In a greatly improved Eastern Conference just a few slip-ups can make a world of difference in the playoff hunt. The New England Revolution learned that the hard way recently as their playoff chances fell dramatically from a possible and promising 38.1% to a highly improbable and pitiful 4.2% in just over two weeks, according to Sports Club Stats.
Following a 3-2 loss to D.C. United on May 26, the Revs fell to 4-7-1 (13 points) and playoff hopes began to look bleak. Statistically, New England’s playoff hopes had fallen to a then season low 24.9%. Yet a season best five game unbeaten run immediately followed and a young Revs squad seemed to have turned the corner, while improving to 6-7-4 (22 points).
Playoff chances had increased to 38.1% and the Revs were sitting in sixth place, seemingly inching towards the fifth and final Eastern Conference playoff spot. Hopes of new head coach Jay Heaps righting the ship and returning New England to the postseason for the first time since 2009 appeared realistic.
Things fell apart quickly. Starting with a shock home defeat to last place Toronto FC, the Revs went on a four game winless run – their longest of the season – picking up just one point of a possible 12, while losing to three of the league’s worst teams and falling to 6-10-5 (23 points). Meanwhile, the rest of the East has been playing well. The Revs are the only Eastern Conference club without a win in the last four games.
That streak – and their rivals’ good form – quickly dropped the Revs from sixth to ninth in the East, leaving them nine points out of the playoffs with thirteen games to play and just a 4.2% chance statistically of making the playoffs. The Revs would now need to finish off the season with a record of 8-2-3 or better just to have greater than a 50-50 chance of making the playoffs according Sports Club Stats’ simulations.
It’s easy to see why the Revs have fallen into their current predicament. The young club is still learning and struggling to find consistency. The Revs have been dreadful in close games, with a 2-9 record in games decided by just a goal. That New England has only lost one game by more than a goal shows how competitive they’ve been this year, but a MLS playoff team has to win close games.
Instead, the club’s wins have mostly come in games where the team has managed to put up big leads and severely lessened any chance of a late comeback. In fact, the Revs are 4-1 in games decided by two or more goals.
Meanwhile offensive consistency has been another issue for the team, with the Revs making it look easy at times to score and at others struggling mightily with finishing or breaking down defenses. While the Revs are fourth in the conference averaging 1.86 goals in the games they do score – less than a tenth of a point behind the likes of the New York Red Bulls and Houston Dynamo – the team has failed to score in seven of their 22 games and are tied for last in the conference in that category.
Yet the biggest area of weakness for the Revs has been the drastically different form displayed on the road compared to home games and perhaps that should come as no surprise given the Revs propensity to lose close games and how much more challenging building commanding leads on the road can prove. While the Revs are a respectable 5-2-3 in the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium, the club is a deplorable 1-8-2 on the road. In the East, only the expansion Montreal Impact holds a worse road record.
Unsurprisingly, five of the seven games in which the Revs have been held scoreless have also come on the road, where the Revs average just 0.91 goals per game compared to 1.6 in Foxborough. The team’s negative eight goal differential in away games is also tied for worst in the conference with the Impact, while their plus seven goal differential at home is fourth best.
All these issues – losing close games, scoring, consistency and road form – are trademarks of a young team and problems that can be, and often are, corrected over time. Unfortunately for New England no signs of fast improvement are readily visible and time may have already run out this season on the team’s playoff hopes.