MLS New England Revolution

Sweeney: Forget what you know, because these playoff Revs are flipping the script

It’s OK. Pinch yourself.

It’s not a dream. It’s reality.

But the job’s not done.

On the sixth anniversary of the last time the Revolution won the Eastern Conference, New England advanced to that same championship round — this time a one-off instead of an aggregate total — thanks to its 3-1 win over Orlando City SC Sunday afternoon. The good ol’ Boys In Blue will now head to Columbus this coming weekend after the Crew dispatched Nashville, 2-nil, in extra time Sunday night.

Right now, the Revs are clicking on pretty much all available cylinders, and then some. The club’s three DPs — Carles Gil, Gustavo Bou, and Adam Buksa — are getting their names on the scoresheet with regularity, as we expected. They are even doing their part on the defensive side of things.

The defending, as it has for 99 percent of the time in 2020, has been stellar; flubs like Henry Kessler’s swing and a miss Sunday — and yes, that was pretty dreadful — have been rather rare this season, a far cry from what we saw in the beginning stages of 2019 and the second half of 2018, that’s for sure.

The Old Guard, once thought expendable, has risen to the challenge of the roles Bruce Arena wants them to play: before the Eastern Conference Quarterfinal against Philadelphia nearly a week ago, a number of supporters on the hashtag weren’t too pleased that Homegrown midfielder Scott Caldwell slid into his familiar role. But he’s put together 180 minutes of solid soccer, hasn’t he?

And the goalkeeping…. chef’s kiss. What Matt Turner did Sunday, when Nani stepped to the penalty spot in the 74th minute, was what he has trained for his entire career — and did what he did in front of a national television audience, to boot, letting the rest of the United States soccer viewership come to realize what we in these parts see week-in and week-out since 2018.

It’s incredible, what we’ve seen the last three weeks, given how the end of 2020’s regular season played out — three losses and a draw in their last five — and dropping New England into the play-in round. It was textbook Revs, the collapse. Even before the postseason began, I went on the radio and said, “Quite possibly, the weight of the Navy Blue kit will pull them down.” I liken that to how the Boston sporting press treated the Red Sox in 1986 when they asked, “When are you going to blow it?” And no one can really blame me for saying that.

Right now, that question isn’t even a thought. It just isn’t. The Revs are primed to return to the league’s championship round in 12 days’ time, and if they can set Columbus aside next Sunday, they’ll be through to the title game for the first time in six years.

And while the Revolution are the last remaining seed in either conference, they really aren’t playing like the underdogs one would expect from that position. Outside of the possession numbers Sunday — 38.8 percent — New England has been the dominant side in all three playoff matches, much in the same way we expected them to be way back in February, before we knew the extent of Gil’s injury. And yes, the club suffered through stretches without any verve, any creativity, any link-up, between the midfield and Bou and Buksa. The offensive corps’ goal totals showed that.

Right now, though, with all three healthy and looking positively dangerous, everything is coming up roses. A +5 goal difference headed into the conference final against a team that struggled to score against Nashville Sunday night. Players who, if they remain unmarked or are allowed to take that extra touch to create space for themselves, will absolutely burn you. A defense that has been pretty damn good all season long. And a goalkeeper that continues to get better. Continues to open eyes and impress.

And more importantly, continues to make Revs fans believe that the club will pull off something once thought impossible.

Underdogs? Surely you jest. They are flipping the script, looking to re-write the club’s history.

Why not us? Why not the Revs? They are two wins away from that coveted silverware.

See you Sunday.