Holding a 2-1 aggregate goal lead with a pair of valuable, potentially tie-breaking road goals at their disposal, the Revolution appear to be in good position to advance to their first MLS Cup final in seven years. But they're not going to let those details affect their focus.
"I think when a team gets complacent, and plays on a lead, it can get very dangerous," Revolution striker Charlie Davies said. "So we're going to go in the second leg the same way we did against Columbus [in the conference semifinals], like we're even in the [aggregate] score, and try and win the game."
Maintaining that singular mindset has been a hallmark of the Revolution ever since they kicked off their playoff run earlier this month. And while some clubs preach the one-game-a-time mentality, putting it into practice is a far more difficult proposition.
Fortunately for the Revolution, they have a strong group of leaders to hammer home the point, and to remind the rest of the team that thinking too far ahead is a recipe for failure, especially with a trip to the Cup final potentially 90 minutes away.
"This is when the experience kicks in," Davies said. "Guys like Jermaine [Jones], myself, Jose [Goncalves] and the older guys need to make sure that guys are ready and prepare not only physically, but mentally. I think it's extremely important that we handle the pressure in the right way, and don't let it affect the way we play."
Having the right mindset will certainly be vital come Saturday. The Red Bulls enter the match smarting over Sunday's first leg proceedings, especially after a number of opportunities were self-sabotaged by poor finishing. Rest assured, the Red Bulls will be looking to rectify those mistakes on Saturday.
To that end, the Red Bulls will likely throw everything they can at the Revolution on Saturday, even without golden boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, who was suspended for the second leg due to caution accumulation.
Teal Bunbury knows that the Red Bulls will tailor their game plan accordingly, but he isn't concerned about the changes or tweaks coach Mike Petke has in mind for Saturday.
"We really have to focus on ourselves," Bunbury said. "We know that they're going to come out and [try] to score some goals. So we have to shore up things on defense. We have to be patient on the attack, and we just have to be smart with making runs in behind or keeping the ball."
Knowing when to choose their spots will be key to the Revolution's fortunes. Even though they won't have to worry about Wright-Phillips, there's still the matter of matching up against Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Lloyd Sam, all of whom have served as thorns in the Revolution's sides over the years.
In fact, if there's one player who could turn Saturday's game into a nightmare for the hosts it's Henry, who'll cast aside any concerns about how his Achilles' tendon will hold up on the artificial turf and play at Gillette Stadium for the first time in his MLS career.
"He knows how to get on the ball, and make things happen," Bunbury said. "So we need to be smart, and make sure we're communicating throughout the whole 90 minutes, and be aware of where he is and just try to contain him as much as possible."
While it would certainly behoove the Revolution to keep their eye on Henry, Davies knows that it can't be the first order of business if he and his teammates have any hopes of ending Saturday's contest in celebration.
"We know we have the lead, but we can't play like we have it," Davies said. "We know we have to be just as physical, just as ruthless on the field and try attacking and score goals. We're playing at home, and we're probably going to have an amazing crowd here behind us, so we're excited."
After doling out a total of 10 cautions, one of which led to a subsequent suspension for golden boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips, Chapman became a talking point following the Revolution's 2-1 win over the Red Bulls.
"The referee lost control of the game tonight for both teams," Red Bulls coach Mike Petke told reporters after the match. "I almost wanted to get a yellow card because I felt left out. I know it sounds funny, but I'm not trying to be a funny guy here."
Six of Chapman's yellow cards were issued to the Red Bulls in a game that saw a number of physical challenges from both sides -- which was, of course, to be expected, given the stakes.
With the Red Bulls looking to secure a victory on their home turf and the Revolution doing all they could to avoid heading back to Gillette Stadium on Saturday with a deficit, both sides weren't looking to shy away from confrontation.
"This is the playoffs and everyone's emotions are high, everybody's competitive," Revolution midfielder Teal Bunbury said. "I was a bit surprised that there were so many yellow cards, but that's the nature of it. Guys are competitive, they want to go out."
No one was invisible to Chapman's gaze, either. Each team's top player -- New York's Thierry Henry and New England's Jermaine Jones -- was booked, and within 11 minutes of each other, no less.
But the cautions issued to Henry and Jones paled in comparison to the one handed to Wright-Phillips in the 60th minute. Goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth tried to play the ball out to AJ Soares, but Wright-Phillips interfered with it, which is a foul, but not necessarily a bookable offense.
"I didn't think I was trying to annoy the keeper," Wright-Phillips told the media after the match. "He threw it out; it was in my path, so naturally I just tried to stop it and yellow card. It is what it is."
Wright-Phillips admitted afterward that he was unaware of the fact that he would be suspended for the next leg if he received a caution in Sunday's match. He was booked in the second leg of the conference semifinals, and as a result of Sunday's transgression, he will be forced to sit out Saturday's second leg.
Wright-Phillips wasn't the only player on caution watch, though. Teammates Ambroise Oyongo and Dax McCarty were also subject to a suspension if Chapman raised the yellow card in their direction on Sunday, as was Revolution center back Jose Goncalves. All three avoided the fate that Wright-Phillips was doomed to.
As for Petke's counterpart, Revolution coach Jay Heaps felt that Chapman may have been heavy-handed in his decisions early on, which could've unsettled some players on both sides of the pitch.
"I think everyone was a little edgy with the cards," Heaps said. "Because you never know if a silly foul happens where it becomes a red card. So, yeah, I wasn't happy."
