For the first time since they were mathematically eliminated from postseason contention in early September, the Revolution aren't in a position to play the role of spoiler this weekend.
But that doesn't mean that ninth-place New England will be lacking for motivation against the eighth-place Philadelphia Union on Saturday at PPL Park.
For starters, there's always the matter of improving the on-field product. As the first season of Jay Heaps' head-coaching tenure comes to a close, Saturday's game, despite the absence of playoff implications, carries with it just as much weight as a midsummer game.
And it's easy to see why. Heaps has successfully incorporated the concept of "accountability" since he was given the coaching reins during the offseason. As a result, Heaps hasn't been hesitant to drop proven veterans and untested rookies alike from the lineup at the first sign of apathy.
To think that'll change Saturday -- or in the club's final two games following their clash with the Union -- would be foolish, especially with the number of casualties on Friday's injury report.
If you counted four defenders listed as "out" on the injury report, then you'll know there will be renewed competition for playing time, even if it requires some ad-libbing on the part of a rarely-used rookie or two. While they may be attacking players by trade, fresh-faced midfielders Alec Purdie and Michael Roach have seen time in the back during training and reserve league action to help shore up a banged-up back line.
As if the defensive unit didn't create enough problems, there's also the issue of the midfield. There was a time earlier this season when the roster contained a surplus of players for the middle of the park. That time, however, has come and gone.
With Sainey Nyassi (concussion), Clyde Simms (calf) and Lee Nguyen (shoulder) all listed on the injury report, Heaps may be forced to squeeze every minute out of a partially fit Juan Toja. In the Revolution's last three games, the Colombian midfielder's role has been limited to that of late substitute as concerns about his fitness level linger.
One positive development for Heaps this week is the return of Ryan Guy, who was half a world away with the Guam national team last Saturday. Guy, the classic midfield engine who could, should give Heaps some extra peace of mind when putting together his starting XI on Saturday.
With Saer Sene out for the season, it's been a carousel of strikers lining up with Jerry Bengtson in the last four weeks. Diego Fagundez has gotten the majority of the starts alongside Bengtson, but last week Dimitry Imbongo got the nod up top. The results weren't spectacular -- a 2-0 shutout loss in Houston to a team that hasn't lost at home -- but Heaps isn't looking for the spectacular at this juncture. He's looking for progress.
Speaking of progress, Saturday may yield some more insight on where second-string keeper Bobby Shuttleworth stands in Heaps' plans. After getting the start over 15-year veteran Matt Reis in the team's last two games, Heaps was noncommittal about whom he'll tab on Saturday.
Yes, it may be a game devoid of postseason drama. A clash of underachieving conference rivals, perhaps. But if you want to witness real tension, Saturday's contest will be brimming with it, as players on both sides vigorously battle for jobs before the clock strikes midnight on the regular season.