The New England Revolution has returned to the postseason for the first time since 2009, and they have a squad capable of making some noise, but first they must figure out a way past Sporting Kansas City.
History does not favor New England, though, as they have not beaten SKC since April 23, 2011, and have not beaten them in Kansas City since April 9, 2008. Manager Jay Heaps will have his work cut out for him this week as he will need two positive results over SKC in a week if New England has championship ambitions.
New England do come into this playoff matchup on a bit of a streak, being unbeaten in their last six, but the amazing statistic from that streak is they’ve had seven different goal scorers. If they can continue to get goals from various sources, that will only help New England stay an incredibly dangerous club. Their tactics allow for the fluid motion of their attacking players, which could cause some confusion among the SKC defense; it’ll be important for Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe and Dimitry Imbongo to frequently swap the space they are covering to stretch and possibly break the defense.
Goalkeeper Matt Reis has only played 995 minutes this season for New England, but his numbers are impressive nonetheless. In 12 games this year, Reis has a record of seven wins, four draws and zero losses, and also boasts a goals against average of 0.72 — which would put him at the top of the league if he qualified.
For all of the praise that New England’s defense has received this season, it’s Sporting Kansas City who has the better one.
Over the course of the regular season, SKC only allowed a total of 30 goals which comes out to less than a goal per game. Factor in, as well, that Sporting have shutout New England in the last five meetings and this series looks like it will be a cakewalk for the men from Kansas City.
If there is a concern for SKC, it’s the lack of recent scoring away from Sporting Park having only scored six goals in the last seven matches away from KC. As long as they can keep New England close in the first leg, they should have no problem at home as they have scored 29 goals at Sporting Park this season.
SKC will need to depend on the communication of defensive mid Oriol Rosell with center backs Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler to stay aware of the switching positions of the New England attack. The distribution from Graham Zusi will also be important; he will need to be very crisp with his passes to find forwards and wings in space, but also be aware enough to fire shots on goal if the opportunity arises.
Sporting Kansas City travel to Gillette Stadium to take on the New England Revolution in Leg 1 of the Eastern Conference Semi-Finals on Saturday, Nov. 2. Kickoff is at 8:00 p.m. EST; This match can be seen on the NBC Sports Network.
First Leg Prediction: New England Revolution 0, Sporting Kansas City 0
This series will be very tightly contested between these two highly-defensive teams. One defensive breakdown could be the difference between going on and going home. The story of the first leg will be the goaltending; an excellent matchup of two veterans in Jimmy Nielsen and Reis. I will be very surprised to see a goal in this leg which will set up a firecracker of a second leg in Kansas City next Wednesday night.