MLS Playoffs Eastern Conference Final: Columbus vs. New England
The matchup for the Eastern Conference Semifinals has been set. The Columbus Crew will be matched up against the play-in round team New England Revolution. The game to determine the champion of the Eastern Conference will take place this Sunday starting at 1:00 PM EST.
Columbus got to the semifinals after having the more successful season in this matchup. The team finished third in the Eastern Conference and is the closest thing to a favorite that this conference will have after the number one and two seeds were knocked out.
Despite finishing as the eighth seed in the conference and having to play an extra game in the play-in round, New England have shown incredible form throughout the end of the season and in the MLS Playoffs.
The team is coming off of convincing wins against Philadelphia and Orlando City, who finished the season first and fourth, respectively.
Neither team is going to be a pushover this late in the playoffs, as we look to see whether the unshakable form of New England can match up against the third place Columbus. With only five teams left, let's look at the odds on each remaining team now compared to the beginning of the MLS Playoffs.
MLS Future Champions Odds
#3 Columbus Crew
Current MLS Playoff Form:
Columbus 3, New York Red Bulls 2
Columbus 2, Nashville SC 0
Columbus is coming into this matchup after putting an end to expansion team Nashville’s first season in the MLS. The team won the game comfortably in the end winning 2-0 in extra time. Nashville was outclassed in its strongest area last Sunday, on defense.
The good news is that the game is behind them. Columbus faced likely the most proficient team defensively that they could have and came out on top. The team has played this playoffs with consistent output from both the offense and defense.
Both team leaders Pedro Santos and Gyasi Zardes excelled in extra time to bring the team to the conference semifinals.
Now, for the second game in a row, Columbus will be matched up against a team that it has not played all year. The first time against Nashville was a success, though New England is a more experienced MLS team and will look to be a more formidable opponent.
The biggest concern for Columbus may be the depth of the squad and the current stamina. The team currently has three players injured and were missing seven against Nashville due to coronavirus.
After playing a full 120 minute game, the concerns may start to rise against a high-energy team like New England.
How Columbus Can Win this Game
In order for Columbus to play its game and come out on top, the team needs to slow down New England right from the beginning. The Revolution are a team that plays with high energy from beginning to end, and on both sides of the ball.
The plan for Columbus should be to control the pace of the game, keep possession and try to drag the game into a slower pace with a focus on defense. The slower pace will also help to preserve key forwards for later parts of the game in which Columbus excels.
Portugese midfielder Pedro Santos will be the key player for Columbus in this game. Santos has had an excellent season with eight assists and six goals, scoring the game-winning goal against Nashville.
His ability to control the game in the middle of the field and open up opportunities for players like Zardes will be crucial to the team’s success. Columbus’ defense must remain disciplined, any mistakes in a game against New England will almost certainly be very costly.
#8 New England Revolution
Current MLS Playoff Form:
New England 2, Montreal 1
New England 2, Philadelphia 0
New England 3, Orlando City 1
All respect goes to the timeless Bruce Arena. The legendary USA coach has done a wonderful job this season in New England, as no team looks able to match the form and pace with which this Revolution team plays.
New England finished as the eighth seed after an admittedly average season, but its current form is best in the MLS. New England is coming off of massive wins against fourth-seed Orlando City as well as the season’s best MLS team Philadelphia.
This comes after not beating Philadelphia once out of four games this year. New England is a different team in these MLS Playoffs, and right now the Eastern Conference looks to already be theirs. New England came out quickly against Orlando City, going up 2-0 within the first half hour of the game.
A defensive error allowed Orlando City to briefly make it close, however this was against the flow of the game. New England dominated the game like it did against Philadelphia. Both top seeds, both decidedly beaten by a Revolution team that is currently playing its best soccer of the season.
What New England Need to Win
The game plan for Bruce Arena’s team should not really see many changes going into the game with Columbus. Two times in a row now New England have come up against a top rated team, and twice now the Revolution have sent them home with ease.
It would be difficult to make an argument that any of the four teams still in the MLS Playoffs look better than New England right now. The team has four legitimate goal scorers in Buchanan, Bunbury, Buska and Bou. Three of the four have scored at least once already in these playoffs.
New England will want to come into this game and break Columbus’ defense down as quickly as possible. Opening the game up will benefit New England as the team is playing complete with lots of offensive threats moving up the field.
Getting an early lead and making Columbus play from behind should be the top priority to controlling this game.
New England vs. Columbus Thoughts and Prediction
Coming into this game, neither should be considered the favorite or underdog. Both teams are quite evenly matched as everything sits and it could easily go either way.
The team that makes the fewest mistakes will likely be the winner. In a game this close, neither team will be able to give up mistakes that lead to dangerous chances or even goals. Both teams will also want to play their style of soccer.
Columbus with a more calm and defensive approach while New England will want to open up play as soon as possible.
The teams have not played each other at all in 2020, and their first meeting will be a crucial one. Expect a tug of war game where both teams come out and try to push the game to favor their own style of play.
Columbus was the better team this season on paper, however catching up with New England right now seems impossible for any opponent.
Bruce Arena has the team flying and after knocking out the first and fourth seeds, it's time for the Revolution to dismiss the number three Columbus Crew as well on Sunday.
|Prediction: New England 3, Columbus 2|