HARRISON, N.J. — The New England Revolution dealt the killer blows against the New York Red Bulls with paintbrushes instead of swords.
The Revolution won the first leg of their Eastern Conference Championship series Sunday at Red Bull Arena by a score of 2-1. With the win, New England has taken one giant step toward MLS Cup 2014, which it can reach with a win or a draw in the return leg on Saturday at Gillette Stadium.
The superb goals Teal Bunbury and Jermaine Jones scored for New England starkly contrasted with the game’s hard-fought nature. The Revolution and the Red Bulls battled for 90 minutes, as the intensity of playoff competition threatened to boil over into full-blown conflict between the teams.
The Revolution ultimately prevailed by successfully juggling the urges of self-expression with the need for selfless sacrifice for the common good.
A traveling contingent of 1,100 Revolution fans combined with nearly 24,000 Red Bulls fans to create a pulsating atmosphere, which befit the occasion. The teams responded with a fast-paced, wide-open game in which crunching tackles and clear-cut scoring chances were the norm throughout. The statistics — 11 shots on goal, 10 yellow cards and three goals — tell the story well in this case.
The game had already produced two point-blank saves, an ignored penalty appeal and several other moments of contention when Bunbury scored a wonder-goal in the 17th minute. The Revolution winger beat Amboise Oyongo with a step-over before curling a left-footed shot into the top corner of the Red Bulls goal from outside the penalty area.
Bunbury said it was natural for him to create (what we called) “art” under extreme pressure.
“I think it’s for each player it’s a bit different,” Bunbury said after the game. “It’s always going to be a battle out there, but when you have those opportunities and moments, what separates players is trying to make the most of it. Sometimes it might come off and sometimes not, but if you’re scared to try those things, you’ll never push yourself to the next level. It’s all in the works of your DNA as a soccer player.”
Bradley Wright-Phillips cancelled out Bunbury’s opener 10 minutes later, ending a scrappy sequence of play with a headed goal from close range.
The game was competitive as ever, and the Red Bulls should have scored one of three genuine chances it created in the second half against the hard-pressing Revolution defense. New York paid a heavy price for its failure to capitalize on its opportunities.
The Red Bulls had contained Lee Nguyen effectively for 85 minutes, when he received the ball in the midfield and took off toward the opponents’ goal. The defense collapsed on Nguyen as he slipped a perfectly weighted pass to Bunbury. The Revolution goal scorer turned provider, finding Jones’ late run with an accurate delivery into the box.
Having led New England’s effort through sheer willpower and brute force, Jones completed the flowing team move with a delicate, sliding shot, which sent his team back north with both the early spoils and style points in the bag.
Photo by Noah K. Murray/USA Today Sports Images