Boston versus New York. It’s a rivalry that goes back more than a century. The Patriots, Bruins and Red Sox carry the honor of their city into battle against the Jets, Rangers and Yankees. Its now time for the Revolution and Red Bulls to throw their names into the mix.
Both teams earned their way into the Eastern Conference Finals, but did so using different paths. The Revolution beat a lackadaisical Columbus Crew team in the first round of the playoffs, while the Red Bulls had to win a one off wild card game against formidable Sporting KC before moving onto DC United. United was never going to be an easy task having moved from the bottom of the conference in 2013 to winning the regular season standing in 2014. New York jumped out to an early series lead at home before finishing United off in DC.
The New York Red Bulls come rolling into the conference championship series with one of the league’s most explosive offenses. They may not have the explosiveness or pedigree of the LA Galaxy, but they seem to have an answer every time they have been backed into a corner this postseason.
The key for the Red Bulls to advance to MLS Cup 2014 is Thierry Henry. Henry is carrying his team with leadership, passion and impossible passes he seemingly pulls out of nowhere. Henry is very similar to another league star, Landon Donovan, in that he may be playing in his final home game in this series and will want to go out with a bang. While he has not confirmed that his playing days may be numbered, many people expect that he will opt out of New York and either return to his beloved Arsenal as a mentor or call it quits all together. While there is no way to know for sure until the man himself makes his plans known to the public, we do know that this will be one of the final times he appears in the MLS Playoffs.
Bradley Wright-Phillips has also been a standout for the Red Bulls this season. He scored a league leading 27 goals this season, tying the MLS single season record in the process. He has benefitted greatly from Henry being on the field. Teams are automatically drawn to Henry which leaves massive shooting lanes for Wright-Phillips. That is not to say it has been easy. Wright-Phillips has begun to show the prolific scoring style Henry made famous years ago. He is on the shortlist for MLS MVP this season and he has earned it.
The Revolution on the other hand must rely on league MVP candidate Lee Nguyen. Nguyen has upped the ante in his career this season, turning in performances he never has before. The Revolution needed a leader to step up and deliver if they wanted to go deep into the playoffs and Nguyen has delivered. The midseason addition of Jermaine Jones has added a massive defensive option in midfield which has allowed Nguyen to move forward in attack. He responded to his new found offensive freedom by scoring more goals (18) than he has in all previous seasons he has played in MLS.
If the Red Bulls are able to stop Nguyen, the Revs will have to find another option, something they have struggled to do at times in 2014. While Nguyen has found the back of the net often this season, the rest of the New England roster has not been so lucky. Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez are tied for second in scoring this year with only five goals each. Charlie Davies was able to turn back the clock against the Crew, scoring twice in Columbus, but has not been as consistent as he once was.
This series may just come down to defense. The teams gave up 46 goals (New England) and 50 goals (New York) this season and both finished with a +5 goal differential overall. Jones has added a bite to the Revs defense they were lacking before his signing. Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell form a solid defensive pairing that has been able to shut down opponents this season. New York will rely on Jamison Olave and Ryan Meara to slow Nguyen and the rest of the Revs attack.
Time will tell if Boston or New York will come out on top in this battle, and the winning side will surely rub it in the faces of their bitter rival come their first match up next season.
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