Following a first half that showcased nothing but wide open, end-to-end soccer and a number of scoring chances coming and going both ways, the second-half action between the New York Red Bulls and New England Revolution not only slowed down considerably, but got quite chippy, a bit ugly and full of yellow card cautions.
The Revolution went into a hostile, lively Red Bull Arena and snatched a 2-1 first-leg victory in their Eastern Conference Championship series, putting Jay Heaps‘ side in pole position to reach the 2014 MLS Cup final, thanks to the MLS Cup Playoffs‘ new away-goals rule.
For the second time in the game, Lloyd Sam will feel like he should have scored when he had a rebound fall to his feet just six yards out, and an open net begging to be filled in the 52nd minute, but the Englishman couldn’t get his foot around the ball quick enough and pushed the chance wide. Still 1-1.
First-half goalscorer Bradley Wright-Phillips had a very good chance to give the Red Bulls their first lead in the 59th minute, but Bobby Shuttleworth stood tall and palmed away the Englishman’s left-footed effort from just outside the 18-yard box.
Less than a minute later, Dax McCarty forced Shuttleworth into another goal-line save when the diminutive midfielder sent a Thierry Henry corner kick goal-bound, but right into the ‘keeper’s waiting arms.
Following that chance, Wright-Phillips made the boneheaded play of the playoffs when he very much got in the way of Shuttleworth and interfered wits his restarting of play. Referee Allen Chapman rightly showed Wright-Phillips yellow, his second reprimand of the playoffs, which means the scorer of 27 regular-season goals will be suspended for the second leg next Saturday (Watch live on NBCSN and online via Live Extra, 3 pm ET).
The game’s — and perhaps the series’ — decisive moment (below video) came with just five minutes of regular time remaining. MLS MVP finalist Lee Nguyen led a Revs counter-attack straight through the heart of the Red Bulls’ midfield. Nguyen carried the ball 30 yards on his own, threaded a perfect through ball to first-half goalscorer Teal Bunbury into the 18-yard box. Bunbury’s slow, rolling shot-turned-cross found Jermaine Jones sliding all alone to the back post to poke the ball over the line and into an open net.
The victory marks the first time the Revs have defeated the Red Bulls at Red Bull Arena (opened in 2010). The Revs also remain undefeated in games started by Jones, their end-of-deadline Designated Player acquisition, furthering feelings that the German-American should be on the list of finalists for the 2014 MLS Newcomer of the Year award.
New England: Shuttleworth, Tierney, Goncalves, Soares, Farrell, Caldwell, Jones, Rowe (Alston 62′), Nguyen (Dorman 90+3′), Bunbury, Davies.
Goals: Bunbury (17′), Jones (85′)
New York: Robles, Eckersley, Olave, Sekagaya, Oyongo, McCarty, Alexander (Cahill 76′), Sam, Luyindula, Henry, Wright Phillips
Goals: Wright-Phillips (27′)