HARRISON, N.J. -- New England took control of its MLS semifinal series against New York on Sunday with a 2-1 first-leg win that featured a gorgeous bending goal by Teal Bunbury and a back-breaking second away goal that came when Jermaine Jones and his Energizer Bunny motor finished a late Revolution break.
Playing in front of an electric atmosphere at a sold-out Red Bull Arena, the teams staged a frenetically-paced game that featured 10 yellow cards, loads of missed opportunities and an intensity between players (especially Jones and Thierry Henry) that made this must-see TV.
New England, which has been a new team since Jones joined in August, will have a clear advantage in the second leg next week. Not only did the Revs build a one-goal lead and get two away goals, but New York star forward Bradley Wright-Phillips (who scored his 31st goal of the season Sunday) will be suspended for the return leg after picking up a dumb yellow in the second half.
Here are my three thoughts on the game:
New England won without playing its very best soccer
That’s one sign of a good team. League MVP finalist Lee Nguyen had a rather quiet game for the Revs, at least until his sweet pass that led to Jones’ late goal, and Charlie Davies has been better in the postseason than he was today. What’s more, José Gonçalves had something close to a nightmare on New York’s equalizing goal at the end of a helter-skelter sequence. But Bunbury’s magnificent left-footed strike in the first half (after some good work by Jones) got New England off to a blistering start. Who knew Bunbury had that in him? In some ways you had a similar reaction to the one you had watching Jones’s World Cup goal against Portugal. Even at 1-1, New England would have been happy, but Jones’ 85th-minute finish on the counter puts New York at a real disadvantage now.
Jones is something else
Watching the U.S. World Cup midfielder own every blade of grass on the field is enough to make you wonder if he’s being wasted on the U.S. back line lately by Jurgen Klinsmann. When you talk to players -- Jones’s teammates and rivals -- they marvel at his non-stop energy that never flags late in games. You could see as the game went on that Jones’s ability to be everywhere was increasingly an advantage, and that paid off when he was in the right spot to score his huge late goal. That’s no accident, just as it was no accident when Landon Donovan was in the right place to score against Algeria at World Cup 2010. Jones brings so many dimensions to New England with his bite, his leadership and his motor that he’s worth every penny of what the Kraft family is paying him.
New York needs a huge comeback now
The Red Bulls will need to score at least two goals in Foxboro next week, and they’ll have to do it without Wright-Phillips, the league’s top scorer. What’s more, Thierry Henry will have to play on an artificial turf surface that he has refused to play on for the entirety of his four years in the league. It’s not an impossible task for New York and for Henry, who has been terrific this postseason, but it will require a Herculean effort. How much does Mike Petke risk from the start? A 2-0 away win appears to be the most likely scenario that would send New York through, but for now New England is in the driver’s seat for making the 2014 MLS Cup final.