Though Bruce Arena's midfield touts flashy veterans Juninho and Landon Donovan, his team has almost certainly found its form based on the play of attacking midfielders Stefan Ishizaki and Marcelo Sarvas. Against a hapless Real Salt Lake side, and a confident Seattle club, the Galaxy dominated the midfield battle--and the competition wasn't close.
On Sunday, however, they'll face an entirely new test: a two-way Revolution midfield that shuts down opposing attacks and pushes forward with pace. Thanks to the addition of Jermaine Jones, the MVP caliber play of Lee Nguyen, the speed and skill of Teal Bunbury and smart decision making from Scott Caldwell, this unit has developed into one of the best in soccer.
Which midfield offers an edge? We break down the middle of the park in part 3 of our position-battle breakdown.
Don't get me wrong--the Galaxy have a stout midfield. Over the past month, they've dominated postseason opponents by controlling the middle of the park, countering quickly and setting up talented forwards Robbie Keane and Gyasi Zardes. With Landon Donovan and attack-minded Stefan Ishizaki manning the flanks, Brazilian-born Marcelo Sarvas frequently finds room to shine out of the middle. And when Sarvas shines, he often outshines everybody else on the pitch. Juninho, of course, also adds a solid presence to LA's 4-4-2 formation, capping a fluid unit that rarely loses the midfield battle.
That is, until Sunday.
After toying with his roster for much of the 2014 season, Jay Heaps placed Teal Bunbury into a virtually unknown "target winger" position. Bunbury's speed, work rate and ball control has proven deadly in his new role and, since the playoffs began, his finishing has followed. Of course, we can't forget midfield engineer Lee Nguyen, who consistently burns back lines when he has space (or doesn't) to patiently push forward; stalwart box-to-box middy Jermaine Jones who, outlined by Jake in our defensive comparison, has proven invaluable as a defensive presence; and Chris Tierney, who serves up the meanest left-footed cross in the league, whether pushing out of the midfield or joining from the back. Insert supersubs Keylyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez, and LA's midfield feels just a quarter-step behind.
LA's midfield is rock solid. Stefan Ishizaki has been a revelation this year. In the middle, Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho mix grit and energy in the midfield with excellent passing acumen and the capability to score at any time. And then, of course, Landon Donovan needs no introduction. It is absolutely an enviable middle four.
But the Revs are better. Do they dominate possession like a traditional strong midfield? No. They just don't let the other team get any sort of rhythm, crushing teams under intense pressure by scooping up every loose ball and picking up balls way up the pitch. Lee Nguyen probably should have won the league MVP award. Jermaine Jones is the bulldog box-to-box midfielder that teams dream about. Scott Caldwell has quietly turned into one of the most efficient holding midfielders in MLS. And on the flanks, Kelyn Rowe and Teal Bunbury can slice up even the tightest defense. The speed, tenacity, and skill of this group can be totally overwhelming, and it gives the Revs the advantage.
I'm counting Teal Bunbury and Kelyn Rowe as forwards for this comparison, which means that I consider the midfield triangle of Lee Nguyen, Jermaine Jones and Scott Caldwell is better than the flat four-man midfield of the Galaxy. And I think they are. If there's one clear advantage the Revs have in the MLS Cup Final, it's in the center of the midfield, where Jones and Nguyen have been dominant over the last few months with Caldwell playing really well in a support role next to Jones. If I count Bunbury's role defensively into the mix this starts to become a bit lopsided in my opinion, as I've already wrote about Bunbury's defensive prowess this year.
That being said, the Galaxy midfield is a handful, as Sarvas and Juninho are good players with Ishizaki and Donovan out wide, but I doubt the Galaxy have the personnel to match up against Nguyen and Jones like the Red Bulls did. With the Galaxy's flat 4-4-2 formation, if Nguyen can find the space between the defensive and midfield lines as he's done so often this year, he's going to be the MVP caliber threat the Revs have seen all year. It will be up to the Galaxy's wide players to dominate the wings and given how well the Revs did against the vaunted New York wide players on defense, the Revs have to like the matchups in the midfield going into MLS Cup.
Maybe it's because I want to play devil's advocate or maybe it's because I believe in the power of Landon Donovan. Either way I'm giving the edge to the Galaxy.
In a game where both teams are talented in the middle, it could be singular hero that steps up and decides the game. While Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones are capable of creating spectacular moments, no one can turn a game like Donovan. Playing in his final professional game ever, the MLS lifer will be in search of a moment that will make soccer fans forget about the goal against Algeria.
Or perhaps Scott Caldwell scores a hat trick.
Consensus: Revolution, 3 Votes
According to our staff, the Revolution's top-tier midfield outshines its counterpart, using speed, intelligence and grit to gain a part 3 edge.
What about you? Which team do you believe gains an edge from its midfield? Tell us below.