The Columbus Crew were soundly beaten at home in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. The New England Revolution came to town and romped the Black and Gold 4-2, and that's a somewhat flattering score given how the game actually played out.
Leg two requires Columbus to win by three goals or win by two and score five in order to advance to the Eastern Conference finals and take on the New York Red Bulls. The Revs certainly have the edge as they head home, looking to simply survive this game and advance.
After last week, I talked with Jake Catanese of the Bent Musket in order to provide some insight heading into the second leg.
How does the Revolution winning the first leg 4-2 change both teams' approaches to the second leg?
The Bent Musket: I honestly don't think it changes anything for the Revolution, but whether or not they actually practice what the preach is another story. The Revolution have at times thrived off the counter attack and with the Crew pushing needing to push for a lot of goals, there should be ample opportunity for the Revs quick strike offense to shift into high gear. New England has also not been the best at sitting back and absorbing pressure, particularly when defending a lead so sticking with their normal gameplan is the ideal situation for a lot of reasons.
As for the Crew, obviously they need to take a lot of chances, probably early in the game as well. High pressure, long-range shots, anything to generate chances particularly in the opening 15 minutes to claw their way back into the series. Without an early goal or scoring first I think the task for Columbus will just keeping getting that much harder since they need a three-goal win to advance and need to do everything possible to shift pressure onto the Revs.
Massive Report: I actually wrote about this earlier this week from the Crew perspective. Obviously Columbus needs to score and score in bunches. They also need to keep New England from scoring, so balance will be important for the Black and Gold - something they didn't have in the first leg.
I think you see both teams play their normal game, at least to start the game. As Gregg Berhalter said this week, the Revolution's strategy worked in the first game and there's no reason to think it can't in Foxborough. The Crew, meanwhile, have scored three or more goals multiple times this year and against good teams (see the 4-1 win over the LA Galaxy) and they believe in their system.
As the game goes on, assuming Columbus doesn't score multiple goals early, I think you see New England begin to park the bus and Columbus throw numbers forward. I think it will be interesting to see what point in the game this becomes very noticeable. If I had to guess, I would say at halftime at the earliest.
The Revs and Crew have played several really good matches this season, is this the beginning of a budding rivalry?
The Bent Musket: Yes, absolutely, the Shaving Cream Derby (Gillette vs. Barbasol) needs to be more of thing going forward. Somehow the Revs have never really been embraced by a true geographical rival like the New York Red Bulls, Philadelphia Union or D.C. United. While I believe that the I-95 Cup should be a legitimate thing and next year will hate New York City FC with every fiber of my being, the Revolution's true rivals have always been established during the MLS Cup Playoffs, notably the Chicago Fire from the early years of the league and the Houston Dynamo during the prime Steve Nicol/Taylor Twellman era. Add in that Houston and Sporting Kansas City will be in the Western Conference next year and the Crew and Revs both have fairly young teams that can play an exciting brand of soccer, yes, this could be the beginning of these two teams regularly battling at the top of the standings.
Massive Report: I absolutely believe so. These are two fairly young teams with smart, young coaches. Unless something strange happens, these two teams should be relevant in the Eastern Conference for the next few years at the least. The competition throughout the season for seeding in the East should be enough to create a rivalry on its own.
Then there's the feistiness we've seen in the games this year. Jay Heaps said he thought some of the Columbus players targeted Jermaine Jones in the regular season game at Crew Stadium. Tony Tchani and Waylon Francis are making no friends in New England with the way they've played in some of these games. There have been good games between these teams in the past, but there is just a different feeling in these contests now and I believe this series is only the beginning.
How did your series MVP selection fare in the first leg and is that player still the series MVP?
The Bent Musket: Well, Lee Nguyen did technically have the game-winner with that amazing long run and finish for the Revs' third goal. But after one game the series MVP has to be Charlie Davies, because his two goals were absolutely huge with the opening and insurance goals. I believe Matt Doyle mentioned that it was the first time a Revolution center forward had scored in about two months, and if Charlie is finding his stride in the playoffs, that's another scoring option for a team that opponents are going to have to deal with. I'm not going to change my pick because I expect Lee to have another great game this weekend but if Davies tallies again in the second leg it'd be tough to vote against him for series MVP.
Massive Report: It would be hard to see the Crew having an MVP of this series. Of course, if they complete the comeback in New England, somebody will take the credit. I said Ethan Finlay last week and I think he could still be if the miraculous happens. Finlay had an early chance in the first leg and couldn't convert. Other than that, he didn't do much and was extremely disappointed in the locker room post game. He still has the potential to score a goal or two, so I would say he has as good of a shot as anyone for Columbus.
I picked Lee Nguyen or Jones if the Revs advance and there's no reason to say that's not on track. Nguyen played a great game in Columbus, including scoring the third goal quickly after Justin Meram made it 2-1. Jones was his typical self in game one and still could be in contention. I would say Nguyen is the more likely of the two candidates assuming the Revolution take care of business.
Does the winner of this series represent the East in MLS Cup?
The Bent Musket: I think there were a lot of people who thought this before the series started because both the Revolution and Crew were coming into the games in top form on big hot streaks to end the regular season. DC and New York didn't exactly limp into the playoffs, and they're still both really good teams and the way New York played in the first leg, especially Thierry Henry, it's not a lock for either the Crew or the Revs to advance to the MLS Cup Final. That being said, I would count myself as one of those people who picked the Revs-Crew winner to go to the Final but I'm also incredibly biased against New York and DC and at the very least would rather see the Crew win before them. The fact that I'm a Revs fan barely factors in at all.
Massive Report: In any short series, like the MLS' format, anything can happen but I certainly think the winner of this series has to be the favorite. Before the playoffs began, our staff made playoff picks and everyone picked the winner of this series to win the East. These teams were both hot coming into the playoffs and both have the talent to keep that run going.
No matter which way Sunday's game goes, the team that advances will have a lot of confidence going into the Eastern Conference final.