SBI Playoff Preview: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution

FireRevs (ISIphotos.com)

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If familiarity breeds contempt, then the Chicago Fire and New England Revolution hate each other on a level no two teams in MLS can match.

The Eastern Conference foes have made meeting in the playoffs a rite of passage, having done so for five of the past six years. This season, they will battle for a spot in the Eastern Conference final for a seventh time in the past decade and unlike in most of the previous meetings, there is a clear favorite.

Chicago isn't the favorite because it has dominated play this year, far from it. The Fire has battled injuries and inconsistency to reach the post-season. Chicago enters as the favorites because New England enters short-handed, missing midfielder Steve Ralston (out with a torn ACL) and still missing Taylor Twellman, who missed all but two games this year with a concussion. Without those two, the Revs have relied on Shalrie Joseph to help carry them this far, but it may not be enough to top the talent-laden Fire.

Can New England go much further against a talented Chicago team that may have just one last good run in its current group? Will Cuauhtemoc Blanco end his time with the Fire with a bang, or with a whimper?

Here is a closer look at the series, which begins Sunday in Foxboro, Mass. (2pm, FSC):

TOP MATCH-UPS TO WATCH

Shalrie Joseph vs. Cuauhtemoc Blanco.

While Jeff Larentowicz might spend more time pestering Blanco (assuming he starts), Joseph and Blanco are the keys to their teams' attacks and whoever does a better job of imposing his will should give his team the edge in this series. The real question here is just how motivated will Blanco be now that it is known he won't be back after this season?

Darrius Barnes vs. Brian McBride

Barnes played every single minute of the season this year for the Revs, a truly impressive mark for a rookie centerback. His reward is a battle against a dangerous veteran like McBride. If McBride can hold his ground and provide a useful target for Rolfe and Nyarko to run off of, the Revs will have trouble, but Barnes is strong and good in the air.

Emmanuel Osei vs. Patrick Nyarko

This battle of impressive Ghanaians will be fun to watch. While McBride and Barnes wrestle, Nyarko will try to evade the very tough Osei.

Marco Pappa vs. Kevin Alston

This one might be the series' best hope for some excitement. Pappa provides a creative threat on the flank, but can also race down the wing if given space. Alston has the speed to stay tight on Pappa, and can also get forward on the counter.

Wilman Conde vs. Kheli Dube

Dube is the closest thing the Revs have to a goal-scoring forward and New England will need him to shake free if they are going to create many chances. The problem with that is Conde, when healthy, is probably the league's best defender and entirely capable of shutting Dube down.

X-FACTORS

Edgaras Jankouskas and Justin Mapp. The last time these teams met (just two weeks ago) Jankauskas was a busy bee, taking shots and committing fouls with equal frequency. If he can be a disruptive force up top, the Fire will be forced to stay honest defensively. For Chicago, Mapp has been an enigma all season (if not his entire career) but if he can be a real threat on the wings, and provide some quality service, it should help ease the burden on Blanco and give McBride a better chance of finding the net.

OUTLOOK

New England has fought hard to get to the playoffs, but you need the weapons offensively to succeed in the playoffs and the Revs just don't have them. Chicago isn't without some flaws, and some question marks, but the Fire still has too much talent not to win this series. Having the first game be on the road, where Chicago is actually stronger, should help set the Fire up for comfortable task in game two at Toyota Park.

Chicago's many injuries might have given New England a chance, but with the likes of Gonzalo Segares, Tim Ward and John Thorrington working their way back from injuries, the Fire should have enough weapons to prevail.

We give the edge to the Fire, which we see posting a 2-0 aggregate series victory.

What do you think of the series? Think Chicago will take it, or do you see New England pulling off the upset?

Share your thoughts below.

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25 Responses to SBI Playoff Preview: Chicago Fire vs. New England Revolution

  1. Fanguito says:

    Chicago 5 NE 1

  2. roysterer says:

    I actually laughed when I read that Dube is the closest thing the Revs have to a goal scoring forward. It’s funny because it’s true.

  3. rob c says:

    Two weeks ago in Foxboro, Alston was really frustrating the heck out of Pappa, who was quickly resorting to Blanco-like shenanigans that also weren’t working. Alston also contributed the cross on the sitter that Dube missed that same game–hoping for more of the same!

  4. Isaac says:

    If there is anything we’ve learned from New England, it’s that you should never rule them out of anything.

  5. Eric K says:

    I think the Revs have the defense and goalkeeping to stop the Fire’s attack. The question is, and has been this season due to injuries, do they have enough going in attack themselves to win? Chicago should be careful not to fall behind on any lapses in defense early on, because the Revs could play well with a lead. If New England falls behind however I don’t know if they have the firepower left to come back.

