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Five games that decided the New England Revolution’s season

Revolution defender Michael Mancienne
Aug 25, 2018; Philadelphia, PA, USA; New England Revolution defender Michael Mancienne (28) lies on the field in discomfort after blocking a shot against the Philadelphia Union during the second half at Talen Energy Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Eric Hartline-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Revolution could be as much as 13 points out of the Eastern Conference’s sixth and final playoff spot by the end of Sunday evening’s season finale against the Montreal Impact.

Thirteen points is actually a staggering figure. It’s almost the same amount that’s up for grabs to Major League Soccer teams during a typical month.

But New England should be particularly shaken by its final placement in the standings.

The Revs started the season with promise, emerging as a surprise playoff contender before starting a crash, one that came seemingly out of nowhere and culminated in being eliminated from postseason contention for the third straight year. Defensive lapses triggered a series of inconsistent and poor performances and the Revolution managed to secure just 11 points over the 16 games since July 7.

Despite that poor record, there were plenty of games – at least five – in which the Revolution basically snatched failure from the jaws of victory. That’s 15 points the Revs should have had but let slip away.

By the last kick of Sunday’s match against Montreal, the Revolution, who will be somewhere between 10 and 13 points out of the playoffs, should think back and reflect on this quintet of matches:

May 26 at Vancouver, 3-3 draw

 

This result seemed like an outlier at the time, given the Revs had a relatively successful opening three months of the season.

New England had just four losses and was firmly in playoff position by the time it traveled to Vancouver. The long trip did not appear to phase the team at first, as it jumped out to a 1-0 lead midway through the opening half before doubling the advantage just two minutes into the second half.

But Vancouver rallied against the run of play, scoring two goals in quick succession – both off fast breaks – to tie the game 2-2. Teal Bunbury gave the Revs their lead back, but Vancouver managed to come from behind again to claim a point.

There were a few themes in this game that went on to resurface over and over again, particularly in July and August, and eventually kill New England’s playoff hopes. One was the Revolution giving up a lead (in this case, two leads). Another was the team struggling to defend fast breaks. The biggest one, though, was a lack of discipline in maintaining control in a game.

Had the Revs made the playoffs this year, this tie in Vancouver would have likely been pegged as a blip. But with hindsight, this game was clearly the first real clue the New England Revolution did not have the true character of a playoff caliber team in 2018.

June 13 at San Jose, 2-2 draw

 

Make no mistake: The Revolution did quite a few things right in this game.

After falling behind on an early goal, the Revs recovered, scoring twice within 12 minutes to take a 2-1 lead. The go-ahead tally, which was put into the back of the net by Cristian Penilla, was probably one of the nicest fast-break goals in the whole league this season.

The Revs managing to come from behind and take a lead on the road was surprising, particularly with the club’s road woes in recent years.

But again, they coughed up their advantage. The San Jose Quakes pulled a Vancouver – albeit not as dramatic – and bagged an equalizer in the 51st minute through Danny Hoesen to end the match in a tie.

Normally, a 2-2 draw on the road would be an OK result. This wasn’t one of those times. Granted, it was still June, but San Jose wasn’t really any better then than the last-place team it is now. San Jose entered the game winless in five matches, with just two victories through 14 games.

That paltry record hasn’t gotten much better. The Quakes are 4-20-9 overall, with a 2-9-6 home record.

The Revs needed to do what playoff teams have done all season: Make mincemeat out of the Quakes. They didn’t.

July 14 vs. Los Angeles Galaxy, 3-2 loss

 

The infamous Los Angeles Galaxy game.

Revolution head coach Brad Friedel brings up this performance somewhat regularly in his postgame press conferences, as if he thinks this game was the turning point of New England’s season.

To be clear, this match is third on the list for a reason, and not just a chronological one. This was the final match of the Revolution’s only three-game home stand of 2018 and it came before a tough stretch in which the Revs played five of seven on the road.

The Revs needed a cushion in the standings to compensate for the inevitable troubles they’d face on the road. However, they ended up taking just four of nine points from the home stand.

Performance-wise, the Revs were actually not bad. Despite losing Cristian Penilla to an untimely red card, they bossed a majority of the game. Diego Fagundez opened the scoring less than five minutes after New England was brought down to 10 men. Galaxy midfielder Chris Pontius tied the game 10 minutes later, but Luis Caicedo gave the Revs their lead back at the stroke of halftime.

