FOXBOROUGH — The Revolution have been among Major League Soccer’s most inconsistent franchises since the league started in 1996. The team set a record with eight successive playoff appearances (2002-09), but also has failed to qualify for postseason play seven times, last week’s 2-1 loss at D.C. United knocking them out of contention for the third successive season.
In fact, with five games remaining, this is the earliest the Revolution have been eliminated from playoff contention. Even in the franchise’s most directionless days, when the group lacked chemistry, cohesion, and/or talent, it was able to retain postseason hopes until the dying stages of the regular season.
In 2002, the Revolution had a 7-14-1 record with six games remaining, then closed with a 5-0-1 run, improbably advancing to the MLS Cup final. This year, the Revolution have a 7-15-7 mark, with the team tied for 16th place in the 19-team league.
Asked about motivating the Revolution, coach Jay Heaps replied: “I don’t think it’s tough at all. First of all, with home games, we made a pledge at the beginning of the year that every time we step on this field it’s going to be a battle, no matter what.
“Any time you take away the playoffs from a team you take a long time to reflect, because that’s painful, because we felt like we let too many points slip away. We have other goals, guys know we have to start planning on not being in this position next year. And guys are fighting for positions, for jobs, we all are — any time you put it that bluntly, there’s motivation.”
Previous playoff failures have cost Revolution coaches their positions: Frank Stapleton (1996), Thomas Rongen (’98), Walter Zenga (’99). Fernando Clavijo survived in 2001, the season partially salvaged as the Revolution made it to the US Open Cup final. The Revolution advanced to the playoffs from 2002-09 under Steve Nicol, whose contract was not renewed after he failed to guide the team to the postseason the previous two seasons.
“I’m not thinking about that,” Heaps said of his status for next season. “I’m thinking about New York Saturday.”
This will be a chance to integrate potential stars such as forward Jerry Bengtson, who has made only five starts, missing time on international duty with Honduras, and Colombian midfielder Juan Carlos Toja, who made his season debut with a 17-minute stint against D.C. United.
“Toja brings maturity,” Heaps said. “He’s real dynamic going forward, he’s smart. For us, it’s his fitness level right now. We’re hoping to get significant minutes from him the rest of the year, and we’re hoping he’ll be someone we lean on for the future as well.
“He can play anywhere in midfield, all four positions. It’s a matter of putting him in the right position with the right players around him. He brings some worldly experience, some presence. I’ve seen him in the locker room — guys take to him right away and that’s important, when a player comes in and commands respect like that.”
Toja, 27, joined FC Dallas in 2007 and moved to Europe for stints with Steaua Bucharest (2008-10) and Aris Thessaloniki before joining the Revolution last month.
“I always had it in my mind to return to MLS,” Toja said after practice Friday.
“It’s different here, but for me it’s the same way of life as when I was in Dallas — it’s the US, they speak English. There are differences in the north, the south, and west, but it’s still the same league.
“I’m still very young, but I’ve played professionally for a while. Some teams need leadership, and I’ve played in other leagues and other places, so I can help football-wise and also psychologically. Whatever I can bring, I’ll try to help the team.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.