    How cool would it be if, unbeknownst to anyone, Taylor Twellman was able to return for this series? Seeing him trotting out of the tunnel for the game, it would almost be like a WWE storyline.

  6. RLW2020 says:

    draw in foxboro. and chicago win later.

    chicago decked in the next round.

  7. strider says:

    Well, the key here is how many of the Fire’s injured players return and how much rust they have. If we can get the win in Foxboro we should be able to cruise through game 2 at home. I would hope Blanco & McBride will be motivated to go out as champions, so I expect them to give 100% to get to the Eastern Final. Then we’ll see what’s waiting for us, but first we have to get by the Revs.

  8. Chris says:

    Except for winning MLS Cup. I think you can safely rule them out of that.

  9. Pablo Chicago says:

    SBI – The real question here is just how motivated will Blanco be now that it is known he won’t be back after this season?

    Known? Known by whom? Last I heard he has the option to come back after the WC. Not bloodly likely, but still an option.

  10. Limo says:

    not to say the Revs are a complete team, but I’m telling you now not to rule them out. The last two times they met, in the Superliga semifinal and at Gillette in the league a few games back, the Revs should have won, but just couldn’t capitalize when they needed to – they outplayed them in the last two meetings. And don’t think that the Fire are guaranteed the win at Toyota Park, remember the Fire’s poor home form…

  11. Limo says:

    not to say the Revs are a complete team, but I’m telling you now not to rule them out. The last two times they met, in the Superliga semifinal and at Gillette in the league a few games back, the Revs should have won, but just couldn’t capitalize when they needed to – they outplayed them in the last two meetings. And don’t think that the Fire are guaranteed the win at Toyota Park, remember the Fire’s poor home form…

  12. The Wild Mushroom says:

    Mapp an enigma, Enigma?? He is a Mope.

    You are too kind Ives. He plays with his head down and backs away from a fifty-fifty ball. Hopefully Mope goes to the USL next year.

  13. Socrates says:

    Let’s hope that Wells Thompson is not involved.

  14. EL CUERVO says:

    I think NE is gonna win… NE deserve! And we are gonna win… I’m sure… Play off revalation with RSL..

  15. doug says:

    Blanco’s a tiger and hates to lose. I would never doubt his intensity.

  16. Toby says:

    Ives, I was surprised you didn’t mention Rolfe as a key player. Reis should have been redcarded last game they played and Rolfe clearly had Reis beat. I would think he will be the key to the game on Sunday. Both he and Blanco will be keen on going out on top so look for a lot of fireworks from both of them.

  17. huricano says:

    I just realized how little I like the New England kit and Badge (not soccer, and not a good tribute to Old Glory). Why not put the Old North Church steeple, or something more related to Boston or the Revolutionary War? Sorry. That’s an aside. However, I’ve been a NE fan for a while, but the team for me has no players of interest, except Joseph. However, I’d like to see McBride, Blanco, Rolph, etc. square-off against the Crew (who I assume will get through). Am I alone in finding New England to be a bland sports franchise? They even chose New England as their region rather than Boston. Are they planning on moving to Hartford?

  18. zongzap says:

    Blanco wants to go out as the all time, biggest, MLS flopper. A title currently held by Carlos Ruiz. It will be tough but if he has a good game, he can dive his team into a PK or two. One hates to see a talented player resort to something as dishonorable as diving but he is …. a world class flopper.

    I don’t think the Revs will win and don’t see any blow outs

  19. Blake says:

    Go Fire! I’ll be there behind the goal for the second leg. Hopefully they magically find some home form.

  20. Chris says:

    Mapp hasn’t sniffed the field in months.

    Come on now…

    (SBI-Oct. 2nd isn’t exactly months ago, but who’s counting?)

  21. This Guy says:

    I highly doubt RSL will deck the Fire in the 2nd round

  22. This Guy says:

    You mean the Revs should have won a few games back when Reis shoestring tackled Rolfe in the box?
    I hope you mistyped that one.

  23. otergod says:

    Two weeks ago in Foxboro, the Ref gave the Revs a gift that helped them earn their playoff birth by not calling the PK against Reis instead gave Rolfe a yellow for “diving”

  24. otergod says:

    why do they deserve it?? if anything Chicago has had to deal with more this season… am not impressed

  25. Blake says:

    He had that beautiful cross on the McBride equalizer a month back against Toronto, and probably earned Chicago’s man of the match for it.

    That said, the disappearing act is incredibly frustrating.