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Revolution vs. Red Bulls: Eastern Conference Final Preview - Focusing Not On The Stars, But The Players Who Have to Stop Them

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Everyone knows the star power the 2014 Eastern Conference Final brings to the table. Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones in the Revs midfield and Thierry Henry and Bradley Wright-Phillips for the Red Bulls attack. But what about the players who will have to shut them down?

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The focus for the next two weeks of the Eastern Conference Final between the New England Revolution and the New York Red Bulls will be focused on the stars.

Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones lead a dominating midfield that has lost only once since Jones joined the team over the summer. Bradley Wright-Phillips and Thierry Henry are the best pure attacking duo in the Eastern Conference and it's not even that close.

But what about the players who are going to have to stop them?

Eric Alexander and Dax McCarty are the two holding midfielders in Mike Petke's 4-2-3-1 set up. Their task is to stop Lee Nguyen in the center of the field, something that over the last few months has seemingly never happened. On the other side of the ball, Andrew Farrell and Chris Tierney are the Revs outside backs and they'll be tasked with denying service to BWP and others on the wings. I do not envy either pair nor their tasks for the next two weeks.

Let's start with McCarty. I like him a lot, gushed about him in an earlier post this week about impact players in the Conference Final. Why did I go with McCarty? Because he reminds of Nguyen in many ways. He's unassuming, works his but off and always finds ways to affect the game. You need players like McCarty on your team to win games and in this case, playoff series. Likewise, his partner Eric Alexander has proved to be very versatile in two seasons in New York. Alexander has featured in a wide midfield role and can be a very dangerous player joining the attack with a late run or supporting it out wide and providing service. Are these two guys the most talented holding midfield pair in MLS, probably not, but would you be upset if you had one or both on your team? Absolutely not.

Likewise, the Revs have been playing a high, pressing style in the playoffs and with that pressure comes great risk and reward. The reward comes from generating turnovers and starting counter attacks. The risk is leaving your backline exposed and out of position.

This is where Farrell and Tierney come in. We've all seen the highlight reels that Henry puts together just about every week with his deft and pin point accurate passes. The man who will largely be tasked with shutting him down will be Farrell, and the former #1 overall pick is definitely suited for the task. His speed and ability out wide are an impressive combination for his size, strength and skill on the ball. While he also featured at centerback and struggled in a few one on one situations at times this season that led to goals, it's clear that Farrell is defender first and has all the tools to matchup against Henry. Knowing that any cross or pass he gets off towards the box could end up in the back of the net is a lot of pressure, but that comes with the territory of being a top draft pick.

On the opposite side, Chris Tierney is a typical American left back, a converted midfielder with a deadly left foot on set pieces that's a little more attack minded. With a fast and fluid attacking style that the Red Bulls often play, getting forward might be less of a priority for Tierney as going forward to get service into the box. Lloyd Sam is more of a true winger and with nine assists on the year can be just as dangerous as Henry despite not having the same flair. Any chance Tierney or Farrell has to deny service, push their attacker wide or force a backpass is a victory for the Revs since it means less of chance of BWP or Peguy Luyindula getting on the other end of cross inside the box.

Neither one of these pairings will be able to completely stop the stars on the opposite side of the field. But the unit that perhaps slows down the other teams' best players could be the decisive factor in this match-up. In a game that could either be end-to-end action or a midfield slugfest, any mistake by either side could likely end up in the back of the net.