The New England Revolution have put together an incredible season by any standard. They have 20 wins in 29 games. It is ironic that Bruce Arena is having one of his best seasons while playing on turf. Can we sit him down and force him to watch his smug slightly-younger self going on and on and on about the evils of turf? Can we ... arghh ... I digress. The Revs are a very good team and, after their match during the final weekend of September, they possessed a 16-point lead in the Supporters' Shield race - 17 points ahead of Seattle. That is a HUGE lead at such a late point in the season ... but is it insurmountable?
Every journey starts with a step. Then another. Yes - it is a large mountain to scale, but it is not an impossible climb. The first steps have been made. After a huge win at Kansas City to keep pace, Seattle beat San Jose on the road and registered a resounding victory at home versus Colorado. 6 points have been chipped away in just 4 days. New England's run has been slowed - not by losses, or even ties - but by by scheduling.
New England, it turns out, has a large gap in their schedule. They were undefeated in September with five wins and a tie ... 13-1-2 since early July. There were a team on a roll - even by the high standard they had already set this season. A hot team typically wants to keep on playing. The Revs, however, are in the midst of an EIGHTEEN DAY break in their schedule. After completing a convincing 4-1 victory on September 29th at Montreal, they won't play again until October 16th. In the meantime, The Sounders have an opportunity to grab three more points at home against Vancouver. If that happens, The Revs' lead over The Sounders has been whittled from 17 to 8 in just 13 days. The Sounders would still retain a game in hand. That would leave Seattle with 18 possible points remaining to make up 8, while The Revs would have 15 possible points remaining.
In quick research for this piece, I ran across an interesting difference between the two Conference leaders:
In matches that are bookended by five or more days *without* a match, New England has won 6, drawn 1, and lost 1 for a smoking 2.38ppg. The Sounders, in such matches, have only won 3, have drawn 4, and have lost 1 for 1.63ppg. The flipside is, when confronted by short rest (four or fewer days) before or after a match, the Revs drop to (a still VERY, VERY good) 2.19ppg. The Sounders have thrived during these crowded fixtures putting up a remarkable 2.16ppg. And what does the upcoming schedule hold for the two teams? Starting on the 16th, he Sounders have 4 matches over 10 days, while New England has 4 matches over 11 days. The Revolution's fixtures include travel to DC and Orlando, both of whom have been excellent at home. DC has averaged 2.31ppg at home. Orlando has averaged 2.0ppg at home. This could be the stretch where Seattle closes the gap.
Yes - this is still a very-long-shot. SportsClubStats.com has The Sounders at a 3.9% chance for the Shield. If we beat the 'Caps on Saturday (one of those matches with rest on both sides), the site bumps Seattle's chances to 5.4%. The Sounders obviously can't control what New England does, but with such a huge lead in the Supporters' Shield and home field advantage clinched in the playoffs, it would not come as a complete shock if Bruce Arena chose to rest his key players during the upcoming flurry of matches. He'll be happy to drop a point here or there to be healthy for the playoffs. Meanwhile, Seattle is in very good form right now, and may suddenly have the likes of Nico Lodeiro and - maybe - Jordan Morris available for the stretch run. If the Sounders simply continue to take care of business the Supporters' Shield is a shiny thing Seattle can - and should - continue to chase. It has been too long since we had a plate to go with our Cups.