The 2014 MLS Conference finalists have been determined and in the Eastern Conference, the New York Red Bulls will make its third appearance in the Conference final and first time since 2008, when it battles the New England Revolution in a home-and-away series starting with the first leg at Red Bull Arena on Sunday, Nov. 23 at 1:30 p.m. In the Western Conference, the Los Angeles Galaxy will host the Seattle Sounders in the first leg, also on Nov. 23, while both return fixtures are scheduled for Saturday, Nov. 29. The Sounders are the 2014 Supporters’ Shield winner because of its MLS best regular season record.
New York arrived at the Conference finals by way of a 3-2 aggregate in goals over Conference winner DC United. The Red Bulls seized the upper hand in the series when it pulled off a 2-0 win in the first leg at home back on Sunday, Nov. 2. Heading home to DC, United needed to win by three goals but just couldn’t get up to the task.
Red Bulls captain, Thierry Henry, has been the difference throughout the playoffs. His play has inspired the team and is reflected in his four assists in the last three play-off games. His last and crucial effort came in DC last Sat. Nov. 8; his assist created Peguy Luyindula goal to tie the score at 1-1. DC went on to win the contest, 2-1, but it was the combination of Henry and Luyindula that created the goals which decided the series. Luyindula has two goals and two assists in the three games and Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored three goals and an assist. Wright-Phillps notched a league-leading 27 goals in the regular season and has 30 goals on the year, three short of the record by Roy Lassiter of the 1996 Tampa Bay Rowdies. Nick DeLeon, son of former Trinidad and Tobago great, Leroy DeLeon, scored DC United’s first goal and Sean Franklyn got the second.
New England will pose more problems for New York than did DC United. United’s winning momentum had slowed a bit toward the end of the season, but the Revolution is in good form coming off a 7-3 aggregate series win over the Columbus Crew. The Revs were given a big boost by the late-season addition of U. S. men’s national team midfielder Jermaine Jones, who has given the team the strong, physical presence that was lacking in the Revs line-up since the lost of former MLS all-star Chalrie Joseph. Also, the scoring form of midfielder Lee Nguyen – who connected for 18 goals this season, 20 overall, and resulted in a call up to the national team for upcoming friendlies – makes the Revs a very potent threat.
History is not on New York’s side in the play-offs against the Revolution. The teams played in three play-off series, with New England winning all three. More telling, though, is the recent regular season matchups, which reflect a different history as the Red Bulls defeated the Revs twice this year.
In the Western Conference finals, the Galaxy is in good form as it defeated Real Salt Lake, 5-0, behind Landon Donovan’s hat trick. After a goalless draw in the first leg in Utah, the Galaxy came home and pounced on RSL from the opening whistle. Robbie Keane and Marcelo Sarvas also scored for Los Angeles.
Seattle, like DC United, lost some momentum in the play-offs. The Sounders had to put together a late rally in the first leg of their semifinal series against host FC Dallas to scramble a 1-1 draw at Toyota Stadium. At home in the return leg at CenturyLink Field on Nov. 10, Seattle failed to score and had to settle for a goalless draw. The Sounders advance only on the away goal, which it scored in the tie at Dallas. In the first game, Michel scored for FC Dallas, while Osvaldo Alonso tallied for Seattle.