The New England Revolution dismantled the Columbus Crew, 4-2, in the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinals series on Saturday and, barring a complete collapse in second leg at home, looks set to advance to the conference finals for the first time since 2007.
In MLS, never can enough be said for a team with experience navigating the treacheries of the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Sporting Kansas City had to endure two straight years of playoff failure to a more playoff-experienced Houston Dynamo side before they could be crowned kings of MLS in 2013. On their way to lifting the Philip F. Anschutz Trophy, they knocked off an up-and-coming Revolution side almost completely devoid of playoff experience.
On Saturday, the Crew became this year’s version of those Revs.
The Revs started the match pressing defensively very high up the field. With the Crew’s insistence on playing the ball out of the back every time, they found themselves doing a lot of emergency defending early on. While they weren’t able to capitalize on those chances early, the Revs set the tone of this game and unsettled the Crew unlike we’ve seen in quite some time.
Inversely, a complete lack of pressure by the Crew midfielders — and defenders, which is almost always a problem — was directly responsible for two of the Revs’ three second-half goals. Lee Nguyen goes untouched, unimpeded and perhaps unnoticed on this play to restore the Revs’ two-goal lead after the Crew worked so hard to pull a goal back five minutes earlier.
That’s lazy, deferential defending by Michael Parkhurst and Tyson Wahl. That could have been written off as a one-off, but the same happened minutes later when Charlie Davies scored the Revs’ fourth.
Revs midfielder Jermaine Jones was everywhere and did a little bit of everything in this one.
The 32-year-old Designated Player’s combined number of interceptions, tackles and recoveries was 15. Two-thirds of those ball-winnings were done inside his own half, but it’s his ability to start the press high up the field as a box-t0-box midfielder — and his fitness to do so — that separates Jones from your typical ball-winner.
When he wins the ball high up the field, he’s got more than enough quality to start the quick counter-attack and complete dangerous forward passes on his own.
Who do you think started the two-versus-four run-out that led to Nguyen’s goal?
If your friends try to tell you that MLS’s increase in quality is due only to “better attacking foreign players coming to the league and taken the starting sports of less-talented Americans,” kindly show them the following tweet.
Revs started 10 Americans today. And they play like this, attack like this. Beautiful, ruthless soccer. #CLBvNE
— Matthew Doyle (@MLSAnalyst) November 1, 2014