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What we know: Eastern Conference Finals, first leg

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In which examine RBNY's next step on the road towards the MLS Cup.

Adam Hunger-USA TODAY Sports

The New York Red Bulls have finally won a play off game at home in Red Bull Arena.  In fact, they've won two.   The new York Red Bulls have also beaten hated rivals, D.C. United in a playoff series for the first time in team history.   The New York Red Bulls have reached the Eastern Conference Semifinals for the first time since 2008 and, earlier this season, the New York Red Bulls took a full three points out of Gillette Stadium for the first time within the Red Bull era.  This has been a season of firsts for the New York Red Bulls, yet there's still one more first for this team to achieve.  The biggest first of them all.  The New York Red Bulls are three games away from, what would be, their first MLS Cup.   But first, the New York Red Bulls need to focus on the first leg of their playoff series against the New England Revolution.

Here's what we know:

  • This series will be won and lost in the midfield.
New York's season turned around as soon as coach Mike Petke decided to stray away from the straight 4-4-2 that the team had been running since early 2013.   While a you could argue that slotting Thierry Henry on the left, allowing him to feed passes to a red hot Bradley Wright-Phillips is what made all the difference, you'd be more likely to see the real change in the midfield.  Moving Eric Alexander along side Dax McCarty in a more defensive role helped to clog up the attacking lanes and shore up a struggling back line.   The two Americans will be key to a Red Bulls' win in this series.  The Revolution's midfield, namely Jermaine Jones and possible league MVP, Lee Nguyen, have been deadly in the latter parts of the season.   Look to those four players to decide this series.

  • Miller's yearly breakdown.
Roy Miller has been one of the most impressively reliable left backs in all of Major League Soccer in 2014.  Even after a World Cup call up, Miller's overlapping runs have been a key part of New York's attack.  Unfortunately, the Costa Rican defender is also good for at least one head scratching, bone headed moment in every season.   This year, he got that moment out of the way during the dying seconds of the last match in Washington.   With the series all but won, Miller went in way too high on a challenge and rightly received an automatic red card, causing him to miss his next two matches due to the addition of yellow card accumulation.  So, thanks to Miller's "consistency,"  the Red Bulls will be without their starting left back and will be forced to rely on rookie defender, Ambroise Oyongo.   While Oyongo's lack of MLS playoff experience might be a concern to some, it should be noted that the young left back has recently been playing regular minutes for Cameroon in the African Cup of Nations qualifying campaign....so it's not like he's unfamiliar with high pressure matches.

  • No really, THIS is the last chance to see Henry play, unless...
This is, without a doubt, the final match of the 2014 season to be played in Red Bull Arena.  All three of the other remaining clubs still in contention for the cup have placed higher during the regular season.  That means that, no matter what, the Red Bulls will not set foot in Harrison after this Sunday's match.   Even if they advance to the Cup Finals, the championship match will be played in either Seattle or Los Angeles.  With the realization that we will be enjoying the last home game of the year comes also the realization that this will be, most likely, in all probability, totally finally, and we mean this now, Thierry Henry's last game, at home, as a Red Bull.   Unless, of course, he decides not to retire after all.   It does appear, however, that he will retire, so you can feel comfortable in assuming that he's going to put on one hell of a show come Sunday afternoon.

  • This is going to be intense.
It has already been announced that Sunday's match has been sold over capacity.   With a dwindling number of tickets available on scalping sites and around 1200 Revs fans being bussed in from New England, Red Bull Arena is going to be packed to the brim with high intensity and crazy energy.   Anyone that's ever attended a Red Bull game when the stadium is anywhere near close to full can attest, New York just plays better when they have an audience.   If ever there's a time when they'll need that audience, it's this Sunday, during this match in which a win will take them just that much closer to yet another first.