Timing is everything in MLS. It is the drumbeat in a grueling season, the lifeblood of a playoff push and the sole determining factor between failure and success. More than anything, it is the most critical component to success in a league predicated on fine margins.
Those realities provide hope for the New England Revolution as they seek their second Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup title on Tuesday night. There were plenty of moments this season when a victory in a one-off match at FC Dallas looked well beyond them. This is not one of them.
For the first time this year, the Revs are operating in concert. Their past two league victories -- a 1-0 triumph over Colorado on Sept. 3 and a comprehensive 3-1 victory over New York City FC on Saturday -- reveal the potential in a side wondering whether this final arrives at the perfect time.
“I feel this team is starting to gel, starting to click and starting to fire on all cylinders,” Revolution goalkeeper Brad Knighton said. “We’ve had some issues at the back and we’ve sorted that out. We’ve found ourselves defensively and that ultimately led to us putting balls in the back of the net.”
It is how the team with the worst goal differential in MLS by five goals (-14) suddenly boasts the confidence to harbor realistic hopes of knocking off the Supporters’ Shield favorites on their home soil.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps credits his players for figuring out a way to smooth out the lapses in their performances over the past few weeks. The killer mistake -- most often present in a skewered chance from close range or a soft goal -- disappeared. The penchant for fluidity going forward and solidity in defense returned in its stead.
“It’s good momentum because we feel like we’re putting together 90-minute performances,” Heaps said. “Even against New York and San Jose, we thought those were steps in the right direction, but they weren’t complete performances. I feel like the last two games have been more complete over 90 minutes.”
Those improvements manifested in perhaps the best team performance of the season against New York City FC. The collective work on and off the ball limited NYCFC to just one shot on target and provided a platform to combine neatly in the attacking third. Those strides resulted in three goals and three precious points heading into the Open Cup final.
“It’s huge because you see the confidence of this team,” Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez said. “The way we celebrated the goals, you can see we’re a group. That’s what we want.”
All of those qualities must rise to the fore once again at Toyota Stadium. There is no room for error, even after FC Dallas sustained its first home loss this season against Colorado Rapids on Saturday.
Revolution forward Juan Agudelo cited FCD’s pace in the wide areas and resolve in defense as two of the key traits behind the club’s push to the top of the Western Conference.
“When it comes to them, they are at the top of the league for a reason,” Agudelo said. “They are a really, really good team. I watched their Open Cup game against LA. They deserved to win that game, I think. They have very fast players out wide and their defense is strong.”
Even with the strength of the opposition in mind, the Revs remain intently focused on the task at hand. This one-off final supplies them with a chance to claim the club’s first title since 2008, lift the Open Cup for a second time and secure a tangible reward for their work this season.
This opening arrives at the perfect time for a side now finding its footing. It is up to this group to grasp it with both hands, according to Heaps.“For me, you don’t get many chances at championships,” Heaps said. “When you do, you have to relish it and you have to take your opportunity to win it. When you look at the finals we’ve been to as a club -- we were in four MLS Cup finals. As a player, I was there and I was in three Open Cup finals, two with the Revs and one with the Miami Fusion. And I was there in the SuperLiga final. We won two championships in six or seven opportunities. They’re difficult. …. Our one [Open Cup] championship came on the road in Dallas. We know it can be done.”