The New England Revolution have one foot in the MLS Cup final, and it's tough to see the New York Red Bulls keeping them from making it two. New England went to New York in the first leg of the Eastern Conference final and came away 2-1 winners, sending them home for the second leg as MLS's hottest team, with a one-goal advantage and also two away goals to boot.
At this point, it's tough for the Revs to surprise people anymore. They have been so good for months that the expectation is for them to lay waste to their opponents. New England is 11-1-1 since signing Jermaine Jones, and their lone loss came in a match that Jones didn't even start. The Revs are expected to win every match they go into, home or away.
Of course, it does help to be at home, as the Revs will be on Saturday. New England has been drawing big crowds late in the season, and they also have the added benefit of terrible turf that they are far more used to than any opponent can be. To give that edge to a team that is already flying might as well be cheating.
That turf will be the center of attention with Thierry Henry and the Red Bulls coming to town. Henry has not played in New England since signing with the Red Bulls four years ago, avoiding the rough Revs turf. But with the season on the line, Henry and his Achilles are going to give it a go, and New York needs him to have a big match.
The Red Bulls will be playing without leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who is suspended for yellow card accumulation. That means finding goals will be tough for New York, and they need to find goals because they need at least two to have a chance of advancing.
With Wright-Phillips out, Tim Cahill figures to make a return to the starting XI. He has had a rough year, but maybe this is his time to make an impact? As good as the Revs are, they struggle in defense at times, and Cahill's ability to make defenders bounce off of him, as well as finish in the air, could give the Red Bulls a chance.
Against the red hot Revs, a chance is about the best you can hope for.
All is well with the Revolution, who have no issues of note. The same can't be said of the Red Bulls, who will be without Bradley Wright-Phillips. MLS's leading scorer picked up a silly yellow card in the first leg and because of his yellow card in the first round, earned himself a suspension. It's a rule as silly as the striker's card, and will make New York's comeback awfully tough.
The Red Bulls will also have to play without the suspended Roy Miller. He didn't play in the first leg and Teal Bunbury torched youngster Ambroise Oyongo as a result.
New England Revolution: Bobby Shuttleworth; Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney; Jermaine Jones, Steven Caldwell, Teal Bunbury, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe; Charlie Davies.
New York Red Bulls: Luis Robles; Richard Eckersley, Jamison Olave, Ibrahim Sekagya, Ambroise Oyongo; Dax McCarty, Eric Alexander; Lloyd Sam, Peguy Luyindula; Tim Cahill, Thierry Henry.
1. Who replaces Bradley Wright-Phillips? The Red Bulls need at least two goals and probably more. Oh, and they have to do it without their top goalscorer. So much of what Wright-Phillips did this season had to do with the way Thierry Henry set him up so can Tim Cahill combine with the Frenchman? His lack of pace makes it seem unlikely, which means that Lloyd Sam and Peguy Luyindula have to throw themselves forward and get into the box. That may open the Red Bulls up to the counterattack, but they need goals and have to take that chance with Wright-Phillips out.
2. Will the Revolution midfield continue to dominate? New England's defense isn't that good. They can be had, but causing problems for their defense means getting past their midfield and few teams can do that. The Revolution's midfield is so athletic, so active and, on top of it all, so technically sound, that it's tough to get the ball from them and then break through to attack their defense. The Red Bulls will have to figure out how to solve a midfield that no one has solved in months, or it will not matter that the New England defense is vulnerable.
3. What impact will the turf have? Thierry Henry doesn't play on turf unless he absolutely has to, and now he absolutely has to. Can he conduct the Red Bulls attack on the artificial surface and how long will he be able to play before his body gives out? Toss in the way the ball skips on the turf and how that favors the super rangey Revolution, the surface looks to favor the home team.
The Revolution are the better team, they have momentum, they have home-field advantage and they have an opponents missing their leading goalscorer. This one could turn into a beatdown, if the Revs care to go for it. More likely, they know they can see this one out and the Revs cruise to a 3-1 win.