Decision Day for the New England Revolution will be waged on two fronts with home field in round one of the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs in the Eastern Conference still undecided.
The Revolution (14-9-10) are in a must-win situation when they host the third-place Philadelphia Union (15-8-10) on Saturday night (6) at Gillette Stadium. A victory would also lock up a berth in the 2024 Concacaf Champions Cup tournament.
The Revolution are in fifth place with 52 points, two behind the Columbus Crew and three behind the Union. Columbus (15-9-9) closes out the season at home against eighth-place Montreal (12-16-5), which is on the playoff bubble and has an incentive to win.
A New England win combined with a Columbus loss would leave the Revolution in fourth place with home field in the best of three Round One series.
If the Revolution beat Philadelphia by three goals, they would win the tiebreaker with the Union. If the Crew draw with Montreal, they would win the first tiebreaker (goal differential) with the Revolution.
The Revolution put themselves in this quandary by going 1-4-3 since Labor Day weekend under interim head coaches Richie Williams and Clint Peay. The Revolution have lost three straight one-goal games since beating Charlotte FC 2-1 on Sept. 30.
“Obviously, it is an important match for us as it relates to how we finish in the standings,” said Peay. “We want to make sure we can get the three points and secure the best position possible for the playoffs.
“If things really go our way, we can end up in third and get home field advantage. That is our objective and our focus going into the match.”
Philadelphia has as much riding on the outcome as the Revolution. Laying a three-goal beatdown on the Union will be a daunting endeavor even in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium, where the Revolution are 11-1-4 this season. Complicating the matter is the weather. The game will be played in a raging coastal storm that should affect conditions on the pitch and attendance.
The Union and the Revolution have both scored 56 goals in 33 games, but Philly has allowed six fewer with a goal differential of plus 17. Union goalkeeper Andre Blake, who played collegiately at UConn, has logged 2,283 minutes with 12 wins, 70 saves, eight clean sheets and a 1.02 goals against average.
“I think first and foremost it has to be defensively,” said Peay. “We have to be sound defensively and we have to show that we can limit opportunities in transition, limit opportunities in transition and keep a clean sheet.
“You have to give yourself a chance to be able to win a game by not conceding a lousy goal. When putting a full game together on both sides of the ball we are hard to play against and we pose challenges for the opponent.”
The Revolution’s scoring over the last five games has been generated primarily by midfielder and team MVP Carles Gil and newcomer Tomas Chancalay, who has supplanted Giacomo Vrioni and Bobby Wood as the best striker option.
Gil is tied for third in MLS with 14 assists and he leads the club 11 goals. Since making his MLS debut on Aug. 26, Chancalay has scored 10 goals on 36 shots, with four tallies in the last five games.
“He has been a big spark for us with his aggressive play,” said Peay. “He can play with the ball and without the ball and obviously our biggest goal scorer in the last few games for us.”
Peay said untested keeper Jacob Jackson will start in net against the Union over veteran Earl Edwards Jr. Jackson made his MLS debut in a 3-2 loss at Nashville on Oct. 14 when
he held up under NSC’s relentless attack.
“We will continue with Jacob Jackson on the weekend,” said Peay. “I think he has done well for us and I think Jacob has earned the right to be back on the field.”