Inside Look: Not much separating Red Bulls, Revolution ahead of Eastern Conference Championship, leg 1

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Tell me the New York Red Bulls will run away from the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Championship without even breaking a sweat when it kicks off on Sunday (Watch live on NBC and online via Live Extra, 1:30 pm ET), and I’ll probably tell you, “OK, I could definitely see that happening.” Tell me the entire Red Bulls roster will forget there’s even a game and fail to show up to Red Bull Arena, and I’ll probably say to you, “OK, I could definitely see that happening.”

Mike Petke‘s men have been by far MLS’s most confounding team this year. On one hand, they’re one of the league’s very best — on a good day. On pretty much any other day, though, they are oh-so-bad. This identity crisis was best evidenced by back-to-back games in which the Red Bulls played the LA Galaxy and Seattle Sounders, the West’s two conference finalists, eight days apart at the end of September.

One week, Red Bulls 4-1 Sounders. Next week, Galaxy 4-0 Red Bulls. While that’s the extreme of extremes, it’s the Red Bulls’ season in a nutshell.

The Revs, on the other hand, have lost one game and drawn just twice in three-and-a-half months. Jay Heaps’ side are statistically the hottest team in MLS over that stretch, which coincided perfectly with the signing of Jermaine Jones on Aug. 24. They’re a complete team who’s scored 28 and conceded 13 in 13 games since Jones’ arrival, but very little of that will actually matter over the course of the next two weekends.

Make no mistake, there will be two teams competing for the East’s place in the 2014 MLS Cup final, but only one of them truly matters and gets to decide who goes to the final and who goes home.

GF GA Shots/gm SoG/gm Total passes/gm Key passes/gm Short passes/gm Long passes/gm Shots allowed/gm
RBNY  55 (4th)  50 (9)  11.8 (14)  4.7 (9)  431.7 (6)  9.8 (12)  316.4 (5)  31.5 (10)  13.4 (13)
Revs  51 (9)  46 (8)  13.9 (5)  5.5 (3)  389.6 (16)  11.0 (2)  262.1 (16)  33.8 (9)  12.9 (10)

Stats via WhoScored.com

Key matchup: Thierry Henry vs. Andrew Farrell

It’s tempting to call out Dax McCarty and Eric Alexander‘s ability to track the between-the-lines movement of MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen as the “key matchup” — and it’s a big one — but we’re talking about Thierry Henry here, because, well, he’s Thierry Henry and he’s the G.O.A.T. in MLS.

I wrote glowingly about his greatness, even at 37 years of age, after the Red Bulls advanced to the Eastern Conference Championship two weeks ago. Farrell, if not 1) smart in picking his moments to get forward, and 2) given ample inside help from Jones and Scott Caldwell, could be the next quality right back to get Titi’d.

It’s still practically impossible to defend Henry. Play him tight, and he’s still got a half-yard of pace to beat you; play it “safe,” give him too much space and respect, and he’ll drop a pinpoint cross onto a forward’s head. Best of luck to you, Mr. Farrell.

Prediction: Red Bulls 1-0 Revolution