Friday, October 26, 2007

Red Bulls Preview: Playoff Game #1 vs. Revs

It's tough to write your playoff preview on Friday afternoon, as everyone in the socca blogosphere and all the main-stream guys have already made their picks. Ne'ertheless, here's what to expect tomorrow when New York and NewEngland meet in the MLS Eastern Conference semis:

Much has been written about the lack of playoff success by New York over the last dozen years. The team is trying to avoid its fifth-straight first-round playoff exit, and win a series for only the second time in franchise history. The Revs has turned their franchise around over their 12 years in the league. From 1996-2001, New England qualified for postseason play only once. Since 2002, however, the Revs have made the playoffs every year, and have played in three MLS Cup finals. They've yet to taste the champagne, but have become one of MLS' most consistent winning teams. Of course, history is history.

Here are the clubs' last five results:
New York: DDLWD
New England: DWLLD

Here's a line-by-line look at what to expect tomorrow:
The Revolution forwards vs. the New York defense:
Pat Noonan and Taylor Twellman vs. Hunter Freeman, Jeff Parke, Carlos Mendes, and Dave van den Bergh (and Ron Waterreus). All the ink this year in MLS has been about Luciano Emilio and Juan Pablo Angel, but Twellman had yet another solid season for the Revs, notching 16 goals in 26 appearances. Noonan has a reputation as a Metro-killer, and had 7 tallies of his own in the regular season. Christman off the bench is dangerous. New York's defense has been an adventure since the summer, and the soon-to-be-retired Wattereus offers little confidence in net. Dave van den Bergh can push the ball up the field quickly, but the key for NY is to contain Twellman, and handle the rest that the Revs serve up. Advantage: New England

The Red Bulls' attackers vs. the New England defense:
Jozy Altidore and Juan Pablo Angel vs. Avery John, Michael Parkhurst, and Jay Heaps (and Matt Reis). It's no surprise that as JPA goes in this series, so will the Red Bulls. While Angel will get the most attention from the NE defense, Jozy Altidore has the skills the breakdown opponents one-on-one and can be the difference-maker. New England waited until the end of the regular season before letting its usually strong defense droop. The Revs allowed seven goals in its last three matches and two+ goals in seven of its last eight. That letdown may continue. Advantage: New York

The Midfields:
Dane Richards. Claudio Reyna, Seth Stammler, and Dema Kovalenko vs. Khano Smith, Jeff Larentowicz, Steve Ralston, Sharie Joseph, and Wells Thompson. It's common knowledge that New York played better without Claudio Reyna on the field this year than when Captain America was ailing, but it's in these types of big matches that Reyna's calming influence will serve the Red Bulls well. Richards and Kovalenko add speed and opportunism on the flanks, but the name you don't see, Clint Mathis, will be a key late sub. New England's midfield in led by the league's all-time assist leader in Ralston (14 this year), and big, skilled Shalrie Joseph (4g, 5a). These two New England stalwarts won't be rattled should the Revs go down early, as the pair were a part the three-goal playoff comeback against NY in 2005. Slight Advantage: New England

The Coaches:
Both Steve Nicol and Bruce Arena have coached and won in the MLS playoffs, though Arena has yet to win with his NY crew. Slight Advantage: New England

With DC dropping their first leg match at Chicago last night, both clubs are eyeing home dates for the Eastern final. Though they didn't beat NE this year (0-2-1), New York can take solace in their strong play against the Revs this regular season. A rainy forecast will keep the crowd small, and the Revs usually bring a large and loud traveling contingent. Slight Advantage: New York

New York will gladly take the same 1-0 result they grabbed in the clubs'
2005 first-leg playoff match. With a energized duo up top, New York does even better this time out. Goals by JPA and Jozy give the Red Bulls a 2-0 lead heading to New England on November 3rd.

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