A 2-0 win in the first leg of the Eastern Conference Championship against the New York Red Bulls has one foot in the door to the MLS Cup Final for the Columbus Crew. However, to get through the door, they need to not squander their lead. The Red Bulls, on the other hand, look to turn the tables around.
A goal just nine seconds into the first leg from Iraqi international Justin Meram gave Crew SC the quick start they needed in order to help get to where they are now. The goal set the record for the fastest goal in MLS Cup Playoff history. Crew SC look to escape the series with a road goal, which will help them get to the MLS Cup Final for just the second time in franchise history. If they want to make it, they need to keep the Supporters' Shield winners from reversing the deficit which they picked up in Columbus last week.
A couple of standout players to look at in the second leg are, of course, the usual superstars, but also a new impact player who got Crew SC in this position in the first place. The first, and undoubtedly most important play for Columbus, is Kei Kamara. The Sierra Leon striker notched his third playoff goal this year in the 84th minute of the first leg when he struck to make it 2-0.
After Kamara, midfielder must be mentioned Cedrick Mabwati. This dynamic, fast midfielder is also a key contributor to the success of Crew SC's playoff run. From his wicked ball in to Kamara in the second leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinal against the Montreal Impact, to his assist on the Kamara goal in the first leg, Mabwati is one guy the Red Bull defense will need to lock on to. Note, also, that Argentine defender Gaston Sauro will be available for selection after serving his one game suspension for yellow card accumulation.
On the opposite side, the New York Red Bulls need to dig themselves out of the hole they got into. After limiting rivals DC United to just four shots on goal in the previous series, they now are down 2-0 on aggregate to the team who has lost to them in all meetings this year. New York cannot afford to lose the Eastern Conference Championship to the team who also [somewhat] defeated them in 2008 for the MLS Cup. Oh, the irony. With a chance to host the MLS Cup on the line, the Red Bulls need to score.
A couple players who will shine in this match are Brazilian playmaker Felipe, striker Bradley Wright-Philips, and midfielder Sacha Kljestan. Felipe and Kljestan have dovetailed wonderfully all season long, while there seems to be an itch in Wright-Philips when he plays at home, and he almost always scores. And, last but not least, Luis Robles. After being the victim to the fastest goal in MLS Cup Playoff history, Robles will need to be on his feet, and his mind clear if he wants to take this team to winning their first possible MLS Cup in the 20 years that the club has been in the league.
Here's how the series can play out, in a playoff map.
As shown above, the chances of New York advancing are about 25%. The Red Bulls need to bring the energy they had all season, and the enthusiasm that connects the team together, in order for them to advance to the MLS Cup Final.
The offciating crew for the match on Sunday, is as follows. Referee: Baldemero Toledo; AR1: Frank Anderson, AR2: Greg Barkey; FOURTH: Sorin Stoica.
It's hard for this journalist to say because both teams are very talented, and one can turn the playoff picture upside down with one goal. But, this journalist has to go with his gut. Columbus Crew SC advanced with a 2(4)-1(1) victory.