from the home matches, and steal a win from one of the four road tilts, you're in good shape. I really feel, with Houston and Chicago struggling of late, that it's not going to take some crazy final stretch from New England, ESPECIALLY if they beat those two clubs straight up.

Lost in this whole "playoff survival" mode? The Revs only trail Philadelphia by two points with a game in hand. They could conceivably not only make the playoffs, but HOST the wild-card game.

THE INJURIES

With all due respect to the likes of Kevin Alston and Clyde Simms, by far the most important person on the injury report is Juan Agudelo. Recent social media transgressions aside, Agudelo is the most important player on the Revolution. He instantly changes the Revs the moment he steps on the field and his health is of upmost importance to this team.

Outside of getting Agudelo back on the field, this team's injury report looks decent. Alston was jogging at practice recently, which is a great sign, and players like Saer Sene and Jerry Bengtson are doing just fine.

The team's health is going to be critical down the stretch, and for now at least, things are looking good.

THE FORM

So incredibly Jekyll and Hyde lately it's maddening. Obviously Agudelo is the centerpiece, but if this team is going to make any sort of noise come October and November, it's going to come down to exactly what got them there: the back line.

Is it Reis? Is it Bobby? Is it Macca next to Gonçalves? There's far too many questions being asked of a team trying to make a playoff push in September. The team's strongest point all season long has been their defense, leading Major League Soccer in goals against for most of the season. If this team is going to get the job done, it all starts at the back.

Plain and simple: Give the job back to Shuttleworth, and bring Macca back into the fold. The team is better in the air with Stephen McCarthy, and I'd take his aerial and physical prowess with the bad beats he sometimes gets. This defense needs to be sorted, and quickly, and I think those are the answers, as much as I love what AJ Soares brings to the table.

Offensively, not much should change, although I do wonder out loud why Sene isn't playing as much as he should be. He's much more dangerous than a Chad Barrett down the wing, and I'd like to see more of Saer in the fall months.

THE PREDICTION

The mission will be accomplished. I think the Revs will win their share of results down the stretch and get a little help from the other clubs as well. Agudelo will be a huge spark to this team, and the defense will get it done when it really counts. I'll go ahead and say it right now: The New England Revolution will be the fourth seed in the Eastern Conference playoffs.

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