And now, the final countdown.
The New England Revolution are entrenched in a battle for playoff seeding, and a home-and-home series with the Columbus Crew Saturday and next Saturday brings an end to the regular season. The front half of the set comes at Gillette Stadium at 7:30 p.m.
After escaping Montreal with a 1-0 victory last week, the Revolution are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference with 45 points — just one back of the cutoff. But it’s a little more complicated than that. They will need some help if they are going to make it into the postseason.
Montreal, Chicago, and Philadelphia are tied for fourth with 46 points, so when Houston (third place, 48 points) is taken into consideration, there are five teams vying for three spots with just two weeks to play.
A loss Saturday could mathematically eliminate the Revolution, depending on how the other contenders fare.
“For the last two months, it’s been a big game, so it’s something we’re getting used to. It’s a must-win game,” midfielder Kelyn Rowe said. “Like that fight you saw the past two games, we’re going to fight no matter what’s going on, no matter what’s happening, and we’re going forward to get goals.”
The Crew (eighth place, 41 points) are fighting for their season as well. Rowe expects them to be aggressive.
“They have nothing to lose,” he said. “If they lose, they’re done. If they win, they still have a chance. So they’re going to be pushing numbers forward, and hopefully we can find gaps when they do that.”
That the Crew are still in it is surprising. In early September, they replaced longtime coach Robert Warzycha with interim boss Brian Bliss, and have gone 4-2 since. They have outscored opponents, 11-7, in that time.
Columbus’s biggest threats are forward/midfielder Dominic Oduro (12 goals, three assists) and midfielder Federico Higuain (11 goals, nine assists), though Higuain (injured hip) will be out for Saturday’s matchup. The two have combined for eight game-winning goals this year.
At the other end, the Crew feature second-year goalkeeper Matt Lampson, who took over the starting role in August and has posted a 1.25 goals-against average.
“They’re one of the hottest teams in the league right now,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “They have extreme talent, they’re playing a little differently now and they’ve certainly bought in.”
The Revolution haven’t been too bad themselves lately. Their last loss was Sept. 14 and have taken eight of a possible 12 points to stay in the thick of things.
The team will be without midfielder Lee Nguyen, suspended for too many yellow cards, and forward Saer Sene, who last week suffered a dislocated left ankle and broken left fibula.
Scott Caldwell, who has started every game since August, will be one of the midfielders picking up the slack for the young Revolution.
“[The Crew are] also a young team. They’re energized,” Caldwell said. “We’re going to have to deal with that — definitely a quick start. They’re going to be running at us, and we have to deal with it and settle the game down, just like the last few games.”