FOXBOROUGH — The New England Revolution are stuck in a late-summer malaise.
After authoring another in a series of stinkers Saturday night, the clock determining New England’s playoff fate has begun to tick. The Revolution must hurry to escape the quicksand or else watch their playoff hopes flutter down Route 1 and out of sight.
The Philadelphia Union entered Gillette Stadium trailing New England by 2 points in the Eastern Conference standings. They exited with a hold on the sixth and final playoff spot after conquering New England, 3-2, in front of a crowd of 19,516.
Philadelphia midfielder Fabrice-Jean Picault tied a knot on the Union’s victory with a penalty kick in the 76th minute.
The loss extended New England’s winless streak to six games. The last time the Revolution triumphed was a 3-2 victory over D.C. United on June 30.
“For the most part, I thought we were the better team,” said Revolution defender Andrew Farrell. “It’s frustrating. We don’t like losing, especially at home in front of our fans.”
Jack Elliott was the chief instigator for the Union, scoring his first two goals of the season in the first half and blocking numerous Revolution shot attempts.
Set plays precipitated New England’s downfall, as has often been the case during its funk.
Philadelphia garnered a corner in the 14th minute following a sterling save by Revolution keeper Matt Turner. The Union elected to play it short, spurring a give-and-go exchange between Alejandro Bedoya and Haris Medunjanin that cratered the Revolution defense. Medunjanin sliced toward the box and lofted a drive which Elliott redirected past Turner with a tap of his heel.
New England is just 1-7-4 when allowing the game’s opening goal.
“I think they had four quality chances to score, and they were all set pieces,” said New England head coach Brad Friedel. “It was [our] undoing. It’s the side of the game that not one fan will remember unless you miss your assignment. Nobody will ever go home in the car and say, ‘I thought so-and-so was really good defending set pieces.’ ”
The game appeared to be firmly in Philadelphia’s grasp when Elliott again found paydirt 10 minutes later.
This time it was Picault who got the ball rolling by gaining an edge on New England’s Diego Fagundez, again off a short corner. Curling toward the goal from the right wing, Picault rifled a shot off the far post. The ball ricocheted off Turner’s back and landed at Elliott’s feet. Staring at an empty net, the defender needed but a gentle touch to secure a 2-0 Union lead.
“All the goals are either from set pieces or crosses,” said Farrell. “It’s things that we can correct. Coach talks about the little details. In this profession, you have to be tuned in for 90 minutes. You turn off one play and you’re down 2-0.”
New England came out of halftime looking like a different team.
Less than a minute in, midfielder Cristian Penilla sent a slow roller across the box. Farrell came zipping down the right wing to meet the ball and drive a screamer at Philadelphia keeper Andre Blake. Farrell’s shot clipped Union defender Auston Trusty and slid inside the near post to slice the Revolution deficit in half.
New England notched the equalizer in the 64th minute as Wilfried Zahibo delivered a header off a free kick from Fagundez.
But just when the Revolution seemed to have steadied the ship, defensive miscues once again crept to the surface and threw New England’s vessel for a loop.
A Philadelphia cross prompted a yellow card in the 76th minute as Revolution defender Antonio Delamea was called for a handball.
“I think it was foolish,” said Friedel. “There’s no excuse for that, at all.”
Picault took the penalty kick and booted it home . Turner guessed incorrectly, diving to his right and vacating the path of Picault’s strike.
Philadelphia never relinquished its 3-2 advantage, getting a big save from Blake to preserve the lead.
“It’s tough,” said Farrell. “We haven’t won a game in a while. That’s the most frustrating thing is that it’s games [where] we were better and we should be winning and we’re not.”
New England will play its next two games on the road , visiting D.C. United next Sunday before heading to Philadelphia for a rematch on Aug. 25.Owen Pence can be reached at email@example.com.