Stakes raised in EC Championship rematch: “It’s going to be a big-time game”

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s a regular-season encounter in early May, but Saturday night’s Eastern Conference Championship rematch between the New England Revolution and New York Red Bulls will have that “big-game feel” typically reserved for much later in the season.

It’s only natural considering the recent history between these sides; New England lifted a trophy and booked a spot in MLS Cup the last time the Revs and Red Bulls met at Gillette Stadium, using a 2-2 draw in the second leg of the conference championship to claim a 4-3 aggregate victory.

“Most definitely it will be a big-game feel,” said Teal Bunbury. “The fans always have our back and there’s a little rivalry we had with them last year in the playoffs.”

Bunbury had a major role to play in the first leg of that series, stunning Red Bull Arena with a curling drive to open the scoring in the Revolution’s eventual 2-1 win. It was a goal – along with Jermaine Jones’ late winner – that sent the 1,250 traveling supporters into frenzy.

The Revs will have even greater support on Saturday night at Gillette Stadium, but that remarkable showing at Red Bull Arena still resonates with Revolution players even six months later.

“It’s always a big game against New York,” said Kelyn Rowe. “They always give us a good game and when we go there, we usually give them a good game, as well.

“Going back to the playoff game when we had all those fans in New York, I think it’s going to be a huge game here because it’s a home game. They’re a little bit of a rival for us and right now they’re unbeaten.”

The Red Bulls are, in fact, Major League Soccer’s last remaining unbeaten side, winning three matches and drawing four through the first two months of the season. They enter the weekend perched in third place in the East, just one point back of the first-place Revolution (4-2-2, 14 pts.).

That proximity in the standings and what’s at stake – either side could actually end up on top of the MLS table by the end of the 90 minutes – adds even more intrigue to what’s sure to be a fiery encounter.

“It’s going to be a fun, exciting game,” Bunbury said. “I always say big-time players show up for big-time games, and it’s going to be a big-time game.”