FOXBOROUGH — With a playoff appearance still for the taking, the scrambling New England Revolution were on the verge of a victory over the Houston Dynamo after Saer Sene drove home a pass from Lee Nguyen to disrupt a scoreless game in the second half.
But the Revolution couldn’t close it out and had to settle for a 1-1 tie Saturday night before 21,297, the biggest crowd of the season at Gillette Stadium.
With four games to play in the season, New England (11-11-8, 41 points) is sixth in the Eastern Conference and reaching a little desperately for the last playoff spot. Houston (12-10-8, 44 points) holds in fourth, with Philadelphia (11-10-9, 42 points) in fifth. The Revolution are looking for their first playoff berth since 2009.
After a scrappy, scoreless first half, the Revolution took the lead on Sene’s goal in the 64th minute, but surrendered the tying goal 12 minutes later. Will Bruin capitalized on a broken defensive play to score for the Dynamo.
“I thought it was a good effort and great energy from our group,’’ said Revolution coach Jay Heaps. “We played a tough opponent tonight. I thought we had opportunities to close the game out, but Houston’s a good team and they hold on. We could have been better defensively on the goal we gave up. ’’
With so much on the line, the match was tense from the start but neither team could control the pace for very long. At every encounter, the players scraped off each other, hitting the turf frequently as they jousted for space. The Dynamo had a single first-half shot on Revolution keeper Matt Reis, playing in his 250th game for New England. The Revolution had none on Tally Hall.
The Revolution’s best chance of the first half came on a set piece in the 39th minute. With the ball placed just outside the penalty area on the left side, Nguyen dropped a short pass to Chris Tierney, who lofted a shot at the goal. The ball spun toward the inside of the left goalpost and bounced off just as Hall reached up with his right hand to help push it away.
“We talked about it all week, they’re a big, strong physical side,’’ said Tierney. “They’ve got some big strong players up top and they were trying to hit those players and get runners off.”
“It was a goal kick in the end that broke us down. So I think that was their game plan. Credit to them, they caught us out there once.’’
The game opened up when Juan Agudelo, who missed the Revolution’s last game against D.C. United with a hamstring strain, came in for the injured Dimitry Imbongo in the 62d minute. A seam opened up for the Revolution as Agudelo created space on the run. Only two minutes later, Nguyen took a pass from Chris Tierney and fed a pass ahead to Sene, who ran onto the ball and drove a shot over Houston goalkeeper Tally Hall.
Aguedelo had another chance in the 73d minute, turning at the top of the box to get off a shot, but the ball sailed over the net.
Just as quickly as the seam opened, it closed up again. The Dynamo took advantage of an incomplete clear by the Revolution defense when Oscar Boniek Garcia knocked down the ball and slipped it to Bruin, who ripped a shot under the crossbar in the 76th minute.
“It’s disappointing,’’ said Tierney. “We created enough chances to win the game.’’
“They know how to grind these games out.’’ said Heaps. “Unfortunately, we didn’t take our chances as well as we can. It’s a point, but at the same time, we need more points.’’
Heap admitted the homestretch, with three of the Revolution’s last four games on the road, looks daunting.
“No matter what happened tonight,’’ he said, “it was going to be a tough four games to win.’’