By Mike Shalin, The Sports Xchange
FOXBOROUGH, Ma. - The Chicago Fire entered Gillette Stadium Saturday night still alive in the race for the top spot in the MLS Eastern Conference standings.
They left not even sure they can avoid the 4-5 play-in game of the playoffs.
The Revolution, playing younger players as they finish a non-playoff season in their home finale, employed a stifling and physical defensive system and held the Fire without a real scoring chance throughout New England's 1-0 victory.
Coupled with Sporting KC's 0-0 tie against New York and D.C. United's late win over Columbus, the Fire, who came in three points behind KC but also owning the tie-breaker, were eliminated from finishing first. But it also could get worse than that.
The Fire, who have made the playoffs for the first time since 2009, came in two points ahead of D.C. and three ahead of New York, which moved to within two points of Chicago with its tie.
Meanwhile, D.C. United, which visits Chicago for the regular season finale, pulled out its late win to move into second place.
A Chicago win next Saturday would give the Fire the No. 2 seed and a first-round bye. A loss and a New York win at already-eliminated Philadelphia would drop the Fire into the 4-5 game, as the home team.
"You see the whole conference is kind of tight. It's exciting to be in at the end," Chicago coach Frank Klopas said after the game. "Obviously, our goal was to be in the playoffs. Now it's important where you finish; I think that's very important, to have home-field advantage, not to play that extra game; so we have at home now, we need to come back and re-group and focus and get the three points at home, which would put us in second place."
Keeper Bobby Shuttleworth, playing in his career-high fourth straight game, recorded the rocking chair shutout (one late save) and Diego Fagundez scored in the 17th minute in a game virtually devoid of offense.
"You could see we came out with some fire and some good energy," said Revs coach Jay Heaps. "That's how we needed to start the game. For me, we're going to get chances and we had a couple of chances, not as many as I'd like, but what I really saw was us closing the ball down."
Asked if his team played the game the way he drew it up, Heaps said, "It was. That was what we wanted to do. We wanted to frustrate them."
Fagundez's second goal of the season was a nifty 25-yard shot to the far side of keeper Sean Johnson, delighting the crowd of 25,534. "I was just trying to pass it and nobody was open," said Fagundez. "I saw the back post open so I just took that shot and it went in."
After scoring the goal, the celebrating Fagundez lifted his shirt to reveal "Happy Birthday Mom" on his T-shirt.
The Revolution, whose 17 losses are the most for the team since 1999, had a chance to make it 2-0 later in the half, when Kevin Alston and Jerry Bengston worked a give and go before Alston, with a clear chance, shot over the net.
From then on, it was mostly defense.
"It's always difficult to come here and play," Klopas said. "We don't play on turf that much and you come [here], the field is smaller and stuff, the bounce is different. We don't practice on turf - I'm sure they don't either, I don't think any players want to be playing on turf.
"We gave up a fast goal and we tried to push the game; we weren't that sharp in the final third, when we got opportunities to be so."
Said Heaps: "Chicago, for me, they're a contender for the championship. Are they a pretender or a contender? Chicago's a contender. You watch them; they're going to do well in this tournament."
NOTES: The Revs won the season series, 2-1, with a pair of home shutouts. ... With the playoff spot already wrapped up, defender Arne Friedrich, who says he has never played a game on an artificial surface, was held out of the game. ... Chicago's Guillermo Franco served the second game of a two-game suspension, while New England's Benny Feilhaber served a one-game suspension. ... Chicago's Pavel Pardo missed his sixth straight game with calf tightness. The hope is he will return for the regular-season finale. ... The Revolution wrap up their season at Montreal Saturday. ... Busy weekend at Gillette Stadium: UMass football played (and lost) earlier Saturday, the soccer game was at the night and the Patriots host the Jets late Sunday afternoon. The football lines and yard markers were more than just a small distraction. ... Fan Appreciation night drew the Revs' fourth-largest stand-along crowd ever at the stadium and included Revs awards: Lee Nguyen (out with shoulder surgery) the MVP (by fan voting), Steve McCarthy (out with concussion symptoms) the top defender (media choice) and Matt Reis the top humanitarian (team staff's selection).