Though Heaps did admit his nerves were tested after Jones was booked early, he commended the referee's work once the game was over.
"I don't think either team wanted that many yellow cards," Heaps said. "But I thought in the end, Allen Chapman did a nice job of managing it, because he didn't throw anyone out, and he handled it really well after the yellow card (to Jones)."
Meanwhile, Chapman will not get a chance to rectify any slights, perceived or otherwise, in Saturday's second leg. The league announced Monday that Baldomero Toledo will serve as referee in the deciding match at Gillette Stadium.
After entering Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference finals winless in each of their last six contests at the Red Bulls’ home park, the Revolution finally emerged victorious after staking a 2-1 win.
While plenty of players have come and gone since the Revolution’s first trip to the state-of-the-art stadium, veteran defender Chris Tierney has witnessed each of the team’s successive setbacks. Clearly, it wasn’t just another win, especially with the stakes raised in the postseason.
“It feels great,” Tierney said. “It wasn’t the prettiest game, especially in the first half, but I think we found a way to get a result, so we’re thrilled.”
They were able to earn that result through a combination of factors that, once referee Allen Chapman blew his whistle thrice, allowed the guests to finally shake off their struggles in the Garden State.
The coaching staff employed a game plan that emphasized defensive support in the rear. After all, with Thierry Henry, Lloyd Sam and Peguy Luyindula buzzing around the pitch, few teams succeed in stifling the potent Red Bulls relying on one-on-one matchups alone.
“We thought we came out with a great start,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “Fifteen minutes (in), we knew it was going to be a good game.”
As promising of an opening as it may have been, the Revolution knew the challenge ahead would only grow fiercer after Teal Bunbury bagged the opening goal in the 17th minute. The Red Bulls had to dig deep if they were going to put their home-field advantage to good use.
They continued their movement along the flanks, where Tierney and fellow outside back Andrew Farrell were asked to contain Henry and Sam. Using skill and speed, the duo was able to mount a number of threats along the wings using the wide expanse of the Red Bull Arena pitch.
“You get more isolation defensively,” Tierney said of the challenge on playing on a wider pitch. “So you have to try to button up defensively. [Sam is] a handful, so you have to make sure you cover each other in those situations.”
The cover came in the form of Scott Caldwell, who plugged channels and cut off passing angles inside his own end, and Jermaine Jones, who flexed his muscles in the midfield to make things as uncomfortable as possible for the entrepreneurial opponent.
Although they refused to bend, Heaps noticed that the game plan needed a tweak to prevent them from breaking.
“(One) change at halftime was just to defend it across the way,” Heaps said. “Put Jermaine a bit more central to allow him to win some challenges and break from the middle.”
While the Red Bulls were able to muster one measure of success on Sunday thanks to a Bradley Wright-Phillips goal in the 27th minute, it’s clear the Revolution succeeded in their pursuit of finally putting one over their long-time conference foes at their home park.
Of course, one aspect of Sunday’s match that certainly didn’t hurt the Revolution’s cause was the 1,000-plus New England fans who made the trek to Red Bull Arena. And they made their presence felt by loudly chanting and cheering in unison from the second tier of the stadium.
“The traveling support the fans gave us was just next level,” Tierney said. “It really felt like we had 12 of us out there so that gave us a huge boost.”
Instead of staying back and fortifying the rear to secure a valuable road result for the Revolution, Jones raced alongside Lee Nguyen on a counterattack looking for an opportunity to score. He wouldn’t have to wait long. Two passes later, he grabbed the game-winning goal in Sunday’s 2-1 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Final.
“I want to win. This is the point,” Jones said. “I didn’t score the two chances I had before, so I was still hungry to score a goal and Teal (Bunbury) saw me.”
It was a well-executed sequence, no question. With the Red Bulls retreating deep in their own end, Nguyen played a ball wide for Bunbury. Jones trailed the play, ready to make good after missing a pair of early shots. And that is precisely what he did when he toed the offside line and slid into Bunbury’s pass to secure the victory.
Sunday’s win put the Revolution in command of the two-legged series, which heads to Gillette Stadium on Saturday with the locals owning of a one-goal aggregate advantage and the road-goal tiebreaker. But without Jones, it’s hard to say either one of those objectives would’ve been met.
“I think we saw it, he got the game winner. He’s such a presence in the midfield,” Revolution striker Charlie Davies said. “They never really got comfortable. He was phenomenal again today for us.”
The Red Bulls entered Sunday’s game intent to shut down MVP candidate Lee Nguyen, who’d scored in back-to-back postseason matches. They succeeded in doing so for the most part: Nguyen was unable find the back of the net.
However, for all the attention paid to the Revolution’s leading scorer, the Red Bulls’ gaze strayed away from another quite capable of changing the game on his own. And that player made them pay early.
After collecting a ball from Nguyen inside the area, Jones fed it to Bunbury, who ran along the top of the box and fired it true to put the Revolution on top in the 17th minute.
To be fair, the sailing wasn’t smooth for the entire 90 for the former Bundesliga pro. He was booked for a reckless challenge on Dax McCarty in the 26th minute, and sent a point-blank header over the bar in the 72nd minute.
“It was a tough game and a physical game,” Jones said of his caution. “I think everybody in the stadium saw a good MLS game today and in tough games -- it’s not a regular season game, it’s a playoff game -- you come sometimes into battles where you get the yellow card.”
