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Revolution playoff hopes alive, but barely kicking

ew England Revolution celebrate the goal scored by midfielder Brandon Bye
September 15, 2018; Los Angeles, CA, Los Angeles, CA, USA; New England Revolution celebrate the goal scored by midfielder Brandon Bye (15) against Los Angeles FC during the second half at Banc of California Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gary A. Vasquez-USA TODAY Sports

The New England Revolution captured a rare point in Los Angeles by tying LAFC 1-1 Saturday night. The result keeps New England’s slim playoff hopes alive.

Here are three takeaways from the result:

Playing physical doesn’t mean playing cheap

When did being physical become a bad thing?

Lacking physicality used to get the Revs into trouble circa 2010 and 2011. Fitness and physicality have been completely revamped since then, in no small part due to New England coach Brad Friedel tabbing Anton McElhone, formerly of Tottenham, to beef up Revs players’ strength and stamina.

That said, some pundits were critical of New England’s aggressive style of play in Tinsel Town, even though physicality helped the Revs earn a positive result. LAFC clearly controlled the first half and had dangerous spells in the second as they took a 52nd minute lead off a Marco Ureña goal, but New England’s ability to truncate its opponent in midfield helped interrupt the flow of the game and prevent the deficit from getting worse.

As such, the Revs weren’t just fouling for the sake of fouling. While New England outfouled LAFC 27 to 12, it also outshot the hosts 20 to 15, including eight to six with shots on target.

The Revs may have had some meat on their bones this weekend, but it was a viable tactic that allowed them to claw their way back into the game.

Left back is Brandon Bye’s spot to lose

Let’s get it out of the way right now that there’s really no one else to play at left back right now for the Revolution.

Chris Tierney is out for the season with the ACL injury and the club’s two other options for the left flank, Gabriel Somi and Claude Dielna, haven’t made a matchday 18 in over a month.

That said, Brandon Bye has mostly looked the part while playing at left back in recent weeks.

Bye – a rookie who came into Major League Soccer as a right winger – netted the equalizer Saturday night with a sublime header and has looked increasingly more comfortable playing on the left.

With Tierney possibly headed for retirement and both Dielna and Somi looking like offseason roster cuts, Friedel and the Revs front office will likely have to replace a huge chunk of the team’s back line, particularly left back.

Friedel should sign a new left back this winter. That said, Bye deserves to be the de facto starter in the position going in 2019 if his current form continues.

Playoff hopes alive

We’ve seen this before out of the Revolution.

With roughly two months or less to go in a season, the team summons its second wind and starts rattling off positive results in an effort to make the playoffs. Sometimes, the late rally works: see the 2002, 2003, 2004, 2009, 2013 and 2014 campaigns, when the Revs rose from the ashes to claim a postseason berth.

History suggests the Revs can make a similar run and still clinch, but it’s important to understand two things. One, most of their previous late-season runs came when MLS was smaller and had more parity among its teams. Two, the Revolution have a very steep hill to climb with their current situation.

While the Revolution have taken four points out of six from their last two games – both in hostile road environments – the margin for error is incredibly tight.

New England has six games left and sits eighth in the Eastern Conference with 34 points. Despite the huge point earned in Los Angeles Saturday, the Revs are actually farther away from a playoff spot because the sixth-place Montreal Impact creamed the fifth-place Philadelphia Union 4-1.

D.C. United, which is one point in front of New England in seventh place, has an easier schedule than New England the rest of the way.

On the plus side, the Revs play their season finale against Montreal at home. Philadelphia looks slightly vulnerable in fifth place, too.

Conversely, the Revolution have just three of their last six games at home. Two of the away games are at Real Salt Lake and Toronto, which are also tough road environments.

To make the playoffs, the Revs have to come close to winning all of their remaining games. They also need two of three teams – Montreal, D.C. and Philadelphia – to severely underperform in the last month of the season.

Mathematically, it’s possible. But the reality is, the Revs may have found their form a little too late.

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