Wednesday night’s matches between Atlanta United and the New England Revolution, and the Vancouver Whitecaps and Minnesota United may at first glance appear most important for the playoff seeding implications for the Five Stripes and Whitecaps.
Both clubs are in comfortable positions in their respective conferences. Atlanta are sixth in the East with at least two games in hand on every other club in the conference, while Vancouver would move into first in the West if they beat Minnesota at BC Place.
But New England also have plenty on the line. The Revs have won their last two matches to climb back into the playoff race, smashing Orlando 4-0 on Sept. 2 before getting a 1-0 win over fellow East chasers Montreal on Saturday. The victories have the Revs in eighth in the East, two points behind the seventh-place Impact and only four back of Atlanta.
Of course, both of those wins came at the comfy confines of Gillette Stadium, where New England are 10-2-2 this year. The Revs remain winless at 0-10-3 in their 13 away matches in 2017, and will be facing a fired-up crowd of 40,000-plus at Mercedes-Benz Stadium on Wednesday night.
Anything but a win on Wednesday would essentially sink New England’s playoff hopes, especially since Atlanta hold a couple of games in hand. And while they’re the only team in the league without an away victory this year, they have shown signs of life on the road in recent weeks. They held a lead heading into the final 15 minutes of their 2-1 loss at NYCFC on Aug. 20, and outshot D.C. in a 1-0 loss at RFK on Aug. 26.
They didn’t have Lee Nguyen in either of those contests due to injury, either. The 30-year-old has been excellent in New England’s last two matches, assisting on all four of their goals in the win over Orlando and scoring the lone tally in Saturday’s victory against Montreal. He now has nine goals and 14 assists on the season, and will be a huge part of any success New England have on Wednesday night.
Atlanta are one of the stories of the 2017 season, and they’ll be the favorite to win their second straight in their gaudy new home on Wednesday. But they’re also in a bit of a tricky spot. They’re coming off the emotional high of Sunday’s stadium-opening win against Dallas, are expecting nearly 70,000 on Saturday against Orlando and are just starting an insanely busy stretch. There’s a chance they could look past the Revs, who are in-form, fighting for their lives and might just be due for their first road win of 2017.