But with the caution and missed shot behind him, Jones saved his best for the 85th minute. It was a moment that not only saw him score his first postseason goal, but one that may have just sent the events in motion for the Revolution’s first trip to the MLS Cup final.
“I thought Jermaine did a great job,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “He came late, he was able to get forward and you want to attack with three or four, five guys but make sure you’re balanced, and I thought we were.”
After linking up with Jermaine Jones on the right, Bunbury ran central, and with only one option at his disposal, the right-footed Bunbury uncorked a shot with his opposite foot to pave the way for a 2-1 Revolution win in Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference finals.
“I had a good feeling it was going in,” Bunbury said. “My left foot isn’t my strong foot, but I feel like I took it well.”
The fact that Bunbury was able to tuck his left-footed goal -- which he admitted was the first of his professional career -- was a testament to his relentless effort on Sunday.
Knowing he’d be matched up against reserve left back Ambroise Oyongo, who filled in for the suspended Roy Miller, the opportunity for Bunbury to exert his influence essentially was waiting for him before the match even started.
He was particularly active early, initially getting on to a Lee Nguyen ball down the right side and chipping it far post for a late-arriving teammate. The cross may have missed its mark, but it showed that Bunbury was ready to attack an obvious area of weakness on the Red Bulls’ backline.
Undeterred, Bunbury pressed ahead a second time in the 17th minute. Stationed out on the right, he collected a short pass from Jones and made a beeline along the top edge of the box. Oyongo could only watch as Bunbury’s shot swerved past a helpless Luis Robles.
“I wanted to get matched up with him,” Bunbury said. “I was fortunate to get matched up one-on-one. I just knew it was going to be someone that hadn’t been playing too much, and (Andrew) Farrell and myself wanted to try and exploit that area. And I feel like we did it well.”
As expected, the Red Bulls did not go quietly after Bunbury’s opener. With Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam at their disposal, the hosts used the flanks to try to find an answer, which they did only 10 minutes later.
Sensing an opportunity to make up for his loose marking on Bunbury’s goal, Oyongo played a ball through to Peguy Luyindula, who corralled it and fired from close range. Bobby Shuttleworth denied him, but Luyindula followed up on the rebound, which he smacked off the bar. But Bradley Wright-Phillips was there to knock it through for the equalizer.
“We gave them too much space,” Jones said. “Like I said before the game, they can hurt you when you give them that space.”
The Revolution were fortunate the score wasn’t 3-1 in favor of their hosts after Wright-Phillips and Sam both botched point-blank opportunities in the 45+1 and 52nd minutes, respectively.
Lucky as they may have been, the Revolution still found themselves in a match that Bunbury deemed a “crazy, hectic game.” In many respects, it wasn’t the kind of game that, on the road, the Revolution typically have won.
But even with the Red Bulls pressing for the go-ahead goal -- especially after Wright-Phillips’ 60th-minute caution, which meant an automatic suspension for the second leg -- the Revolution were able to exploit another weakness in the 85th minute.
Nguyen made a deep run toward the box and found Bunbury on the right. But with Robles racing off his line to deny him, Bunbury this time used his right foot to slide it in front for Jones, who easily punched it through for the game-winner.
“I think it was a good counter and I saw Lee -- he’s a guy who is really good with deep balls -- and I tried to come behind the line, but they closed it really good,” Jones said. “I still kept going. I don’t know if (Bunbury) wanted to shoot or he passed, but end of the story (was) a good goal, and we’re happy to win.”
As for Bunbury, it was clear that he made the most of the opportunity in front of him -- even if it briefly required him to come out of his comfort zone.
“All players want to try and do the best they can in a game,” Bunbury said. “If I’m matched up, I’m going to try and do certain things, and I’m fortunate to get through that game, and everybody was on point.”
HARRISON, N.J. -- Jermaine Jones' late tally unlocked a level game to give the New England Revolution a 2-1 win over the New York Red Bulls in Sunday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference finals at Red Bull Arena.
Jones scored the game winner in the 85th minute after he grabbed a short pass in the box from Teal Bunbury and sent it past a flat-footed Luis Robles.
Bunbury opened the scoring in the 17th minute when he grabbed a pass from Jones, went central and curled a left-footed shot inside the far post. Bradley Wright-Phillips equalized in the 27th minute when he followed up on a Peguy Luyindula shot that smacked the bar.
The Revolution win was their first victory in seven tries at Red Bull Arena since its 2010 opening.
What it means: Plain and simple, the Revolution must protect their aggregate goal advantage going into Saturday’s second leg at Gillette Stadium. With two road goals in New England's back pocket, the Red Bulls likely need to beat the Revolution by at least two goals in the second leg. But getting a victory in Foxborough won’t be easy for New York: The Revolution haven’t lost a home game since July 26 and haven’t lost a home playoff game in regulation since 1997. Plus, with Wright-Phillips suspended for the second leg due to caution accumulation, it will take a particularly strong effort by the Red Bulls to advance to the MLS Cup final.
Stat of the match: Jones became the sixth player to score a goal for the Revolution during the postseason, the most of any team.
Bunbury strikes again: Bunbury scored for the second straight game, two weeks after he tallied in the 77th minute of the Revolution’s 3-1 conference semifinals second-leg win over Columbus. He became the third Revolution player to accumulate multiple playoff goals, joining Lee Nguyen and Charlie Davies.
