FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The script has been flipped.
The New England Revolution‘s season revival took another turn on Sunday evening as the Revolution beat New York City FC 2-0 to clinch an MLS playoff berth – five months after the club fired its general manager and head coach and owned one of the worst records in the league.
Teal Bunbury scored the game’s first goal in the 66th minute by looping a feed from Cristian Penilla past New York goalkeeper Sean Johnson to complete a counter-attack that started in the Revolution’s own end of the field with Penilla and Gustavo Bou.
Bou put the final nail in the coffin in the 89th minute when he chipped Johnson from roughly 30 yards out and nestled his effort inside the back of the net to the thunderous applause of an announced, season-high Gillette Stadium crowd of 28,602.
After starting the season 2-8-2 and replacing former head coach Brad Friedel with Bruce Arena, the Revolution – who have only lost twice in their last 21 regular season games – are headed back to the post-season for the first time since 2015.
“I’m not sure you can call what we’ve done ‘special’ – it’s really a positive, but I like to think our best years are ahead of us,” Arena told reporters after the game. “I’m not ready to be dancing in the woods or having parades because we made playoffs. The goal is to get this club in better position to be one of the top clubs in league, and one day, win an MLS cup. We’re not there yet.”
Not everyone was setting the bar that low on Sunday night.
Feet away from Arena’s press conference, the Revolution celebrated the playoff berth in the team’s locker room. Players and coaches cheered and clinked bottles of Stella Artois, Corona, and Bud Light as music blared.
Sep 29, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution defender Andrew Farrell (2) heads the ball away from New York City midfielder Alexandru Mitrita (28) during the first half at Gillette Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports
“I just want to congratulate my teammates, they’ve done a great job picking themselves up from one of the lowest places,” said Bou, who got sprayed with water by Wilfried Zahibo as he answered questions from reporters.
“By no means do I think this is mission accomplished for us,” Bou added, speaking through a Spanish translator. “This was our primary objective since the beginning of the season, but we’re not done. We still have a game to play and we’re going to see how far we can make it in the playoffs.”
As far as the regular season goes, the Revolution will finish at least in seventh place, but could end up as high as sixth if they win at Atlanta United and Toronto FC loses to Columbus Crew SC on the final weekend of the regular season next Sunday.
“The goal is to keep getting better,” Arena added. “The game in Atlanta is a terrific game to play for preparation for the playoffs.”
New England has been a tough opponent for teams league-wide during the second half of the season, though it’s been dropping points off lapses and late goals in recent weeks.
The team was winless in five heading into Sunday’s game against New York, and also had just one win in its last nine. The team is now 11-10-12 (45 points) with one game left.
“Our team is hard to play against,” Arena said. “We’re not easy to beat, and I think our record shows that.”
The Revolution, which is now 18-6-0 in home finales and 5-4-4 all-time against NYCFC, started the second half on the back foot as Gary Mackay-Steven threatened in the 55th minute, though New England’s Matt Turner was equal to his effort from the right side of the box.
Seven minutes later, Alexandru Mitrita blasted a freekick from the far end line at goal, and though the shot was from a tight angle, Turner had to lean back and palm away the effort from going in the net.
Bunbury’s sixth goal of the season came against the run of play as New England was vigorously defending NYCFC, though Penilla found space to spring Bou. Possession eventually returned to Penilla on the right flank, with Bunbury crashing into penalty area and deflecting the ball into the goal.
“Right now I’m just super excited, super happy with everybody – the fans, the organization – everybody stuck around, stuck with us,” Bunbury said. “A lot of people outside the locker room don’t see how tight knit we are. I think in this league, that’s what you need: You need guys who are willing to work for each other.”
NYCFC leading scorer Heber forced a point-blank save out of Turner in the 85th minute, which preserved the Revolution’s sixth clean sheet of the season.
Then, Bou brought the crowd to its feet with his sublime chip from distance.
Most remained standing as time ran out and the final whistle sounded.
The Revolution had just booked their ticket to the playoffs.