Bruce Arena has challenged his New England Revolution side to clinch home field advantage in the MLS Cup Playoffs after becoming the first team to book their postseason spot.
The Revs ensured a top-seven berth with their 3-2 victory over Chicago Fire on Wednesday, with Carles Gil netting a rare open-play goal in stoppage time.
Rather than relax over the remaining seven regular-season fixtures, however, Arena wants to ensure that his side finishes at the top of the Eastern Conference.
“Obviously we’re pleased with the effort the team has given and the position we’re in,” Arena said ahead of Saturday’s clash with Orlando City SC at Gillette Stadium. “They are milestones, that’s great. We accomplished one of our objectives by qualifying for the playoffs. 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.”
Orlando is also on course to prolong its season as it sits fourth in the East, four points clear of eighth-placed D.C. United.
However, the Lions have lost their last three matches – conceding 10 goals in the process – and head coach Oscar Pareja is after a response from his side.
“We have to accept what has come our way and take our responsibilities to keep improving, to try to get the team out of this moment that is difficult,” he said. “But we are united and we will keep pushing.”
PLAYERS TO WATCH
New England Revolution – Gustavo Bou
The Revs boast a number of top-quality attacking players and in Bou they have someone who particularly enjoys playing against Orlando. The 31-year-old has netted four times against the Lions in all competitions and enters this game with 12 goals to his name this term, the fourth-best of any player in MLS.
Orlando City SC – Mauricio Pereyra
Pereyra is set to make his 50th appearance for Orlando this weekend since joining in August 2019. The Uruguayan midfielder has four goals and 21 assists across that period, leaving him one assist short of tying Kaka and Chris Mueller for second in franchise history.
KEY OPTA FACTS
– New England has not lost any of its last five matches against Orlando City (W3 D2), knocking the Lions out of the 2020 playoffs in the last meeting between the teams. Orlando has never won at New England (D1 L4), the only team the Lions have visited more than three times without recording a win in MLS play.
– The Revolution extended their MLS single-season record for wins by a one-goal margin to 15, beating the Fire 3-2 on Wednesday. Eight of New England’s last nine MLS wins have come by a one-goal margin.
– Orlando has lost three straight matches for the first time under Pareja, who took over ahead of the 2020 season. The Lions have allowed 10 goals in those games, the most they have allowed in a three-game stretch since July-August 2018 when they also let in 10 goals over three matches.
– Gil scored a 91st-minute winner against the Fire on Wednesday. The goal was his first in open play in a regular season match for over two years, with his last coming against FC Cincinnati in July 2019.
– Six of Orlando City’s last 13 goals have been scored by defenders, including the last three in a row. Prior to this run, only one of Orlando’s previous 110 regular-season goals was scored by defenders dating back to October 2018.