The New England Revolution held off the New York Red Bulls, 4-3 on aggregate (highlights above), and are 2014 champions of the Eastern Conference. They’re headed to next Sunday’s MLS Cup final in either Los Angeles or Seattle (3 pm ET).
Following a 2-1 away win in the first leg, the Revolution had put themselves in perfect position to see out the series with a controlled, low-scoring affair at Gillette Stadium on Saturday.
What transpired, instead, was a wide open final 70 minutes with the Revolution midfield stretched all over the place and the Red Bulls matching the high-powered Revs attack shot-for-shot (11 shots, four on target for each side).
Not to use any hyperbole at all, because the following statement is 100 percent true: Saturday’s game was an all-time playoff classic.
First things first, Tim Cahill was an absolute nuisance to the Revolution defense in his first extended actions as a striker in months and months. Not only did he score a classic all-effort Cahill goal early in the first half, but he had a golden chance that would have put the Red Bulls through — one he’ll no doubt look back on and wish he’d done better with — midway through the second half.
But the Australian was involved in the game and dangerous throughout, a far cry from his recent shifts as a deep-lying midfielder. The shackles of responsibility were off as center forward and Cahill reminded us all that he’s still got a ton left in the tank, when used correctly.
In the whole of 180 minutes, it’s not crazy to say the Red Bulls outplayed the Revs in this series. Whether statistically (57 percent possession, to 43; 29 shots, to 19; 11 on target, to 8; 832 passes, to 623) or by the eye-test, they did everything better than the Revs, except one thing: take their chances. That is, of course, the big one.
As for the Revs, head coach Jay Heaps may have been their best performer on Saturday. His lineup swap of left back Kevin Alston for midfielder Kelyn Rowe, thus pushing Chris Tierney up into the midfield, played out near perfectly.
Not only did Tierney provide the excellent left-footed service on both of the Revs’ goals, but Alston managed to corral Lloyd Sam far better than Tierney was able to do for 60 minutes in leg one. Only when the Red Bulls won the ball near midfield, which is an extremely rare thing to do against the Revs, was Sam able to get a jump on Alston and get in behind.
Tierney’s deployment as a wide midfielder did a number of detrimental things to the Red Bulls’ backline. First, it meant Richard Eckersley was stuck out wide, on an island, against arguably the best left foot in MLS. Second, that often created a huge gap between Eckersley and right-side center back Jamison Olave, a space through which Charlie Davies ran into dangerous areas all game long.
Tierney was almost certainly the Revs’ best player on Saturday, and while he’s consistently an extremely underrated player, that’s strange to fathom in a team with Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen, both of whom were distinctly average upon being neutralized.
Thierry Henry. What’s there to say? What can be said that’s not already been spoken of the French legend? In short, nothing.
So we’ll leave it at this: if — and that’s still a big if — Saturday was the final game of his MLS and/or overall career, we are all better for having watched another vintage, dominant display. And if this is indeed the end, thank you, from everyone around the world.