Last Sunday’s New York Red Bulls–New England Revolution match-up at Red Bull Arena had all the trappings of a first-leg game in the MLS Eastern Conference finals series: it was a very tense, physical, but well-played game in front of an enthusiastic sellout crowd of 25,000 on a sunny Sunday afternoon. The highly technical game lived up to its billing on the field — all was perfect in New York except one thing, the main thing, the win, which was stolen from New York by New England, 2–1.
The series moves to Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Ma. on Saturday, Nov. 29, 3 pm and the Red Bulls must win by two goals to advance to the 2014 MLS Cup, the final game.
The Revs took a 1-0 lead in the 17th minute when Teal Bunbury, assisted by U.S. national team midfielder Jermaine Jones, dribbled across the goal from the right wing and was allowed to curl a left-footed shot into the far side of the net. The game continued as a very physical contest with 29 fouls called eventually, including 10 yellow cards, but the physical aspect of the contest did not take away from the high quality of the match. The nature of the game reflected the urgency of a Conference championship, which is the last hurdle to overcome to play in the MLS Cup.
With New England ahead, league top scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips responded with the equalizer for the Red Bulls in the 27th minute; he headed in the ball as it rebounded off the crossbar from Peguy Luyindula’s second-effort shot, after his first was stopped by Revs goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth. The play started at midfield with left-sided defender Ambrose Oyongo, who went around a Revs midfielder, sent a pass into the box for Captain Thierry Henry, who let it roll for Luyindula to go in on goal one-on-one against Shuttleworth. The half ended with New York having another good chance to score again when a wide open Wright-Phillips headed Henry cross’s cross over the crossbar from inside six yards; the score remained tied 1–1 at the half.
New York, which dominated the game with 60 percent of possession, continued to create chances in the second half, and in the 52nd minute, Shuttleworth failed to hold on to an Henry shot, but midfielder Lloyd Sam failed to tap the rebound into an open goal. Seven minutes later there was more of the same as Phillips found himself alone in front of the goal, but he shot straight at Shuttleworth, and in the 60th minute, midfielder Dax McCarty’s header from an Henry corner kick went straight into Shuttleworth’s hands.
New England had its share of misses as well when in the 72nd minute Jones’ header from a bouncing ball inside the six yard box off a corner kick went over the crossbar; Jones again shot wide six minutes later from 18 yards out, but he came up with the winner in the 86th minute to give the visitors victory. Midfielder and team-leading scorer Lee Nguyen streaked down the middle on a fast break, laid the ball off to Bunbury on the right side, who crossed to Jones running in from the far post for an easy tap in to an empty goal.
In the Western Conference finals series, also on Sunday, host Los Angeles Galaxy rolled to its seventh shutout in its last 10 homes games, as it defeated the Supporter’s Shield winner, the Seattle Sounders, 1-0 in the first leg, at StubHub Center. Marcelo Sarvas’ goal in the 52nd minute after a scoreless first half was enough to give Los Angeles the win. Sarvas was assisted by AJ DeLaGarza, who ran down the right wing and crossed the ball back for Sarvas to shoot as the ball deflect off a defender for the score.
Although Los Angeles now has the advantage going into Seattle for the second leg on Sunday, Nov. 30 (ESPN, 9 pm), the Galaxy will have to play just as well to at least draw with Seattle at home; the series is decided on aggregate goals. The 2014 MLS Cup will be played on Sunday, Dec. 7 at the higher seeded team, either Los Angeles or Seattle.