Farrell returns: The only change to the Revolution lineup was an expected one, as starting right back Andrew Farrell returned after missing the second leg of the conference semifinals due to a right leg injury. Farrell was particularly active and looked fleet of foot in the 42nd minute when he chased down Wright-Phillips into the box and shoved him off the ball to thwart an opportunity.
Miller suspended: Red Bulls starting left back Roy Miller served the first of his two-game ban after he was red carded in the second leg of the conference semifinals against D.C., a game in which he also received his third caution of the series. The accumulation of multiple cautions tacked the second game onto his suspension. Reserve fullback Ambroise Oyongo, who played in only 13 of the club’s 34 games, started in Miller’s spot.
Back to Foxborough for Leg 2: The Eastern Conference finals resume with Saturday’s second leg at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. ET. With the two road goals and a one-goal advantage on aggregate, the Revolution appear to be in good position to advance to the MLS Cup final.
The Revolution enter Sunday's contest two weeks removed from a historic offensive display against the Crew, one which saw the locals pile up a league-record seven goals during the semifinals. Five different players found the back of the net for the Revolution, who claimed a convincing 7-3 aggregate goal win.
While the Red Bulls' attacking exploits weren't quite as eye-popping in their semifinal series against D.C. United, the offense mustered just enough to topple the top-seeded squad by staking a 3-2 aggregate goal victory. Peguy Luyindula scored in each leg, while the back four kept its end of the bargain by holding off a depleted, yet motivated, D.C. offense.
Sunday's contestants met twice during the regular season, with the Red Bulls emerging victorious on both occasions. The Red Bulls have not lost to the Revolution since Aug. 8, 2012, and are undefeated in their last six meetings (3-0-3).
But as any player or coach will tell you, the postseason is a different beast. Here's what to watch for when referee Allen Chapman blows the opening whistle Sunday:
Do the Revs alter their offense-first approach? Familiarity certainly bred success for the Revolution against the Crew. After facing Columbus twice down the stretch of the regular season, Revolution coach Jay Heaps discovered their weaknesses and decided that the best approach was a bold one. But more than three months have passed since New England last faced the Red Bulls. As such, it'll be interesting to see if the Revolution stick to their attack-first mindset Sunday.
"We haven't seen them as much as we saw Columbus at the end," Heaps said. "So I think both teams are going to have a good feeling-out period."
Watching the wings. It's no secret the Red Bulls like to get wide to stretch opposing defenses. With Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam on the flanks, the onus will be on the Revolution fullbacks to keep the hosts off the board. But their responsibilities won't simply be limited to containing New York's wingers. Look for Andrew Farrell to join Teal Bunbury going forward, especially with New York left back Roy Miller suspended. On the opposite wing, Chris Tierney will try to give the Red Bulls a taste of their own medicine with keen crosses toward Charlie Davies.
Is Jones' presence enough to put the Revs over the top this time around? It's hard to say with any certainty whether Jermaine Jones, who joined the club in late August, would've tipped the scales in the Revolution's favor during their previous encounters with the Red Bulls. But one thing is certain: The local XI is certainly better with him in the fold. Jones has played on the biggest stages, from the World Cup to Champions League clashes, and his savvy and skill can only strengthen the squad's chances for success Sunday.
"He's added that missing piece that we needed to complete the puzzle," Revolution striker Charlie Davies told the media earlier this week. "He's brought energy, and our trainings are much better, so players are getting better. And now the chemistry is right on the field. We're all excited because he's been a big part of our success."
Keeping an eye on Luyindula. As dangerous as Henry has been all season, one player who's certainly come into his own during the postseason is Peguy Luyindula. The Red Bulls midfielder has collected two goals and a pair of assists during the Red Bulls' playoff run to date, and he appears keen to continue that success against the Revolution, whom he scored against earlier this season. To neutralize the speedy midfielder, look for holding midfielder Scott Caldwell and the center backs to cut off the lanes, and force Luyindula into uncomfortable spots. And don't be surprised if Jones drops back with greater frequency in order to thwart the danger Luyindula poses.
Drafting a game plan for success. For all the focus on the 22 who'll take to the field Sunday, one intriguing storyline is how the coaching staffs will plot the course for their respective squads. For the Revolution, the losses suffered to a pair of depleted Red Bulls squads earlier this season only served to highlight the importance of sound blueprint. But Revolution defender Darrius Barnes isn't concerned. With two weeks to prepare for New York, he's confident in the game plan for Sunday's high-stakes clash.
"I think the coaching staff's done a great job of scouting New York and focusing in on the minor details," Barnes said. "I think that's going to be the difference in this series; it's that attention to detail."
While the midfield maestro and his golden boot-winning teammate will have their compasses pointed toward the New England net come Sunday in the Eastern Conference finals, Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander will quietly go about their business to provide defensive cover.
The unselfish approach may be overlooked by many, but Revolution coach Jay Heaps has watched enough game film to know how crucial the central midfield duo is to New York’s potent offense.
“They’ve anchored the midfield with Dax McCarty and Alexander,” Heaps said. “Those two guys really put out a lot of fires, and it also allows their attacking players to play.”
It isn’t glamorous work by any stretch. While Henry, Wright-Phillips and even Lloyd Sam have the green light to go forward, it is done with the trust and understanding that McCarty and Alexander will wait behind ready to defend should possession switch hands.
