MLS Playoff Preview: New England Revolution vs Chicago Fire

For the fifth time in five years, the Revs battle the Fire in the playoffs.
Who: New England Revolution and Chicago Fire
What: Eastern Conference semifinal, first leg
When: 2:00 EST, Sunday, November 1, 2009
Where: Gillette Stadium, Foxborough Mass.
TV: Fox Soccer Channel

The Gist:

It's one of the biggest rivalries in Major League Soccer. Year in and year out, the New England Revolution and Chicago Fire have battled it out in the Eastern Conference, and for the fifth straight season, and for the seventh time in eight years, they will meet in the playoffs.

There are no surprises between the teams, no new tactical strategies, no fresh faces to throw on the pitch to alter the outcome. Simply put, when New England and Chicago meet, the game is usually tight with very little to separate the winners from the losers.

For three consecutive seasons it was the Revolution who bounced Chicago from MLS Cup contention. Last season, the tides turned and the Fire sent the Revs home early.

During the 2009 regular season New England and Chicago played out two draws, 1-1 at Toyota Park in May, and a 0-0 snooze fest at Gillette two weeks ago. The teams also met in the 2009 SuperLiga semifinals, a game that Chicago won 2-1 in New England.

With all of that said, this tie looks much more similar to to the 2008 playoffs series than any of the previous ones. The Revolution come into the match missing a number of key players, most of them vital parts of the attack, and trying to solve the mystery of where the goals will come from.

The Fire, despite closing the season on a fairly poor run of form (three wins from twelve matches in all competitions), have the upper hand when it comes to creating chances. Brian McBride and Cuauhtemoc Blanco terrorized the New England back line in the SuperLiga matchup - with each netting once. In that match Blanco assisted on McBride's goal and McBride drew the foul that led to Blanco scoring from a freekick. The young Revolution defense will have its hands full dealing with the two veteran superstars.

Wing play will likely be very decisive in this tie. Both squads are blessed with plenty of pace and talent running the flanks, but the edge has to be handed to Chicago for having strikers to get on the end of service from those wide areas.

Players To Watch

New England: Shalrie Joseph. Most of the time having your best player be your leading scorer is a good thing. For New England, it's actually emblematic of the problems they've had going forward. 'Supah' Shalrie is having a career year for New England, but the further up the field he has to push, the weaker New England becomes in the middle of the field. If the Revs come out on top, don't be shocked if Joseph's name turns up on the scoresheet.

Chicago: Chris Rolfe. Rolfe is a wild card of sorts. While he doesn't have the credentials of Blanco or McBride, the midfielder/forward has proven to be a handful. New England's wingers don't track back well, and even though they are protected by two very strong defensive mids and a good back four, Rolfe should have plenty of room to make an impact on this tie.

Prediction: In a shocker, New England wins, 1-0.

Allen Ramsey, Goal.com.


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