"We can do special things": New England clinch playoffs but eye far more from 2021 season

The New England Revolution are dreaming big.

On Wednesday night, the MLS original became the first team to secure an Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs spot, beating Chicago Fire FC 3-2 at Soldier Field. That result set a single-season club record for victories (18) and matched their franchise record for points (59).

But there are plenty more boxes to check, and head coach/sporting director Bruce Arena has his team looking ahead with seven regular-season games remaining.

“Obviously, we’re pleased with the effort the team has given and the position we’re in,” Arena said. “They are milestones, that’s great. I think we accomplished one of our objectives tonight, we qualified for the playoffs. So that’s official, which is great.

“Now we want to make sure we get home-field advantage. I think we’re pretty close to that. Then thirdly, we want to be the first seed in the Eastern Conference. So, we’re moving forward. Those are the things we want to achieve.”

New England are still heavily favored to lift the Supporters’ Shield, holding a 13-point lead over their closest challenger, Western Conference leaders Sporting Kansas City. If they reach that milestone, it’d be their second major domestic trophy after the club lifted the 2007 U.S. Open Cup.

The Revs are also on pace to set the league's single-season points record, which LAFC established in 2019 with a 72-point haul. The most they could claim is 80, presuming they win out starting with Saturday’s home match against Orlando City SC (7 pm ET | MLS LIVE on ESPN+).

But of greater concern, as Arena noted, is getting the Eastern Conference’s No. 1 seed – with Nashville SC seeming to pose the greatest, albeit faint, challenge due to a 15-point gap heading into the weekend. Top billing would moor an all-important Round One bye and chart the Eastern Conference Final through Gillette Stadium. If they lock up the Shield, the Foxborough-based venue gets MLS Cup hosting priority.

“For us, it’s like our job isn’t done,” forward Teal Bunbury said. “Our goal is always to make it into the playoffs, so it happening this soon is great. We’re excited and we’re happy, but we’re still thinking about things we could’ve done better in tonight’s game in Chicago.

“Taking the lead and then giving it away a couple times and not being clean enough, I think, on the ball, not winning enough tackles. So, there’s a lot of things we can work on but it’s positive. I mean, making the playoffs is always the goal but we have bigger aspirations.”

Carles Gil, the 2021 Landon Donovan MLS MVP award frontrunner, provided the crucial moment in Chicago. With a step-over and right-footed shot over goalkeeper Gabriel Slonina, he sealed all three points with a 91st-minute strike. The move was fueled by a running back-esque charge forward from Tajon Buchanan, who’s joining UEFA Champions League regular Club Brugge in the winter via a club-record transfer.

New England made nine changes from last weekend’s 1-1 draw against the Columbus Crew, a luxury they’re afforded given their sizable cushion in the standings. And while Chicago poured on the pressure, goals from Bunbury and Henry Kessler, as well as Gil’s magic and seven saves from US men’s national team goalkeeper Matt Turner, were enough to preserve the win.

As the Revs navigate a busy end to the regular season, they continually demonstrate they boast enough depth and high-end talent to potentially make 2021 a “special” year.

“We have guys that every day in training that are working their tail off,” Bunbury said. “When their time comes, they’re stepping up to the plate and playing well, and are ready for that moment. It’s about a mindset, it’s about being ready when your name’s called.

“I think that’s what it’s going to take down this stretch and into the playoffs. It’s guys just being ready. I think we have a group that’s ready and we can do special things.”