There is some poetic justice, though. Both McCarty and Alexander have found ways to push forward and score against the Revolution this season, a sure sign of their effectiveness on both sides of the halfway line.
Yes, much of the Red Bulls’ success can be attributed to Henry, Wright-Phillips and Sam. But without a sound supporting cast, it’s unlikely that Petke’s club would’ve been able to punch their postseason tickets this year.
“(When) you give Henry some freedom, and Wright-Phillips some freedom, and Lloyd Sam, (Peguy) Luyindula some freedom (as well), they’re dangerous,” Heaps said. “So I think that balance, that attacking with those players, and then having that balance defensively, has been really good for them.”
Revs welcome a tight game: After scoring seven goals during the conference semifinal series, the Revolution’s offense has surely become one of the biggest revelations of the postseason. But don’t think they’re wed to playing a wide-open game if circumstances dictate otherwise.
“We feel like we can withstand any team right now,” Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “If we had a one-goal lead, or if we needed to play a tight game, I think we can do that now.”
That confidence will be put to the test against a squad that lit up the Red Bull Arena scoreboard for 38 goals in 17 games this season. To remain defensively strong, the Revolution must stare straight into the gaze of the beast.
“There’s going to be times when we’re there where they’re pounding us and pressing us, and we have to be strong and step up to it, and then we have to do it back to them,” Soares said. “If you can weather that storm, and you can stand up to it, then you’re in good shape.”
Individual battles key: It’s easy to get caught up in the big picture as the postseason journeys closer to its conclusion. But according to Soares, success boils down to the minutiae.
“It’s going to come down to us sticking to our game plan, and then getting on the field and executing it and guys winning their one-on-one battles,” Soares said. “There are going to be moments in Sunday’s game where one guy’s going to make a play, and another guy’s going to make a play, and it’s going to make a huge difference.”
Revolution coach Jay Heaps knows that his back line will be challenged by the Red Bulls' offense during the conference finals. But it's fair to say that the spotlight will shine especially bright on his fullbacks come Sunday's first-leg clash at Red Bull Arena.
"I think the outside backs are key to a lot of what we do," Heaps said. "I think it's important that they're smart defensively, first and foremost, because you're playing against Lloyd Sam and Thierry Henry, and there's going to be a lot of those matchups."
Historically, those matchups haven't often fallen in favor of the Revolution. Henry and Sam have collected a combined four goals against the local XI, keeping New England out of the win column at Red Bull Arena since its inaugural season in 2010.
This season, New York's dynamic duo has been as dangerous as ever. Henry grabbed 10 goals and added 14 assists, while his opposite registered a four-goal, nine-assist season. Clearly, starting fullbacks Chris Tierney and Andrew Farrell have their work cut out for them.
"He's still really fast," Farrell said of Henry. "He still has the moves, and he's probably one of the smartest soccer players on the field at all times."
But even though it'll be a fierce fight along the flanks, Heaps doesn't just want his fullbacks to hold down the fort. He wants them to attack, especially with an expansive pitch at their disposal and road goals weighted once again.
"You want your width," Heaps said. "You want your outside backs to get some ball, and get some width to open up our lanes and some of the space in the middle for guys like Lee [Nguyen] and Jermaine [Jones]."
But that isn't the only reason why Heaps wants his fullbacks to push forward when the opportunity presents itself. For all of the fireworks set off by Henry this season, Jones was quick to point out a potential weakness.
"If you give him the space ... he can hurt you," Jones said. "But he doesn't like to go back, so we have to push them and he has to run back, if we do that, I think we have a good chance."
Ditto for Sam, a player with pace who prides himself on going forward, but is all too comfortable to let Dax McCarty to cover for him in transition.
Another development that'll aid the Revolution's chances: the potential return of Farrell, who missed the team's second leg of the semifinals due to a leg injury. With nearly three weeks to recover and regain fitness, Farrell seems ready to embrace the challenge that Henry poses on his side of the pitch.
"For me, [it's about] getting on him early and not letting him get in the flow of his game, not letting him get a head of steam is important," Farrell said, "and then we'll see from there. I always want to keep him in front of me, and force him to go backward."
Farrell admits that it won't be an easy proposition. One of Farrell's teammates cautioned that one surefire way to lose the battle is to get caught up in the moment.
"We need that kind of respect [for New York], but once the game starts, we have to put that away," Jones said. "Henry is a big player, but in [Sunday's] game, it depends upon who plays against him, or battles against him, and [that player] has to step up and try to make it his own game."
Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen is among three finalists for league MVP, while teammates Jermaine Jones and Charlie Davies are also up for individual honors after MLS announced the finalists for its annual awards on Thursday.
Joining Nguyen on the shortlist for hardware is Jones, who was named a finalist for Newcomer of the Year, and Davies, who was named a candidate for Comeback Player of the Year.
Nguyen (18 goals, 5 assists) is up against Seattle Sounders forward Obafemi Martins (17 goals, 13 assists) and Los Angeles Galaxy striker Robbie Keane (19 goals, 14 assists). Nguyen's 18 goals is the highest total for a pure midfielder in MLS history, while his nine game-winning goals led the league in 2014.
Jones, who joined the Revolution in late August, helped spur the club to an 8-1-1 finish down the stretch while scoring two goals and adding four assists in 10 games. In addition to Jones, Galaxy midfielder Stefan Ishizaki (5 goals, 7 assists) and Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Pedro Morales (10 goals, 12 assists) are also under consideration for league's best newcomer.
