New York vs. New England: Key Issues and Decisions That Will Shape MLS Game
The two-legged MLS Eastern Conference Final begins Sunday afternoon at Red Bull Arena, as the fourth-seeded Red Bulls host No. 2 seed New England.
New York bounced Sporting Kansas City and D.C. United from the MLS Cup playoffs to reach this stage, while the Revolution dispensed of Columbus easily in the Eastern Conference semifinal.
Mike Petke's Red Bulls won both of the regular-season meetings between the two teams, the last of which came on August 2 at Red Bull Arena.
Here's a look at the key issues and managerial decisions that will decide the result of the first leg.
How the Revs Can Take Advantage of Roy Miller's Absence
The one weak spot on the field for the Red Bulls Sunday will be at left-back, where normal starter Roy Miller is suspended after a boneheaded challenge late in the second leg against D.C. United.
In Miller's absence, Ambroise Oyongo should be handed a start. However, Oyongo may not be at 100 percent after a journey back to the United States following Cameroon's match Wednesday against Ivory Coast.
With Oyongo presumably feeling a bit weary from his long trip back to America, the Revolution should attack on the right wing from the first whistle.
Teal Bunbury should start on the right wing for New England, but if the Revs are able to find a good amount of success, expect Lee Nguyen to drift over and have a go at Oyongo as well.
If the plan fails against Oyongo, the New England wingers could face a tough 90 minutes since Richard Eckersley has been strong at right-back for New York during the playoffs.
New England's Pressure
In the first leg of their Eastern Conference semifinal, the Revolution put Columbus under duress with high pressure in the attacking half.
The press from players like Nguyen, Bunbury, Charlie Davies and Kelyn Rowe denied the Crew a chance to settle into a rhythm at home. The same must be done against the Red Bulls Sunday afternoon.
Against Columbus, the pressure forced Federico Higuain to move further back on the pitch to collect the ball in search of creating a move forward. If it is as successful against New York, Thierry Henry may have to come back to find possession.
By forcing Henry out of his normal position on the pitch, New England could throw a wrench into Mike Petke's attacking game plan.
If that is the case, Petke will be forced to adjust before the Revolution strike with an away goal or two.
How Thierry Henry Attacks Against Andrew Farrell
One of the subtle changes made by Petke during the playoffs has been Henry's shift over to the left wing.
Instead of playing two forwards, the New York manager has given his team more width with the French legend on the wing. Henry has had plenty of space to operate in, and he has been able to create perfect assists from that side of the pitch.
On the lone New York goal in the second leg against D.C., Henry delivered a terrific ball from the left to find Peguy Luyindula to earn an away goal at RFK Stadium.
The player tasked with marking Henry will be Andrew Farrell, who sat out the second leg against Columbus with a right leg injury. Farrell told MLSSoccer.com that he should be ready to go Sunday.
If he does receive a start, Farrell will be tested early and often by Henry, who will keep the young defender's fitness situation in the back of his mind.
If Farrell is 100 percent healthy, he could give Henry fits. But we won't know that until the first 20 minutes of Sunday's match.
Where Jermaine Jones Ends Up on the Pitch
Jermaine Jones' role on the pitch will vary depending on how the Revolution start the match.
If the high pressure works with great success, Jones should see more time in the attacking half in an attempt to set up scoring chances. His distribution out to the wing should open up the Red Bulls defense, which will give Nguyen a chance to sneak in and find a pocket of space in the box.
Jones will be given this freedom because of the play of Scott Caldwell at the defensive midfield position. With Caldwell on the field, Jones does not have to sit back and defend for most of the match.
If New York handles the pressure well, Jones can drift back as an extra defender alongside Caldwell in front of the back four to contain the home side.
There is no doubt Jones will march forward at some point during the match. But his impact in the final third will be limited if the Red Bulls control the possession battle.
Which Star Scorer Will Provide the Biggest Impact?
The Eastern Conference Final presents us with a matchup between two of the top scorers in MLS.
Golden Boot winner Bradley Wright-Phillips has scored three times in the postseason to add to his 27 regular-season strikes. New England's Lee Nguyen scored 18 goals in the regular season and has found the back of the net twice in the playoffs.
In the two regular-season meetings between the two sides, Wright-Phillips and Nguyen combined for one goal and three shots on target. The lone strike and two of those shots belong to New York's English forward.
Wright-Phillips may have a bit more motivation to find the back of the net Sunday after he was left off the shortlist for Most Valuable Player.
Nguyen, who is on the list of three with Robbie Keane and Obafemi Martins, will be looking to build off his impressive 10-minute cameo for the United States against Colombia.
While there are plenty of weapons on each team, the final result could easily be decided by one of these top scorers.
Follow Joe on Twitter, @JTansey90.
All statistics obtained from MLSSoccer.com.