5 Things We Learned from MLS Playoffs
After a two-week hiatus to accommodate the November international break, the MLS playoffs were back in action this weekend with the first legs of the Eastern and Western conference finals being played on Sunday.
In the East, the New England Revolution picked up a 2-1 win on the road over the New York Red Bulls, while, in the West, the LA Galaxy won at home 1-0 over the Seattle Sounders.
Here are five things we learned from the games.
The Revolution Are in the Driver’s Seat
Not only did the New England Revolution pick up an important win over the Red Bulls on Sunday, but they did so in a manner that will make it very difficult for New York to work their way back into the series.
The Revs' 2-1 win means that the Red Bulls will have to both beat the red-hot Revolution on the road and score at least two goals in doing so because of the away-goals rule in effect in this year’s MLS playoffs.
And as if that wasn’t going to be hard enough, they’ll have to do it without their leading scorer Bradley Wright-Phillips, who picked up a yellow card on Sunday and will be suspended for the second leg.
Perhaps the only good news for the Red Bulls is that Thierry Henry has confirmed he will be playing in the second leg, which was in question due to the fact that Henry doesn’t like to play on turf and, in fact, has never played at Gillette Stadium.
However, after the match, Henry responded to the turf question asked by MLSSoccer.com’s Franco Panizo by reportedly saying, “I’m playing. You happy?”
Take a Bow, Teal Bunbury
It’s been a year of redemption for Teal Bunbury, who, after showing so much promise early in his career, had faded in recent years. In 2014, Bunbury has started 31 games for the Revolution, more starts than his last two MLS seasons combined. Even more impressive is the fact that he did it by displacing Diego Fagundez in the Revs' lineup—a player who was an MVP candidate in 2013.
On Sunday, Bunbury proved to be the difference-maker, scoring one goal and assisting on the other.
On his goal, Bunbury beat his man 1 v. 1 and then curled in an absolute beauty for the opening goal. On the Revolution’s second, Bunbury collected a perfect reverse pass from Lee Nguyen and slotted it across the face of the net for Jermaine Jones to earn the win.
The Luck Went Both Ways
New York fans might feel aggrieved about Sunday’s match, as a number of calls didn’t go their way. After the game, Red Bulls’ striker Bradley Wright-Phillips even mockingly said (via Gothamist’s Dan Dickinson), “I thought Jermaine Jones reffed the game well today.”
And while Red Bulls’ fans do have a beef with the tackle Jones made in the first half (NBC commentator Kyle Martino said on the broadcast “That’s about as high in the yellow-card register you can get. Inches more and that gets into the red-card zone.”), they also need to remember the chances their team missed and the things that did go their way.
Both Lloyd Sam and Wright-Phillips could have picked up additional goals for New York had they finished their chances and a number of the calls Red Bulls’ fans were yelling for were fair shoulder-to-shoulder challenges.
The Red Bulls also caught a break on their lone goal of the game in which Wright-Phillips appeared to be offsides when Peguy Luyindula played the ball.
Even Wright-Phillips' yellow card came from a moment of stupidity—an unnecessary challenge, especially coming from a player who should have known he was already on a yellow card heading into the game.
Seattle Used the Wrong Tactics
As entertaining as it was at times to watch Clint Dempsey and Obafemi Martins try and take on five or six LA defenders by themselves (including one combo in the second half where they actually did break through), the overly defensive approach by the Sounders was far too conservative.
Many times in the match, the Sounders failed to even attempt to push into the attacking half, instead allowing the Galaxy to run roughshod over the midfield. Thankfully for Sigi Schmid, the Galaxy were a little too wasteful in front of goal and didn’t turn the poor tactics into an unrecoverable lead for LA.
All Hail, Jaime Penedo!
On the two notable times that the Sounders did create chances, they both fell to Clint Dempsey. Fortunately for the Galaxy, their goalkeeper, Jaime Penedo, was up to the challenge on both occasions and produced excellent saves (the two saves on Dempsey are at the 1:43 and 2:57 marks of the embedded video).
Although the Galaxy outshot the Sounders 20-10 and dominated the possession 60 percent to 40 percent, Penedo’s saves were the difference for the Galaxy.
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