After injuries limited Davies during the tail end of 2013 and the first half of 2014, he returned to the fold in strong form during the summer. He scored three goals and collected four assists, locking up the starting striker's spot during the second half of the season. He is up against Sounders goalkeeper Stefan Frei (34 starts, 9 shutouts) and Portland Timbers midfielder Rodney Wallace (5 goals, 1 assist) for comeback honors.
Although the Revolution enter Sunday’s first leg of the conference finals as the higher seed against the resurgent Red Bulls, Soares knows it won’t be easy for his squad to snap its six-game winless streak at the state-of-the-art stadium.
“I think the thing that’s the most difficult is that they play so well there,” Soares said. “They’re just so dangerous there going forward. They’re pretty good at holding on when they do get a lead. It’s just one of those places where you go in and there are times in the game where you feel like they’re really coming hard.”
That’s not entirely surprising, of course. With Bradley Wright-Phillips, Thierry Henry and Lloyd Sam at their disposal, it’s easy to see why Soares and his teammates may get a bit overwhelmed whenever they step on the field at Red Bull Arena.
Making matters more difficult: the Red Bulls’ home pitch is on the wider side (75 yards), and that’s not a coincidence. The Red Bulls have long been a squad that’s used the flanks to stretch opposing defenses, which in turn opens up space to operate in the final third. The results: a conference-high 38 home goals, a remarkable eight tallies better than their closest competitor, Philadelphia.
To keep the Red Bulls at bay on their home field, right back Andrew Farrell believes that the wingbacks must disrupt New York’s outside midfielders (re: Henry and Sam), both of whom not only pose a threat on their own, but also create chances for Wright-Phillips.
“We have to win our battles,” Farrell said. “We can’t let Henry and Lloyd Sam get in behind us because if they do they’re going to put the ball in the box (for Wright-Phillips). So we just have to win those one-on-one battles, and make it tough for those guys.”
Sounds simple enough. But if it were that easy, the defending champion Sporting Kansas City wouldn’t have bowed out of the postseason so prematurely. Nor would the top-seeded D.C. United be scheduling tee times instead of training.
To be fair, the Revolution have also suffered a pair of cruel loses to New York this year. On June 8, the Red Bulls handed the Revolution their first taste of home defeat in 2014. In the road rematch on Aug. 2, a short-handed Red Bulls embarrassed their guests by staking a comeback 2-1 win.
But much has changed since their last meeting at Red Bull Arena. The Revolution added Jermaine Jones in late-August, and have won 10 of their last 12 since. While the Red Bulls didn’t make a major move of their own, coach Mike Petke made a key tactical move to his lineup in early-September, and his club responded by going 7-3-1 down the stretch.
“Both teams are better,” Soares said. “(Both are) playing better football overall, and I think that’s why we’ve both had success. I think for us, we’re a much, much different team than we were then, more so than they are.”
Whether that difference allows the Revolution to finally snap their winless streak at Red Bull Arena will surely come to light on Sunday. But one thing the players and coaches can count on is that they’ll have a healthy contingent of fans backing them.
Last week, the Revolution organization announced it would provide free bus transportation for up to 1,150 fans who wished to make the trek for the road leg. The buses sold out within days. Thus, there will be noticeable local presence at Red Bull Arena hoping to make it a little more hospitable for their squad this time around.
“That’s going to be awesome,” Farrell said. “They’ve been great all year at home and on the road. So it’s amazing to see that. I know the guys are all really excited to have that support, and have them rally behind us.”
There’s no debate that a new stadium is at the top of the wish list for all parties involved. Earlier this year, Revolution co-owner/investor Jonathan Kraft noted the importance of building a soccer-specific home for the club.
“The real issue isn’t the on-pitch performance … I think the real issue is, and it’s no secret; we need a soccer-specific stadium,” Kraft told Boston sports radio station 98.5 The Sports Hub in June. “The Revolution are 18 years old, and probably for the last 12 years we’ve been working on this.”
The Revolution have shared Gillette Stadium with the New England Patriots since its opening in 2002, and prior to that, the now-demolished Foxboro Stadium. The issue, of course, is that their current 68,000 capacity home isn’t especially well-suited for a team that attracted an average of 16,681 fans this season.
Here are some quick hits on some of the points discussed in Tuesday’s Globe piece.
What’s new? The location. Unlike previous reports that hinted at locales in Revere and Somerville, Tuesday’s report points to a parcel of land in Boston proper -- specifically on Frontage Road. It’s an interesting location given that it is not a part of the industrial area at discussion for the city’s 2024 Olympic bid. At one point, there was some belief that a new stadium for the Revolution would be built in conjunction with a winning Olympic bid. Another new nugget is that the report references an unnamed source saying the Krafts are looking to have a stadium in place within five years, well before the expected timing of a venue built for the 2024 Olympics.
What is the team saying? There’s really not much by way of anything new being said by Kraft Sports Group. A team spokesperson offered a comment reiterating the organization’s ongoing efforts to build a stadium in Boston. This isn’t entirely surprising. Earlier this month, Jonathan Kraft said the organization “will stay quiet until we have something."
