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MLS Playoff Preview: New England Revolution at Sporting Kansas City

Nov 6, 2013, 6:12 PM EDT

Philadelphia Union v Sporting Kansas City Getty Images
  • Revolution won leg one 2-1 on Saturday
  • Kansas City eliminated on home ground each of the last two seasons
  • First leg featured seven yellow cards

Over 180 regular season minutes, Sporting KC kept New England off the scoresheet. That’s why it was so disconcerting to see the Revolution score twice by Saturday’s 67th minute, Kelyn Rowe’s goal coming 12 minutes after Andy Dorman’s controversial opener. Granted, one of Sporting KC’s shutouts over New England (the one in Foxborough) was against a much different Revolution team – the spring version of Jay Heaps’ side that was all parry, no punch. Since, New England’s a much different team, settling on a 4-1-4-1 formation that can leverage their wealth of attacking talent. Unfortunately, they still lost 3-0 at Sporting Park in August.

But the relevance of that result to Wednesday’s second leg is questionable. The departed Kei Kamara scored the first two goals. Then New England saw two players sent off. Benny Feilhaber, who added Kansas City’s third just before the whistle, isn’t expected to play a significant part on Wednesday. With each of August’s major events unlikely to be replicated on Thursday, we might as well throw that game out the window, too.

So what are we left with? What we saw on Saturday – a chippy, often ugly affair where capitalizing on breaks defined the match. After being neutralized throughout the first half, New England got theirs with Gorman’s potentially offside goal. Rocked, Kansas City gave up a second 12 minutes later but capitalized on their own break at the end, where chaos in the penalty area left Aurelien Collin alone in front of goal. Had Kansas City done better with their first half chances, Collin’s could have been an equalizing or winning goal.

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on New England ahead of tonight’s game at Sporting Kansas City]

That’s easy to say in hindsight – that benevolent state that tricks you into thinking everything will go right in the next time around. But there’s a reason why Kansas City wasn’t converting on those chances. When Teal Bunbury fires an uncontested volley right at Matt Reis, it’s because he’s Teal Bunbury and not a more established scorer. When Jacob Petersen and C.J. Sapong aren’t producing goals, it’s a reminder that this wasn’t the plan. Claudio Bieler was supposed to be Sporting’s go-to guy, but that didn’t work out, either. You can’t just look back at the previous game and expect every chance you generated to come good next time. In reality, most teams don’t have sure-fire finishers up top. It’s always a game of chance.

source: Getty Images

Teal Bunbury (left) was a surprise starter on Saturday in New England, with his best chance shot straight to Revolution keeper Matt Reis. (Photo: Getty Images)

Clearly, if Graham Zusi continues generating those types of chances on Wednesday, the odds sway in Kansas City’s favor. But those odds will balance out if New England gets more production from their midfield creators. Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe, making their first postseason appearances, are the keys to this team’s success, yet in the first half in Foxborough, they weren’t their normal selves. Some of that is on KC, but as we saw in the second half, a lot of that is on the two creators. They’ll be better on Wednesday.

Which leaves us with Kansas City’s recent history. Each of the last two years, home field went for naught, Kansas City eliminated from the postseason in front of their home fans. All the good work they did in the regular season to earn their conference’s first seed went for naught as they came up short of the MLS Cup final. Is history repeating itself?

Possibly, and when you consider the team’s personnel, style, and results, you can see why. Kansas City is habitually among the best defensive teams in Major League Soccer not only because of their great personnel (is there a better central pair than Collin and Matt Besler?) but also because of their tactics. No team is better set up (and more willing to try) to kill off a one-goal game. Sporting won took five 1-0 wins this season, winning 2-1 on five other occasions. (New England, by contrast, had three 1-0 wins and two 2-1s.)

[MORE: MLS Playoff Focus: Notes on Sporting Kansas City ahead of tonight’s visit from New England]

But often (and definitely in the 1-0 results), that approach is predicated on scoring the first goal. They didn’t in this series. They didn’t in the 2011 conference final, but they did in the 2011 conference semifinal (taking a 2-0, opening leg win out of Colorado). Now, instead of being able to revert to what they do best, they’ve been forced out of their comfort zone. Sporting’s ability to adjust will dictate whether they can truly put the last two postseasons behind them.

  1. bobinkc - Nov 5, 2013 at 3:50 PM

    Richard,

    Several points come to mind.

    1) Seven yellow cards after allowing mayhem to occur during the first half is ridiculous! I thought Toledo and Salazar were bad, but what I have seen in the post-season so far makes them appear to be paragons of appropriateness.

    2) SKC has always had a problem with scoring a second goal.

    3) My hope is that Teal “One-Touch” Bunbury will NOT be asked to return to Kansas City for next season. His idea of good play is to touch the ball once (if he tries for it at all) and then surrender it to the opposition. He has absolutely no head for pursuit and refuses to contest an opponent for the ball. After watching his late-game appearances this season, I have frequently wondered if he has to back up to the table to collect his paycheck.

    4) Zusi does an excellent job of setting up opportunities on both set pieces and the up-field charge. The other end of that stick is that someone has to be able to take the setup and finish it. Sadly lacking in many games this season and in past season.

    5) All of that off my chest, I am confident my boys will pull this one out to move on to the semis.

    • Richard Farley - Nov 5, 2013 at 3:52 PM

      Best of luck, Bob. Enjoyed reading the comment.

    • geojock - Nov 6, 2013 at 9:04 AM

      It it just a coincidence that all games vs SKC turn out the same way? With lots of cards? I watched both games back to back last week and you could tell the difference in the way the teams handled themselves.

  2. danielofthedale - Nov 5, 2013 at 4:31 PM

    Someone but out a BOLO for Claudio Bieler! Where has this guy gone to? Seems like he is the guy to help cure the ills of SKC in the final third but he seems to have dropped of the face of the earth.

    I really think New England should come looking for the kill shot. Don’t just sit back and try to get the scoreless draw, that not what got the Revs to playoffs.

  3. danielofthedale - Nov 5, 2013 at 5:42 PM

    And why is neither Eastern Conference Second Leg game going to be show on National TV? I know this is not related to the article but seems the best place ask as its the most recent MLS Playoff post.

  4. geojock - Nov 6, 2013 at 9:06 AM

    It will be interesting if NER get can a goal. If they could steal a goal earlier I could see a Impact type meltdown by SKC.

  5. bobinkc - Nov 6, 2013 at 2:01 PM

    Sorry, Daniel, but it doesn’t break my heart. Of course, I don’t have the every-sports-channel-in-the-world packages that a lot of guys (including my son) have, but at least I can watch it on our MLS soccer station. Now my son’s opinion is a little different: he now lives in Fayetteville and has the monster channel package so that he can watch EPL, etc., (when his wife lets him) but he can’t get our local MLS station. Since Arkansas doesn’t have a clue what soccer is, he’s just out of luck this time.

  6. ndnut - Nov 6, 2013 at 6:46 PM

    Bob (or anyone who knows) can you tell me the Sporks’ radio station so I can stream an audio feed online?

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