If it seems like the Revolution have been chasing a playoff spot since the early part of May, it’s because they certainly have been in that very spot.
The mid-to-late season by push up the standings by the Revs, who have claimed points in 16 of the last 18 games (8-2-8), puts the locals in the seventh and final playoff position in the Eastern Conference standings heading into Saturday night’s match against Real Salt Lake (14-12-4), the fourth place entrant from the Western Conference.
All of the drama has the Revs with 40 points, three ahead of closest pursuers Montreal (11-16-4) and Chicago (9-12-10) and four in front of Orlando City (9-9-13). The Revs have a minus-7 goals differential and would easily beat Montreal (minus-15) but lose out to Chicago (plus-5) and Orlando (minus-4) in tiebreakers.
Most importantly, the Revs hold a game in hand on all five teams below them in the Eastern Conference. The Revs have four games left, including Real Salt Lake, in the regular season, with a Sept. 29 afternoon game with New York City FC the only other remaining home game on the docket.
“Every single match is a huge one. We can’t really afford to drop too many points anymore,” Revs keeper Matt Turner said. “We’ve got teams nipping at our heels. Everyone is in a do-or-die mindset, so we’ve really got to buckle down and get a complete 90 minutes (Saturday).”
The Revs must be on guard against the visitors given the plethora of talent dotting the Real Salt Lake roster. It features U.S. National Team veteran and Salt Lake captain Kyle Beckerman, midfielders Albert Rusnak (nine goals), Nick Besler and Sebastian Saucedo, former Manchester City defender Chinedum Onuoha, and 40-year-old goalkeeper Nick Romando, who holds several MLS career marks for the position. Perhaps the most familiar Real Salt Lake player is midfielder Kelyn Rowe, the third pick in the 2012 MLS Super Draft, who made 206 appearances for the Revs between 2012-18 to rank sixth-most in club history.
Of note, the Revs are 7-5-3 at home while Real Salt Lake enters with a 3-9-3 road record.
Veteran forward Teal Bunbury said the key will be the Revs’ focus.
“It’s attention to detail. … It’s being a unit. The chemistry of the group has really grown in the past three or four months,” Bunbury said. “Each game is so crucial. We need to maximize the points that we can get. We don’t want really want to have to rely on other results, so we have four games here to make sure we’re handling business.”
If the Revs need any added impetus to prepare, they can take it from last Saturday’s 3-3 draw with Orlando City SC. The Revs broke to a 3-1 lead by halftime and appeared in control only to squander three points when the hosts equalized matters in the second half.
An own goal by Orlando’s Tesho Akindele staked the Revs to a 1-0 lead in the 15th minute before the ever-dangerous Nani tied it seven minutes later. A pair of assists by Carles Gil helped set up Cristian Penilla’s fifth goal in the 34th minute and then Gustavo Bou, who posted his seventh goal in 10 games, in the 41st, and had the visitors feeling chipper. But Orlando veteran Dom Dwyer and Nani connected in the 47th and 54th minutes, respectively, to leave coach Bruce Arena’s side leaving the building with a ‘what if’ feeling.
“It’s critical in every game not to have mental lapses. As we get toward the end of the season, we need to avoid those kinds of mistakes, and hopefully, put ourselves in a position to get three points,” said Arena, who has 698 career points and with a win could join the late Sigi Schmid (843) as the only coaches in MLS history to amass 700 points. “That’s what happens in these games. Other teams come at you hard and that will be the case (Saturday).”
Brandon Bye, who has arguably been the most-improved Revs player this season, said the memory of that result one week ago will linger.
“We just have to be cleaner. We created three goals. Our defense just has to be a little sharper in the back and not let them get a good run in the first 10 minutes of the second half,” Bye said. “It’s the final push.”