FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Teams out of playoff contention typically let their starters take a backseat so that reserves and prospects can have the chance to showcase what they have to offer.
But the New England Revolution, which plays its penultimate match Thursday night at Real Salt Lake, seems to have zero intention of treating what’s left of the regular season as a testing ground for those on the team’s fringes.
That much was clear when Revs coach Brad Friedel addressed media Monday after training.
“Approach them the exact same,” Friedel said of the final two matches. “People will fight for their places to get in the team on Thursday night and we’ll see if some new faces emerge, and if they do, that’s down to the work they put in, in the days of training – not to do with anything in where we are in the league position.”
Similarly, the Revolution went with a lineup of starters last Saturday against Orlando City SC, despite learning 30 minutes before the game they had already been eliminated from the playoffs thanks to D.C. United’s 1-0 victory over FC Dallas.
To their credit, the Revs snapped a four-game winless run and recorded their first home victory since June 20 as they went on to beat Orlando 2-0.
But given that Orlando has the Eastern Conference’s worst record and looked second-best for most of the match, Friedel’s decision to play his starters seems to have come at the expense of giving backup players, particularly rookies Mark Segbers and Nico Samayoa, a taste of first team experience.
Thursday night’s clash in Sandy, Utah, has lower stakes, especially with the Revolution having snapped their winless run. The Revs are 2-5-3 all-time in Utah. They haven’t won in the Beehive State since 2007. But Friedel again has his eyes set on earning a positive result.
“To win the games – that’s the primary objective,” Friedel said. “We’re still in the season and we still want to finish as high up on the table as we can.
“We want to get maximum points out of the next two games. I don’t think any time, as a pro, when you go out onto the field, whether it’s a friendly or a league game or a cup final, you’re going to want to go out to try to lose. It’s going to be important for the players to keep concentrating, keep focused, and work really hard to get maximum points out of these last two games.”
Playing less-experienced players isn’t the same thing as giving up, but Friedel is clearly bullish on fighting until the end.
Regardless, he’s already promised sweeping changes this off-season. It’s possible that players on the fringes will stay there because he already knows what they bring to the team. Maybe Friedel is also providing hints as to who’s in and who’s out come the offseason roster deadlines.