The big question: Who is going to pay for it? That’s really the most important question surrounding any Revolution-specific stadium. Past reports have painted a picture of ownership fronting some of the costs in conjunction with public funding. The public funding part, of course, is where things get sticky. The price tag on a new stadium is estimated at more than $100 million. Previous efforts to build new stadiums in Boston have crashed and burned. It is not a happy accident that the Boston Red Sox are still playing in 102-year old Fenway Park. TD Garden was a privately financed endeavor by Boston Bruins ownership. Gillette Stadium was financed by Kraft Sports Group after the only publicly funded appeal came from Hartford, Connecticut. In other words, the Commonwealth has shown a clear reluctance to earmark public funds for its professional sports teams.
Other stumbling blocks: The Frontage Road location itself appears to be a controversial choice. Because the land itself isn’t currently included in the Olympic bid, competing plans for a soccer stadium are in play. The organizing committee for the 2024 bid is seeking a larger capacity stadium than the 18,000-22,000 capacity home the Revolution are looking to build. If there’s one certainty, it’s this: There won’t be two professional-grade soccer stadiums within a Bobby Shuttleworth goal kick of each other.
The unknown: The Globe report suggested that other sites are on the table, but nothing by way of specifics was reported. Additionally, the report also cited information from a spokesperson for Mayor Martin J. Walsh, confirming that any proposal for a soccer stadium on a city-owned site would be subject to a bidding process and reviews by public agencies.
What that means is that any visions for a new home for the Revolution would have to be one shared by a number of public officials. The benefits of a soccer stadium to the city and state would have to be tangible, especially in a day and age in which there is a growing tide of opposition against publicly funded and supported stadiums.
The answer, at least according to both of the Revolution’s starting center backs, is a firm “no.”
“I've played with a lot of players like Jermaine who understand the game and like to be very involved in the game, and also attack,” said Revolution center back Jose Goncalves, who spent the entirety of his pro career in Europe before landing in New England last year. “It’s very good for us, and for me. It’s easy to play with him because he understands the game both defensively and tactically.”
Jones joined the Revolution via blind draw in late August and made his first appearance in a navy blue kit on Aug. 30 at Toronto. The club has gone 10-1-1 since, but has only collected two clean sheets during that span. Prior to the U.S. International's arrival, the Revolution recorded six clean sheets in 24 matches.
But to Goncalves’ center back partner, A.J. Soares, that stat pales in comparison to what Jones, who spent the bulk of his career in the Bundesliga, contributes every time he steps on the pitch.
“He brings so much to the game,” Soares said. “He doesn’t play the position in a typical manner like you might expect somebody else to play the position. But it’s because he has the skill set that he has that a lot of guys don’t have.”
That skill set includes a keen ability to read the game and make the necessary adjustments to improve his team’s shape. During the course of 90 minutes, Jones will drop back when he senses the team needs help in the rear and is often seen commandeering his comrades from a deep position. But it’s his presence in the attacking half that has made the Revolution offense particularly lethal as of late.
Although Jones was originally billed as a holding midfielder, it’s clear that he’s not quite a No. 6. In a sense, he’s a midfield maverick who’s probably more deserving of the 8 shirt. And that’s just fine by Soares, who credits central midfielders Scott Caldwell and Daigo Kobayashi with allowing Jones to press ahead without leaving the backline vulnerable.
“I want him to go forward,” Soares said. “With the other guys we have around him, Scott and Daigo in particular, they’re very responsible players. They know and can sense when he’s going to go forward, and when he’s going to run out of position.”
No question having players with high soccer IQs in front of them benefits those in the back. Caldwell, who started both legs of the conference semifinals, has served as a safety valve when Jones joins the attack. Ditto for Kobayashi, whose defense has become a welcome revelation down the stretch.
If there’s any doubt about the importance of Caldwell’s role, check out the game film from the first half of the Revolution’s 3-1 second-leg win. The sophomore midfielder spends much of the first 45 knocking the ball out of his own end while Jones occupies himself with the offensive effort.
Could the Revolution be better in the back? Of course. Coach Jay Heaps essentially said as much after they booked their ticket to the Eastern Conference final. In his view, the defense may bend, but it doesn’t break.
No doubt, Jones is not the same ball-winning, take-no-prisoners punisher seen during the bulk of his European career. It’s clear that his defense is not the reason why the Revolution are in the midst of a tear that’s helped them reach their first conference final in seven years.
While some defenders would rather have a player of Jones’ ilk commit himself to sitting in front of them, Soares sees Jones’ propensity to push forward as a positive for the team as a whole.
“It’s all good because that’s one of the reasons we’re dangerous,” Soares said. “One of our deep midfielders can go forward, and get a lot of goals and assists, and he’s already done that. So I think it would be a huge stretch to say it’s difficult to play with him.”
After dispatching the Columbus Crew in the Conference Semifinals last week, the New England Revolution will hone their focus on the New York Red Bulls, whom they'll meet in the Eastern Conference Final series.
The first leg is set for Sunday, Nov. 23, at Red Bull Arena, while the second leg will follow on Saturday, Nov. 29, at Gillette Stadium.
Here are five storylines we’ll be keeping an eye on as Sunday’s first leg approaches:
Andrew Farrell’s status. The sophomore defender missed the second leg of the Conference Semifinal with a right leg injury suffered during training. While reserve wingback Kevin Alston played well in place of Farrell, the Revolution will need their first-choice right back against the Red Bulls. New York’s potent attack is predicated upon its use of the wings, and the Revolution will need their best options to man the flanks. One encouraging note: Coach Jay Heaps told the team’s official website that Farrell was “progressing well.”
