"Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays these couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds."
With the remnants of Hurricane Noel bearing down on southeastern New England Saturday night, the aforementioned United States Postal Service motto could have easily applied to the proceedings between the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls, as the clubs sloshed about the soggy pitch. Yet, it was the Revolution who better weathered the elements to clinch the 1-0 aggregate victory.
After last week’s defensive affair by New England during Game 1 in the Meadowlands, the Revolution reassured the crowd that this was no such match when Avery John pushed forward and fired the first shot of the evening on Red Bull keeper Jon Conway, thus proclaiming the home team’s intentions in only the 6th minute. Minutes later, Steve Ralston cut into the box and laced a shot that just went wide of the far post, putting the Red Bulls on their proverbial hooves by the nine minute mark.
For all the signs of a well-assembled attack on the part of the Revolution, the Red Bulls did not go quietly about their business after Juan Pablo Angel lined up and fired a screamer from 30 yards that flew inches above the bar in the 14th minute.
But the Revolution quickly took the ball back and menaced the Red Bull backline when Pat Noonan chipped a floating pass from the right en route to Taylor Twellman that sailed mere inches too far ahead of Twellman’s neon yellow boot, as the ball bounced past the byline.
As if New England’s attack wasn’t the only issue on the mind of New York manager Bruce Arena, more trouble materialized when Claudio Reyna, who had taken a handful of hard knocks already, had to be substituted for by the 27th minute.
Interestingly enough, it was only minutes later in the 35th minute that the Red Bull attack finally found its footing when they nip/tucked a set of passes that culminated in Jozy Altidore dashing down the right flank before he sent a seeing-eyed pass inside the box into the path of Angel before Jay Heaps snuffed it out at the last millisecond.
Clint Mathis, who had come in for Reyna only ten minutes prior, added to the Red Bull pressure when he took a pass inside the box, nutmegged his defender, cut inside, and pushed a shot that harmlessly bounced off the side of the goal in the 38th minute.
Although the first half concluded with the match still knotted at zero, it surely wasn't due for lack of trying, as both clubs pieced together quality chances. Though the Revolution had put more shots on net (3-1), the total shots taken was about equal (6-4), illustrating both clubs’ fervent desire to acquire the first goal of the series.
With both clubs playing technically sound soccer, it appeared that the deciding factor would boil down to which backline would make the first mistake. The defending had been superb throughout the first, and both clubs played smart, possession soccer.
Carrying over the confidence acquired during their late-first half attack, Dave van der Bergh tarried into the left channel and crossed to Angel, who headed the ball right into Matt Reis’ breadbasket, keeping the match scoreless in the 52nd minute.
However, the resurgent Red Bull attack was brought to an abrupt end in 56th minute, on an innocent looking play when Heaps and Angel challenged for a long ball near midfield. But as Angel came down, his chin connected with Heaps’ knee, causing the Argentine to immediately fall to the pitch in writhing pain. After being down for several minutes, Angel was able to walk back to the bench with some assistance, though his immediate return remained in question, as Arena tried to hold out hope on his star striker’s return.
Taking advantage of New York’s precarious situation, New England took the Red Bulls by the horns, as they sparked up their attack while Angel tried to convince team doctors that he was just fine. However, after it was determined that he had sustained a concussion, Arena had no choice but to pull his primary playmaker and insert John Wolyniec.
But before the substitution could be made, New England capitalized on the temporary man advantage when Shalrie Joseph fed a long pass to Ralston, who split the defenders and broke through the midfield, and as he charged through the box. With a defender closing in and Twellman to his left, the captain send a last-ditch pass to the rain-soaked striker, who deftly chipped it the off of Conway’s hands as it spilled into the corner of the net in the 64th minute.
New York frantically tried to respond quickly by attempting to reignite their offensive spark. But without the services of Angel and the fleet-footed Francis Doe (who was unable to even suit up for the match due to an abdominal injury) the weight of the attack fell on the shoulders of Altidore and Dane Richards, whose star had cooled in the second half.
Any thoughts of a Red Bull comeback eventually dissipated as New York struggled to tailor their offense without Angel. Adding to their frustrations, the Revolution back line held up its end of the bargain by duly cooling any semblance of a late-match offensive. Even with five minutes stoppage added to the clock, New York’s attack sputtered toward the finish line, as New England was able to wrap up the Eastern Conference Semifinal win, 1-0.