Although all eyes have been on Jermaine Jones since he joined the New England Revolution, Columbus Crew midfielder Tony Tchani believes his team needs to contain MVP candidate Lee Nguyen in order to win this two-game, aggregate-goal semifinal series.
The Revolution face their own set of challenges against a Columbus club seeking its seventh straight home win.
Two of the hottest teams in the Eastern Conference look to carry their outstanding play into the postseason Saturday in the first leg of the series.
Following a 1-9-1 stretch from May 31-Aug. 16 that included eight consecutive defeats, New England turned its season around by going 9-1-1 the rest of the way to earn the East’s No. 2 seed.
The Revolution (17-13-4) totaled 10 goals over a 12-game span leading up to the acquisition of Jones in late August. Since the midfielder came aboard following a 14-year career in Europe, they’ve scored 20 times in 10 matches.
Jones recorded two goals and four assists, including the go-ahead score in a 2-1 home win over the third-seeded Crew (14-10-10) in the most recent meeting Oct. 4.
He will be trying to help the Revolution reach the MLS Cup for the first time since 2007.
"It’s two important games and the whole team has to step (up) and show them," Jones said. "I think it’s not about one key player. We have to be 100 percent as a team and I think we can beat Columbus."
Tchani feels the Crew should be more focused on stopping Nguyen, who’s scored five goals in the past four games – one in the last matchup with Columbus.
Nguyen ranked fourth in MLS with a career-best 18 scores and led the league with nine game-winning goals. New England went 14-1-2 when the midfielder had either a goal or an assist.
"I don’t know why people talk about Jones like he’s the main guy," Tchani told the league’s official website. "The main guy is Nguyen. If you shut that guy down, I think we can win the game."
The Revolution’s lone blemish down the stretch was a 1-0 loss at Columbus on Sept. 20. Federico Higuain scored in the 48th minute, while Steve Clark matched a season high with six saves in one of his eight shutouts.
Following a 1-7-8 stretch, the Crew ended a two-year playoff drought with a 10-3-2 finish, and they’ve outscored opponents 15-2 during the home winning streak.
Higuain and Ethan Finlay scored 11 goals to lead five players with at least five scores.
Finlay’s found the back of the net in four of the past five games, including the last meeting with New England. Finlay and Higuain had goals in a 2-1 road win over the Revolution on July 26.
Higuain is expected to be ready for the first leg after sitting out Sunday’s regular-season finale due to a right hip injury.
New England is 2-0-3 in five all-time playoff meetings, going 1-0-1 in Columbus. The second leg of the series is Nov. 9 at Gillette Stadium.