Revolution’s woes at Red Bull Arena. It may be superfluous to put too much stock into stats once the postseason arrives, but it’s hard to ignore this one: 0-5-1. That’s the Revolution’s all-time record at Red Bull Arena since its doors opened in 2010. Facing the likes of Thierry Henry, Tim Cahill and Dax McCarty will make it difficult for any opponent to find success at the Red Bulls’ home venue, to be sure. But if the Revolution are going to stick to their aggressive approach against New York, they’ll have to shake off any anxieties about playing at Red Bull Arena.
The Jermaine Jones effect. The Red Bulls may have gotten the best of the Revolution during both of their regular-season meetings, but those encounters didn’t include Jermaine Jones. The 33-year-old midfielder joined the Revolution in late-August, and his presence has helped the Revolution steamroll the competition. No question the Revolution are better with Jones in tow: they’ve gone 10-1-1 when he steps on the pitch. But it remains to be seen whether his inclusion in the lineup is enough to put the Revolution over the top against their nemesis this time around.
Can the Red Bulls contain Revs offense? Much has been made about how dangerous the Red Bulls are in the final third, and justifiably so, as evidenced by the stats compiled by Henry (10 goals, 14 assists) and Bradley Wright-Phillips (27 goals, 2 assists). But New York’s defense has been nowhere near as impressive. And that defense will have to face a Revolution attacking corps that racked up an MLS postseason record seven goals during the Conference Semifinals. And the Red Bulls defense will be missing starting left back Roy Miller, who’s suspended for the series due to a combination of his red card in the second leg of the Conference Semifinal vs. D.C. and postseason caution accumulation.
Shutting down Wright-Phillips. This has to be the Revolution’s primary focus in the rear. Wright-Phillips has made it a habit of putting teams on its heels by using his speed and instinct, especially at home. The English striker scored 21 of his league-best 27 goals at Red Bull Arena. So to combat the Red Bulls’ stealthy striker, the Revolution can’t just hope to contain him; they must also cut off his service. As such, they’ll have to keep close tabs on Henry and McCarty, as well. And when Wright-Phillips does get the ball in or around the box, keeper Bobby Shuttleworth will need to be quick and decisive off his line. In sum, it’ll be all hands on deck when Wright-Phillips sets up shop in the final third.
After enjoying a weekend away due to the international break, the Revolution will ramp it back up this week as they prepare for the first leg of the Eastern Conference final against the New York Red Bulls on Nov. 23 at Red Bull Arena. The second leg will be played at Gillette Stadium on Nov. 29.
Here's an early position-by-position look at how the longtime conference rivals stack up against one another:
Goalkeeper: Both sides feature top-notch shot-stoppers, no question. After some early-season worries, Revolution keeper Bobby Shuttleworth locked down the starter's spot and went on to post a 1.25 GAA to go along with eight shutouts. His counterpart, Luis Robles, was called upon to bail out the Red Bulls' defense a number of times during the regular season, and faced a conference-high 171 shots in 2014. While both have looked strong this year, Shuttleworth has been particularly impressive during the Revolution's current hot streak (11-1-1). Edge: Revolution
Defenders: There's little debate that the Red Bulls' defense hasn't been at their best this year. They've been exposed on the wings, and have allowed opponents to take 13.6 shots per game, the second-highest average in the conference. The suspension of Roy Miller won't help their cause, either. The Revolution backline wasn't as strong as it was in 2013, but they were generally effective this season and collected eight clean sheets. Rest assured, this series probably won't be decided by a defensive stand. Edge: Revolution
Midfielders: The Red Bulls are one of the best teams in the league when it comes to possession, and that's largely due to the quality contained in their midfield. Thierry Henry, Dax McCarty and Lloyd Sam have made New York a team to be feared in the middle in recent years. The addition of Jermaine Jones -- who hasn't yet faced New York this season -- gives the Revolution hope that they won't have to rely solely on the counterattack. Lee Nguyen is always a threat with the ball at his feet, but on the whole, it's hard to bet against the Red Bulls in this part of the pitch. Edge: Red Bulls
Forwards: The historic season put together by Bradley Wright-Phillips, who tied the MLS regular-season record with 27 goals, puts the Red Bulls head and shoulders above the Revolution in the forward department. Plus, with Pegguy Luyindula catching fire during the conference semifinals, it's hard to bet against the Red Bulls' forward corps. But don't overlook what Charlie Davies has done for the Revolution offense. He scored twice in the first leg of the semis, and his hold-up play has allowed Nguyen to continue his goal-scoring exploits. Edge: Red Bulls
Key matchup: Red Bulls midfielder Dax McCarty vs. Revolution midfielder Jermaine Jones. Two of the league's best central midfielders will meet for the first time during this series. Jones is the more physical of the two, but McCarty's motor makes him a danger from start to finish. Each man will be looking to exert his influence throughout in the hopes of winning the midfield battle.
Revolution captain Jose Goncalves on the Red Bulls: "The way they break, the way they build their attack, they use a lot of the pitch, they go left to right a lot, with Henry or Sam, and the movement Wright-Phillips makes, if he goes short or long, he has a lot of speed. Offensively, they are strong, and for us, it's going to be like the last few games [against Columbus]. Defensively, we must be smart, we must be very organized and play the way we've played over the last few games with counters, and with the quality we have, I believe we can score goals."