The first ticket to the MLS conference finals will be issued on Thursday night, with the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution facing off in a winner-take-all playoff series game two. Their first-leg match ended scoreless, leaving the Revs to have to travel to Toyota Park to beat a Chicago team they failed to defeat in four attempts.
So why should the short-handed Revs believe they can finally beat the heavily-favored Fire? History is on their side in the form of three straight playoff victories against New England. Chicago will take heart in the fact that none of those three losses took place at home.
Here is a closer look at Thursday night’s decisive second leg(8:30pm, ESPN2):
The Fire created few chances and didn’t look very threatening in game one, but the grass surface at Toyota Park should help their passing game and strong counterattack well. Cuauhtemoc Blanco wasn’t particularly effective in game one, but he will need to get more involved for Chicago’s offense to click.
One player who needs to show better in game two is Logan Pause, who saw very little of the ball in game one. Obviously he’s going to lose out to Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz in the battle for possession, but he has to have more of an impact. The same goes for John Thorrington.
Should we expect any changes from this game one lineup?:
Barring injury, this same group should go again. Look for Chris Rolfe to get more involved this time around, while Justin Mapp should find room to operate on the left. He had some moments in game one, but floated in and out of the match far too often.
New England Revolution
If you watched game one, you saw a Revs team that wasn’t afraid to run at the Fire and attack. Will the approach be the same in game two, or will New England be more conservative on the road?
The speedy tandem of Mansalley and Dube up top can create problems IF they get some sort of service, but there just weren’t enough good passes coming from midfield in game one. Mauricio Castro showed some flashes and got forward quite a bit, but neither he or Nyassi is known for being a great crosser so you wonder how the Revs will construct attacks.
Here is the lineup we are likely to see:
Chris Tierney did well in game one at left back but you have to think Badilla will regain his starting spot, moving Jay Heaps to left back. Can Shalrie Joseph get more involved in the attack? Can the Revs risk pushing Joseph forward, or will Nicol avoid exposing his team to the Fire’s deadly counterattack?
What do you see happening on Thursday night? Will New England continue its playoff dominance? Will Chicago continue its 2008 dominance?