When the New England Revolution and Montreal Impact meet up at Gillette Stadium on Sunday night, they will be looking for two very different outcomes. The Revolution will try to end a five-game winless streak and keep alive their extremely slim and quickly shrinking playoff hopes, while Montreal will be looking to build on a modest two game winning run and to help close the five-point gap between them and the fifth and final playoff spot in the East.
For both teams it’s as close to a must win as can be had at this point in the season. The Revolution (6-11-5, 23 points) are a full 12 points out of the postseason, while Montreal (9-13-3, 30 points), despite facing just a five point gap from the fifth place Chicago Fire (10-7-5, 35 points), have played three more games the Fire and Revs and have just nine games remaining.
“Urgency is a key word right now,” coach Jay Heaps told RevolutionSoccer.net. “It’s important that we find a way to fight through the little things. We haven’t done it yet this year and we’re still waiting. We keep saying is it going to be next week, is it going to be next week? Well, there’s no more next week. It’s now. The time is upon us and key guys have to step up now and hold everyone accountable.”
That Montreal is ahead of the Revolution in the Eastern Conference standings as an expansion team shows what a bad run the Revolution have been on. In addition to their current winless streak, the Revolution have entered the final third of the season without a midfield general after the departure of Shalrie Joseph and as a result have been unable to employ the attacking, possession-based style that suited them so well earlier this season.
Meanwhile the Impact, who in March weren’t predicted to be playoff team, have been in form and have bolstered their roster with a slew of world class signings. The same week the Revolution lost Joseph to Chivas USA, World Cup winning central defender Alessandro Nesta made his first appearance with Montreal since joining the team from AC Milan. Saer Sene opened up his Revolution career with a hot foot but has recently found scoring more cumbersome, while Montreal’s Marco DiVaio and Sanna Nyassi have been in sterling form as of late.
Canada’s Eastern Conference teams have been proven extremely problematic for the Revolution this year. After a tough 2-2 comeback draw in Toronto in June in the midst of the Revolution’s season high five game unbeaten run, New England suffered back-to-back losses in July, to Toronto and Montreal respectively, to end the unbeaten run they had compiled. The Revolution haven’t won since.
In both of those games, and in every game since, the Revolution abandoned the attacking-possession based style that had seem some success earlier this year. And now, without Joseph, the midfield will have to go through some growing pains to find a player that can reapply midfield control.
Montreal has been in transition since the first week of the season, though recently it appears to be going smoothly. The Revolution, who in March were expecting to be transition-free by this point in the season, are now lost in finding a new identity.
For any team, the best remedy for a bad run is to make winning a habit. With an unstable midfield, kick-starting a winning run will be easier said than done, particularly when playing one of the East’s most up-and-coming teams.
But on Sunday, the Revolution’s playoff chances, which already look extremely bleak, will virtually disappear if they can’t win. Aside from limiting the mental lapses and creating scoring opportunities, Sunday’s game will, like any other, come down to controlling the midfield.
A transition period in the middle of the season doesn’t spell good news for a team looking to make the playoffs. But solving the issues now could make for a more positive 2013. And with someone needing to step up and right the Revolution’s ship, a new leader could be born.
“Situations like this are always tests for personalities, egos, chemistry and this has really been a struggle for us recently,” said midfielder Ryan Guy to RevolutionSoccer.net. “But it’s really nice on the other side to see the level of commitment that the guys are putting in right now. We know it’s a difficult patch that we’re going through and we are doing everything we possibly can to get through it. We see the light at the end of the tunnel. Now it’s just a matter of getting that performance in that pushes us that way.”