With a playoff spot secured, the next step for the New England Revolution is to earn a first-round bye and avoid the single-elimination play-in round.
At 7-6-8 (29 points), the Revolution headed into the weekend in eighth place in the Eastern Conference standings with two matches remaining, needing to leapfrog the New York Red Bulls (8-8-5, 29 points) and sixth-place Nashville FC (7-6-7, 28 points) to clinch a bye. Nashville, despite having fewer points than New York, had the upper hand by virtue of higher points per game (1.4 to 1.38).
The game Sunday (7:30 p.m.) against D.C. United at Gillette Stadium will provide the Revolution a golden opportunity to collect an important 3 points. Whereas the top eight teams in the Western Conference will go straight to Round 1, the teams seeded 7-10 in the East will face one-game play-ins.
“We’re clinched, but at the same time we want to be a little higher than where we are,” said midfielder Diego Fagundez. “This is a huge game, especially at home. We haven’t been getting a lot of points at home, so this is going to be a massive game. I think it’s one of our rivalries, so we have to go out there and make sure that we’re performing to our best ability.”
The Revolution have struggled of late, going 0-2-1 in their last three. It’s the first time all season they haven’t recorded at least 2 points during a three-match stretch. In Wednesday’s 1-0 loss to the Red Bulls, the Revolution registered 13 shots, 7 corner kicks, and led in time of possession, but couldn’t score before Aaron Long’s 89th-minute goal.
Midfielder Carles Gil made his second appearance since returning from heel surgery and played 27 minutes as a substitute. The Revolution hope the final two matches of the regular season can help Gil and Gustavo Bou (hamstring injury) gain some rhythm before the postseason.
“Everyone is going to have to play a role, but when we’ve got guys like Carles and Gustavo coming back to full fitness, that just makes us as a team much better," said forward Tajon Buchanan. "Hopefully everyone can start getting in a groove because these games are coming fast and, sooner or later, it’s going to be the playoffs and that’s when these games are really going to count. If we have those guys back then we’ll be in the position to do well.”
D.C. United (5-10-6) enters Sunday’s match on a season-best three-game winning streak, fighting Inter Miami and the Chicago Fire for the final playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. The Revolution are 2-0-1 against D.C. United this season, having won their last two matches at Audi Field, 2-1 on Aug. 25, and 2-0 on Sept. 27.
“D.C. United has had a great run as of late," said Revolution coach Bruce Arena. “They’ve won their last three games, they’ve positioned themselves to be in the playoffs, so they’re going to come in here and be well prepared and gives us all we can handle.”
Fagundez, the 25-year-old Leominster, native, can also set the club record for most regular-season appearances. Fagundez tied Sharlie Joseph with his 261st appearance Wednesday.
“To be honest, when I was 15, [Joseph] was actually my roommate,” said Fagundez. “To be where I’m at right now and hopefully pass him is going to be something amazing. I never thought that I would do that.”