FOXBOROUGH — Following three successive seasons of failing to make the MLS Cup playoffs, the Revolution could have been forgiven for having forgotten how to celebrate. But after taking a 2-0 victory over New York City FC on Sunday before a crowd of 28,602, the largest of the season at Gillette Stadium, the Revolution danced like it was Carnival time.
The victory provided a climax to an improbable rally that salvaged the Revolution’s 24th season, as the team climbed from last place in May to clinch the seventh and final Eastern Conference postseason berth with a final game remaining at Atlanta United on Saturday.
The Revolution (11-10-12, 45 points) got off to their worst start to a season, but recovered under the guidance of sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena and the scoring of Gustavo Bou.
Arena, who has won five MLS Cups, is trying to keep expectations realistic.
“I wouldn’t think we’re going into the playoffs as the favorites, if I’m not mistaken,” Arena said. “The game in Atlanta is a terrific game to play in preparation for the playoffs. This whole second half of the season gives us ideas on how to build the roster to get ready for 2020. I think it’s been a very productive year since May and I’m really excited for those players and the way they’ve positioned themselves to make the playoffs.
“I’m not sure you’d call what we’ve done is special. It’s really a positive. I’d like to think our best years are ahead of us, so I’m not ready to be dancing in the woods or having parades because we made the playoffs. Our goal here is to get this club better-positioned to be one of the top clubs in the league and one day win an MLS Cup. We’re not there, yet.”
Arena was hired in May, after the Revolution started the season with a 2-8-2 mark. The team’s turnaround started under interim coach Mike Lapper, then took off after Arena was hired in mid-May.
The Revolution displayed resiliency and a dynamic, but inconsistent, offense in snapping NYCFC’s nine-match unbeaten streak. The Cityzens (17-6-10, 61) also held a locker room celebration after clinching first place via the Philadelphia Union’s loss to the Columbus Crew.
Teal Bunbury opened the scoring in the 66th minute off a counterattack for his sixth goal of the season. Cristian Penilla started the sequence, finding Bou near the center circle, then breaking on the right wing and taking a return pass. Penilla continued into the penalty area, squaring for Bunbury, who gained position on defender Eric Miller and finished past Sean Johnson to score his first goal since July 17.
Bou has converted several dramatic goals, four from the 85th minute on, usually powerful strikes or volleys. This time, Bou threw a changeup, chipping a spectacular 25-yarder over Johnson and just under the bar in the 89th minute, his ninth goal in 13 games since joining the team in August.
The Revolution’s attacking style paid off, though there were times when the tactic left the defense vulnerable. Revolution goalkeeper Matt Turner made several impessive plays, stopping an NYC FC flurry in the 11th minute, saving on Gary Mackay-Steven (54th), Brandon Bye blocking Maxi Moralez’s follow, then swatting away an Alexandru Mitrita free kick (61st) that was close enough to merit a VAR review.
“They’re coachable, they’re just a good group of players, in the locker room,” Arena said of the Revolution. “Of all the teams I’ve had, all the years, this is as good as any of them, to coach every day, to deal with away from the field. That says a lot and I give them nothing but high marks, even if we didn’t make the playoffs this year, and kind of failed toward the end, I still think the season’s been a real positive.
“I dream about a lot of things, I’m not sure MLS Cup is top of my list. I think we want to dream about getting on the field and being better next game. And, even when I was in position with other teams in the league to win the MLS Cup, we didn’t talk about it, we just did it. So we’ll prepare the team to play in Atlanta and, then, hopefully, playoff time we can get it together and win the first one.”