Playoff Preview: New York Red Bulls vs. New England Revolution

IMAGE, MATT KREMKAU FOR EMPIRE OF SOCCER

by MARK FISHKIN
Staff Writer

New York is back in the rarefied air of the Conference Finals for the first time since 2008.

The Red Bulls were underdogs back then when they faced Real Salt Lake in a one-match final, and came out victorious.  Now a two-leg affair with the away-goals tiebreaker, New York is again the underdog to a white-hot New England team than smashed seven tallies past Columbus in the Conference Semis.  The Revolution have been energized since winning Jermaine Jones in a blind draw over the summer, and will look to make it to a fifth MLS Cup by outgunning New York.

Sunday will be the final time Red Bulls fans will root on their team at home this season, at a sold out Red Bull Arena.  Can New York grab a lead heading into Gillette next Saturday for the second leg?  Can the Red Bulls shut out New England? Will Sunday be Thierry Henry’s final MLS match? Will all ticket holders show up?


Match Information:
Sunday, November 23rd at Red Bull Arena, 1:30p ET kickoff, TV/Streaming: NBC/NBC Live Extra

Referee: Allen Chapman

Final Record, GF/GA, Division and League Position, Recent Form:
New York, 50 points from 34 matches, 55GF/50GA, 4th in the East, 8th in MLS, LWWWL (incl. playoffs)
New England, 55 points from 34 matches, 51GF/46GA, 2nd in the East, 5th in MLS, WDWWW (incl. playoffs)


 

New England’s front line vs. the Red Bulls defense:
Charlie Davies vs. Ambroise Oyongo, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, and Richard Eckersley (and Luis Robles).

Davies is a worthy nominee for MLS Comeback Player of the Year. Since opening his scoring account in the 2-1 loss to New York in August, Davies has heated up, including a pair of goals in the Crew series.  Unlike Wright-Phillips, the former USMNT player isn’t the focus of the Revolution attack. Instead, Davies pulls defenders away from the center of the box, creating space for Nguyen and other attacking players. For New York, Oyongo will be targeted by Teal Bunbury on the Red Bulls left side.  The Cameroonian international should play after appearing twice for his home nation during the international break, but will not have returned to the training before Friday. Petke’s other options include Kosuke Kimura, or switching Eckersley to the left and re-inserting Chris Duvall into the right side. In any case, New York will have to survive without Roy Miller, creating a glaring weakness for the Revs to exploit.

Advantage: New England


New York’s attackers vs. the Revolution defense:
Bradley Wright-Phillips vs. Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, AJ Soares and Andrew Farrell (and Bobby Shuttleworth).

It’s no surprise that the Revs defense will attempt to cut off entry passes to MLS Golden Boot Winner BWP, but many teams have tried to throttle Wright-Phillips, and many have failed.  New England’s defense has done just enough down the stretch, with Shuttleworth (8 SO in 2014) posting only a single shutout in the Revs’ last seven matches.  While New England went 6-0-1 in those matches, the Revolution conceded nine goals over that run. However, in the Columbus series, the Revs had scored two away goals, grabbing all of the momentum, before conceding to the Crew’s Justin Meram. At Foxboro, New England was leading 6-2 on aggregate before Tony Tchani scored for the Crew. Both Tierney and Goncalves scored against Columbus in the Eastern Semis.  Andrew Farrell should replace Alston at right back. Goncalves is carrying a yellow card into the series, and will miss the return match in Foxboro if carded on Sunday.

Advantage: New York


The Midfields:
Thierry Henry, Eric Alexander, Peguy Luyindula, Dax McCarty, and Lloyd Sam v Kelyn Rowe, Scott Caldwell, Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones, and Teal Bunbury.

With both teams playing five-man midfields, the center of the park will be very, very crowded on Sunday.  In the two New York victories over the Revs this season, the Red Bulls did a great job preventing Lee Nguyen from getting shots, but of course that was before Jermaine Jones joined the team.  Nguyen (18G/5A) would be a worthy league MVP, but Peguy Luyindula has come alive during the playoffs, with two goals and two assists this postseason.  A comparison of the two defensive midfield pairings seems to be a wash. Surely Jermaine Jones is more of a threat than McCarty, but Eric Alexander’s propensity to create opportunities (9 assists) outweighs that of counterpart Scott Caldwell (2A). Consider though that Alexander only collected a single assist after August 23rd, when New York had shifted to the double midfield pivot. That leaves the wings. Henry and Sam (14 G and 23 A combined) easily gets the nod over Kelyn Rowe and Teal Bunbury (9 G and 11 A).  These groups could completely negate each other, but each side will generate 2-3 good chances over the course of the match, and the conversion of those chances (or not) will determine the game, and possibly, the series.

Advantage: Even


 

The Coaches:
Mike Petke continues to slay the demons of Metro past.  The New York coach noted that there was no panic in his team despite being down a goal at halftime in DC last time out. There’ll be no panic if the team concedes first on Sunday either, but this opponent is as hot as any one that Petke’s faced this season.  Jay Heaps and Petke have a ton in common: former defenders; longtime association with their clubs, both wear sweaters. Both have pressed the right buttons this season. One coach had a USMNT defender drop in his lap, but it’s hard to hold that against him.

Advantage: Even


Intangibles:

New York has never beaten New England in a playoff series, losing to the Revs in 2003 (3-1 on aggregate), 2005 (3-2) and 2007 (1-0).  New England last won a match in New York in 2007, going 0-6-6 at Giants Stadium and Red Bull Arena since Andy Dorman (who left the team and has since returned) scored in a 1-0 Revs win on July 14th of that year.   New York went 12-4-3 at home this season, including playoffs. New England went 7-9-2 on the road, including the post-season win at Columbus.  The match is sold out, and the weather will be perfect with a high of fifty degrees, partly cloudy skies, and zero percent chance of rain.

 

Advantage: Even


Prediction:
Before the DC series, I predicted a 1-1 home draw in the home leg. Of course, United failed to answer the opening whistle, and the Red Bulls smashed DC, 2-0.  New England is a more dynamic, offensive-minded team than DC, and makes for a terrifying opponent.  The Revs are younger, have a ton of momentum and will have large traveling support behind them.  Sunday’s match will be an advertisement for Major League Soccer.  Both teams will get their chances. I see a 1-1 or 2-2 draw. If it’s ones, New York will have a chance in Foxboro. If it’s twos, the Red Bulls’ Cup dream will be deferred for the club’s twentieth season.