The New England Revoution clinched a spot in the MLS Cup final for the fifth time in its history on Saturday, overcoming a 2-1 deficit in the second leg to draw 2-2 with the New York Red Bulls and win the teams' Eastern Conference championship series 4-3 on aggregate.
Here are three thoughts on a thrilling game at Gillette Stadium:
The Red Bulls didn't miss Bradley Wright-Phillips
After Wright-Phillips's silly second yellow in the first leg ruled him out for the trip to Foxboro, the assumption was that the Red Bulls would struggle to score the away goals it desperately needed to overturn New England's 2-1 advantage. As it turned out, Wright-Phillips' absence may have actually helped the Red Bulls. Tim Cahill's insertion at striker gave the Revolution a completely different set of problems to deal with in defense, as his tireless work rate flustered the Revs from the outset. Cahill's opening goal -- a sublime, improvised finish through the legs of Jose Gonçalves after a scramble in the penalty box -- would have make a poacher like BWP proud.
While Cahill did much to pick up the slack, Thierry Henry contributed in what may be his final game as a Red Bull (and perhaps ever) the same way he has throughout these playoffs. The Frenchman was influential in just about every facet of the game, setting up numerous opportunities on which the Red Bulls were unlucky not to score, focusing his teammates when things got emotional, and nearly netting a couple goals himself. The loss will sting, but either way, Henry cemented his legacy as one of MLS' greatest-ever players with his first performance on the notoriously unforgiving artificial turf at Gillette Stadium
So, no, the Red Bulls are not out of the playoffs because of the absence of their attack. They needed two goals away from home, and that's what they got. Rather, it's New York's defense that let it down -- the entire unit remained oddly flat-footed after a mix-up involving goalkeeper Luis Robles and defender AbroiseOyongo, and that opened up the space for Charlie Davies to score the series-clinching goal.
Charlie Davies' redemption story rolls on
It's amazing to think that five years and a month ago, Revolution hero Davies was on the brink of death after being involved in an awful car crash. Now, the New Hampshire native has two goals to his name in a thrilling second leg of an Eastern Conference final that will surely go down as one of the best wins in the club's history.
SI's Ben Reiter told the story with the length and depth it deserves over the summer, but since that story was published Davies' comeback has truly hit another gear. Yes, Davies progressed as this season went on, but most assumed it would be impossible for him to match the speed, power, and finishing instincts that made him one of the U.S.'s most exciting young players before a 2009 car wreck changed his life and career.
On Saturday, Davies looked like his old self -- a constant pest to defenders, relentlessly working for his team, an expert at putting the ball into the back of the net. If you're looking for a compelling non-Donovan-Dempsey human interest story in this year's MLS Cup final, look no further.
This was the logical next step for the Revolution
The Revolution proved its credentials in last year's playoffs, when it took the eventual champion Sporting Kansas City to the limit in an exciting Eastern Conference semifinal series. With a youthful squad and an enthusiastic coach at the helm in Jay Heaps, the Revs were an easy dark horse pick to make some noise in the MLS postseason this year.
However, what one expects out of MLS rarely if ever actually plays out on the field. So it's with a fair amount of surprise that I write the following sentence: The Revs actually progressed like we thought they would! A quick rundown of the team's top performers tells you how: From Davies up top to MVP candidate Lee Nguyen pulling the strings in the center of the park, to the tough-guy enforcers Jermaine Jones and Jose Goncalves, New England has quality to lean on all over the field.
However, no matter if they face L.A. or Seattle in the MLS Cup final, the Revs will be underdogs -- the first time they'll be hit with that tag this postseason. How the group responds to that (not to mention a hostile environment and championship-level pressure) will determine whether this group can take the next step and capture the club's first MLS Cup title.