FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Playoff permutations affect more than just berths and seeds. They also influence complex travel plans. Just ask the New England Revolution. This weekend's trip to Columbus – and the fluid circumstances surrounding it – created a significant, transportation-related headache.
Normally, the trek from Boston to Columbus presents modest, but manageable, hurdles for a Saturday game. If this match had fallen during the middle of the regular season, the Revs likely would have boarded the one direct flight between the destinations on Friday, played the game on Saturday and then taken a one-stop flight (no direct flights on the weekends) back home on Sunday.
A comparable scenario – involving a direct flight on Friday, a preparation day spent in Columbus on Saturday, the game on Sunday and a direct flight out on Monday – loomed for Sunday's season finale at Crew Stadium (4 pm ET; MLS Free Stream of the Week). But competitive concerns about the ramifications of claiming a playoff spot and landing a potential midweek elimination game prompted a reassessment of the situation.
If the Revs win against Columbus on Sunday, they will guarantee a postseason berth. Their first playoff match, depending on results elsewhere, could take place at home or on the road on Wednesday (knockout round) or at home on Saturday (Eastern Conference semifinals, first leg).
The prospect of burning Monday while traveling (due to lack of available commercial flights out of Columbus on Sunday night) and Tuesday (due to a possible flight to Chicago or Montréal for a game the next day) on travel left the Revs searching for alternatives. They decided to investigate the prospect of booking a charter flight to take the team to Columbus on Saturday and return home directly after the game on Sunday night.
“When we looked at it, we just thought, well, it's the most critical time of the year,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “If there was ever a time to charter for us, this is it. I had a conversation with Brian [Bilello, Revolution president] and then we presented it to the Krafts. They were very supportive and really understood the situation.”
In this instance, MLS regulations aided the club as they evaluated their options. Each club is permitted to book four separate segments (or two round-trips) on charter planes during the regular season and the playoffs (barring exceptions for CONCACAF Champions League commitments or other circumstances), according to a league spokesperson. This conundrum presented an opportunity for the Revs to use two of those segments to eradicate their travel issues.
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Bilello and Burns discussed the matter with investor/operators Robert and Jonathan Kraft. They agreed to provide their personal planes to fly the Revs from Hanscom Field, in suburban Bedford, Mass., to Columbus on Saturday morning, in time for an afternoon training session, and then back to the Boston area on Sunday night after the match to facilitate any necessary preparations for the postseason.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps praised the Krafts for backing the efforts to secure the club's first playoff berth since 2009 and sidestep the potential logistical hurdles if they succeeded in their endeavor on Sunday night.
“There are implications,” Heaps said. “We're hoping we're discussing playoffs after the game. The game's at 4 p.m. Spending the night in Columbus would get us back in time, but it would be advantageous to get [back here] sooner. All of those factors weigh. The Kraft family stepped up big.”
Burns noted that the onus now falls upon the Revs to take care of business on Sunday to ensure those efforts do not go to waste.
“We realize the magnitude of the task,” Burns said. “It's certainly not the norm for us to travel by charter. They fully supported it. They understood the importance of it to us and to give us the best possible chance to be successful. It was great that we got the support from them to do this. Now all we have to do is win and all is good.”