The New England Revolution are one step away from glory because they inched past the New York Red Bulls when it mattered most.
The Revolution won Major League Soccer’s Eastern Conference Championship on Saturday after a 2-2 draw with the Red Bulls at Gillette Stadium gave them a 4-3 win on aggregate score.
The results of both games not only reflect how competitive the teams were over 180 minutes but also aptly describe the margin of the Revs’ superiority. It was that slight.
The Red Bulls end their season knowing they could have been as jubilant as the Revolution now are. They lost a hotly contested home leg last week on Jermaine Jones’ late goal and drew a game Saturday that they could have won handily. Instead, New England heads to the MLS Cup for the first time since 2007 and the fifth time in its 19-year history.
Charlie Davies, 28, twice pulled the Revolution from the brink of despair. The Revolution striker canceled out goals from New York’s Tim Cahill and Peguy Luyindula with two of his own. Maybe it’s fitting that Davies’ impact was decisive in a series that was decided by a matter of inches. After all, Davies nearly lost his life and career in a 2009 car accident. The Manchester, N.H., native’s biggest goals in five years powered his hometown team to within arms’ length of the most prestigious trophy U.S. soccer has to offer. It all could have been different had Davies positioned himself a few inches away on Saturday or in 2009.
The Red Bulls threatened the Revolution and controlled the game from the opening stages. Cahill scored a scrappy first goal in the 26th minute. New York could have added a second or third before the interval, as legendary forward Thierry Henry was at his scheming best.
But despite dominating for 45 minutes, the Red Bulls were deadlocked with the Revolution at halftime. Davies had headed the Revolution back to parity 15 minutes after Cahill put his team’s collective nose in front.
The Red Bulls continued their charge in the second half, and Luyindula restored their lead eight minutes into the period. The visitors were firmly in control of the game after 65 minutes, but they lost the initiative and ultimately the series.
Cahill should have doubled the Red Bulls’ lead in the 67th minute, but the Australian forward unbelievably shot over the crossbar, instead of the open goal, from close range. Inches.
Three minutes later, Davies headed the ball past goalkeeper Luis Robles into New York’s goal. Chris Tierney, a native of Wellesley, Mass., assisted both of Davies’ goal with pinpoint crosses from the left flank. The Revolution were level in the game and ahead in the series.
At this point, it was for good, but it bears mentioning that the Red Bulls missed three chances between the 70th and 80th minute, which could have sent them to MLS Cup 2014.
New England’s attacking character shined against New York, but their defensive vulnerabilities also were glaring. The Red Bulls outplayed the Revolution for much of both legs, creating advantages in possession, territory and scoring chances. But the Red Bulls wasted most of it, and the Revolution were more opportunistic and lethal in front of goal.
No American soccer player has come farther than Davies has since 2007. Maybe it’s poetic justice that the player who walked the longest mile in U.S. soccer was the hero in a battle of inches between two East-Coast rivals.
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