The New England Revolution clinched their spot in the playoffs with a 3-2 midweek win at the Chicago Fire thanks to an exquisite right footed blast in stoppage time from captain and MVP candidate Carles Gil.
The proverbial magic number is soccer is something I’ve actually always struggled with, as the total points are heavily affected by individual matchups. But several weeks ago it wasn’t impossible to think that the two late season Revs-Orlando games could have had major implications in the Eastern Conference. The Lions have two games in hand on the Revs but a current three-game losing streak has them in the middle of a growing pack of teams hovering around the mid-to-upper 30s in points. This pack is not only fighting for playoff spots, but also at the 4th/5th transition line for hosting a first round game in the East, and the drop from New York City in 3rd to Columbus in 10th is just eight points.
The Revs meanwhile are 21 points clear of the Lions, even with games in hand it’s a maximum of 15 and while Orlando might want revenge for last year’s playoff exit, they have more pressing matter’s well get into in a bit.
New England however has checked of their first of what could be many milestones of the season with a dramatic walk off goal in stoppage time. I mean, just look at this run from Tajon Buchanan and finish from Carles Gil again:
Just in case anyone needed reminding...@TajonBuchanan is #NERevs pic.twitter.com/BzlCYauBVm— x - New England Revolution (@NERevolution) September 24, 2021
We haven’t seen Tajon that destructive since he picked Nani’s pocket in the playoffs and started a similar counter attack. But while clinching the playoffs is great, we need to start asking serious questions about how far, or more importantly, how willing the Revs are to take this regular season to all time levels.
The MLS record for total points/PPG is within reach, currently held by LAFC’s 2019 campaign of 72 total points at 2.12 PPG. New England is currently sporting a 2.19 PPG mark but are set for two spells of heavy fixture congestion to end the season. Currently the Revs are in the middle of a 12-day/4-games stretch and have claimed 10 out of a possible 12 points in the month of September. While the Revs will have a couple of extra weekends off as the league catches up with their games in hand - New England will still come out of the October international break with another 12-day/4-games stretch including a tough road trip with back-to-back games at DC United and Orlando.
Bruce Arena has already proven masterful at rotating his squad this year, and a heavily rotated lineup was able to grind out a win in Chicago though several of the heavy hitters were needed off the bench. New England is the surefire favorite to be the #1 seed in the Eastern Conference and play several home games in November. The question that remains is just how historic the Revs want this regular season to be and how far the roster can go without sacrificing of the ultimate goal of their first MLS Cup and/or Supporter’s Shield.
Would it be wrong to wrap up the top seed in the East with several weeks to spare and take the foot off the gas of the all-time Shield winning season? Would prioritizing rest for all 15-18 of your regular starters/contributors be more important than toppling the league record set by Bob Bradley’s side a few years ago? Something we might have to do some poll questions and discussion on as that feat draws nearer.
As for today, we chat with our friends from The Mane Land and Ben Miller, who dishes on all that currently ails the Lions and what their playoff prospects are given their current form. As always, you can check out their site for my answers to Ben’s questions.
TBM: Three straight losses and giving up 10 goals as well in that stretch for Orlando, what’s the biggest issue for the Lions during this recent slide?
BM: To put it plainly, defensive midfield has been a mess and discipline has been extremely poor. The Lions have racked up two red cards in the last three games and between injuries, red cards, and overall poor play, the defensive midfield has placed a lot of the defensive burden on the center backs and it hasn’t gone well. Nani was sent off when the Lions were 1-0 down to Montreal and while Orlando was able to fight back and level things at 2-2, OCSC ultimately couldn’t hold back the tide and lost 4-2. Making matters worse was a late red card for Andres Perea. With Perea, Sebas Mendez and Uri Rosell all unavailable due to either injury or suspension Joey DeZart started the next game at Philadelphia...only to go off injured in the 20th minute, meaning that Homegrown youngster Raul Aguilera Jr. got thrown into the deep end of a game Orlando really needed to win. Then, Antonio Carlos was sent off late in the game with the score 2-1, and the penalty he gave away in the process sealed the Lions’ fate. It has been a...brutal stretch of games. The absence of Mendez has been hugely detrimental and Orlando really can’t get him back soon enough.
TBM: Staying with the defense, Antonio Carlos is set to miss the New England match with a red card suspension - who does Orlando use in his place and how does that replacement or setup help or hurt the Lions in trying to slow down this Revs side?
BM: It could go one of two ways. Either Rodrigo Schlegel will slot in as a like-for-like replacement or the Lions could deploy him, Robin Jansson and Kyle Smith in a back three. I think its more likely that Schlegel will slot in and we won’t see a back three, but Pareja isn’t opposed to changing it up sometimes. Schlegel is a good defender and while I wouldn’t expect there to be a massive drop off, Antonio Carlos is just a few notches above his level so it certainly won’t help to be without him.
TBM: Right now Orlando is still in 4th place and would host a first round Eastern Conf. playoff game but do you like their chances to hold onto that spot or move up or down in the playoff hierarchy?
BM: Hooo boy. Frankly, the Lions’ toughest stretch of the year has come at the worst possible time, with Orlando’s form falling off a cliff. Away games against New England and Nashville aren’t exactly great ways to rediscover one’s form. Add in how tight things are in the Eastern Conference, and there’s very little room for error. Orlando hasn’t been helped by the fact that the Lions have yet to field a first choice lineup due to injuries, call-ups, and Daryl Dike’s spring loan, but time is running out for OCSC to get things straightened out. With the way things are currently looking and Orlando’s remaining schedule I wouldn’t be at all surprised if the team slides down the playoff standings.
Antonio Carlos is suspended due to his red card against Philadelphia. Alexandre Pato and Mason Stajduhar are unavailable due to surgery, while Mendez, Chris Mueller, Joao Moutinho, and Uri Rosell are all listed as questionable. Personally, I don’t think we’ll be seeing any of them.
My guess at a lineup is as follows:
Pedro Gallese; Emmanuel Mas, Rodrigo Schlegel, Robin Jansson, Ruan; Andres Perea, Junior Urso, Mauricio Pereyra, Silvester van der Water, Nani; Daryl Dike
Prediction: 2-1 win for the Revs. Just do not see Orlando City getting it done in this one, but man would I be thrilled to be wrong.