New England controlled most of the game in the second half. Juan Agudelo had one of his best performances of the year creating chances, and Teal Bunbury hit the post. The announced crowd of 36,573 provided an energetic buzz, and it seemed the Revs were headed for a full three points.

But the Galaxy sucker-punched the Revolution during stoppage time. David Romney tied the game first, then Chris Pontius converted the game-winner off a sloppy giveaway with basically the last kick of the match.

The game turned on its head so quickly you could feel from the press box its jarring effect on the crowd and players. Even the media was frazzled. The Revs locker room seemed shell-shocked. So too did LA’s – though their shock was mixed with elation.

Keep in mind, until this match the Revolution had barely put a foot wrong at home in the last three seasons. Again, they snatched failure from the jaws of victory. And the aftermath? New England went 0-6-2 in its next eight matches.

Aug. 4 at Orlando, 3-3 draw

 

There was still loads of time for San Jose to salvage its season when it drew New England 2-2 back in June – just look at D.C. United’s spectacular recovery.

But when Orlando City SC visited in August, the once hot Florida team had too much of a mountain to climb to have any hope of pulling a D.C.

Momentum was clearly not on the Lions’ side when they hosted the Revolution Aug. 4. Orlando entered its match with New England with just one win in 13 games; the rest ended in defeat.

This was not the game for the Revolution to drop points, but they did. If there was a superlative for “draw-that-felt-like-a-loss of the year,” the Revolution would win it for this result.

New England again took an impressive early lead. By the 18th minute, it was up 2-0 thanks to strikes by Juan Agudelo and Cristian Penilla.

Dom Dwyer cut the deficit for Orlando in the 45th minute, then Amro Tarek tied the game in the 71st. Teal Bunbury, as he did against Vancouver earlier in the season, gave the Revs their lead back. But another stoppage-time blunder cost the Revs, this time off a free kick as Scott Sutter rose to head-in a cross by Yoshimar Yotun.

This result came in the thick of the Revs’ paltry eight-game winless run that kicked off with the 3-2 home loss to the Galaxy. But no matter how bad the Revs had been before their tilt in Florida, there was no excuse to cough up two leads in the way that they did.

Many of New England’s previous blunders surfaced again, showing that no lead was safe with the Revs and that any team, regardless of quality, could beat the their porous back line, take advantage on the break and snatch control in midfield at the drop of a hat.

Aug. 11 vs. Philadelphia, 3-2 loss

 

Despite all of their struggles in the weeks leading up to this game, somehow the Revs entered their home clash with the Philadelphia Union in playoff position.

However, the Revs never got to claim playoff team status at home again after this result.

Philadelphia thoroughly dismantled New England in the run of play and took a 2-0 lead at Gillette Stadium – a rare feat for even the best of teams – then got complacent by allowing the Revolution to come back and tie the game. However, the Union managed to capitalize on another late blunder by New England – a hand ball in the box off a set piece by Antonio Delamea – and slam the ensuing penalty kick into the back of net to take a 3-2 lead they would not relinquish.

The Philadelphia match was probably the most consequential because of what unfolded over 90 minutes.

This match had almost everything the others had.

First, Philadelphia took the lead, going up by two goals by taking advantage of New England’s lax defending and its difficulty defending counter-attacks.

Then, New England showed plenty of fight, doing a few things right, particularly in the attack, as it came back via goals by Andrew Farrell and Wilfried Zahibo.

Next, the Revs had momentum and let it slip at an inopportune time when Delamea got called for a handball deep in second-half stoppage time.

And finally, the pivotal play was Delamea’s hand ball – a defensive blunder that came off a set piece just before full-time, similar to what transpired against Orlando and the Galaxy.

This game ended in a loss, not only in terms of points but also in terms of a season that had come to be defined by blown leads, untimely errors and an inability to secure results. The Revs went on to lose two more games and get kicked out of playoff position in the process.

A few weeks later, despite a few promising performances, the externalities of the Aug. 11 loss to Philadelphia, and the other games listed here, came into focus: The New England Revolution would not be finishing the season above the red line and the club’s hope of reaching the playoffs for the first time since 2015 would have to wait one more year.

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