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New England Revolution ‘can taste’ MLS Cup playoffs

A victory over the Chicago Fire has the Revs in good position to make the postseason.

Gustavo Bou celebrates a goal for the New England Revolution
Aug 24, 2019; Foxborough, MA, USA; New England Revolution forward Gustavo Bou (7) celebrates after scoring the game winning goal against the Chicago Fire during the second half at Gillette Stadium. (Paul Rutherford-USA TODAY Sports)

The New England Revolution defeated the Chicago Fire 2-1 Saturday night at Gillette Stadium. The victory was New England’s first against Chicago since 2016 and improves the Revs’ chances of making the playoffs.

Here are three takeaways from New England’s perspective:

Bou breakthrough

If the crowd’s reaction and Gustavo Bou tossing off his jersey in celebration weren’t enough of an indication, the game-winning goal Bou scored at the death Saturday night might go down as New England’s goal of the season.

This was rivalry week. It was a six-pointer. It was a key match in the playoff chase and one that the Revolution likely circled on their calendars before the season even started.

Big games call for big goals, and Bou, who was brought to New England as its biggest-ever investment, delivered. Bou extended his scoring streak to three games with his finish, which was also his fifth goal since joining the Revolution.

New England head coach and sporting director Bruce Arena, who had been monitoring Bou as a potential MLS talent long before being hired in May, didn’t pile on praise for the star acquisition during the postgame press conference and needed to be asked by three different reporters to elaborate on Bou’s contributions against the Fire.

Arena played it coy, probably because Bou’s world-class finish spoke for itself.

New England substitutions make the difference as Chicago amps up pressure

Bou had four shots on the night, which was tied for the most of any field player along with Chicago’s Nicolás Gaitán and Francisco Calvo, though the game didn’t really open up until the latter stages of the second half.

Chicago upped the pressure after halftime and clogged New England’s passing lanes, which were already somewhat altered because Cristian Penilla was playing out of position at center forward to compensate for Teal Bunbury coming off injured in the 12th minute.

The Fire made things dangerous even without Bastian Schweinsteiger and Aleksandar Katai, with Gaitán acting as the team’s primary scoring threat.

A short-handed New England back line weathered the storm to start the second half, then Arena made a pair offensive substitutions to swing momentum back in the hosts’ favor.

Juan Agudelo replaced Diego Fagúndez and Juan Fernando Caicedo entered for Luis Caicedo in the 65th and 78th minutes, respectively.

The tactical switch enabled Bou to play as a true striker and returned Penilla to his natural position on the flank. Also, pressure from Agudelo and Caicedo assisted Bou in gaining possession just before his goal.

“We picked it up probably around the 60-minute mark, got a little bit better, and I think the contributions we got out of Penilla tonight and Agudelo and Juan Fernando Caicedo was very helpful,” Arena said. “And obviously, the goal by Bou was another great goal.”

Revolution inch closer to playoff berth

New England has seven regular-season games left, five of which are against Eastern Conference opponents, so the work to snap the club’s three-year streak of missing the playoffs is far from finished.

However, the Revolution are getting closer to the threshold.

With just one loss in its past 15 games, New England is looking more and more the part of a team that belongs in the postseason, and the oddsmakers are starting to think so, too. FiveThirtyEight’s newly updated club soccer predictions indicate the Revolution’s chances of making the playoffs have been bumped up to 68 percent.

The standings show New England in favorable position: sixth place with two games in hand on fifth-place D.C. United and one game in hand on the eight-place Montreal Impact and ninth-place Orlando City SC. Chicago, which has played two more games than the Revolution, looks like less of a threat.

New England is one point out of fifth place and three points out of fourth ahead of next Saturday’s critical clash at Gillette Stadium against Toronto FC, which sits one point behind the Revolution in seventh place.

“It’s something that I think — it’s been a couple years [since] we’ve been around [a playoff spot] — something that we can chase,” said Andrew Farrell, who was one of only three Revolution starters Saturday night to have ever appeared in a playoff game.

“You taste it, it’s right there,” Farrell added. “You can’t necessarily control your destiny, but you can control your outcomes, you can win your games, you can be there. It’s very tight. A tie isn’t going to do us much good, especially at home, especially a team that’s right below us. I want to play in the postseason. It’s been a long time. At the same time, we still got seven games to get there.”

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