Fresh off Saturday’s 2-1 first leg Conference semifinal victory over Sporting Kansas City, the New England Revolution will enter Wednesday’s second leg at Sporting Park holding a one-goal advantage on aggregate. Kickoff is set for 9:00 p.m. ET.
Unlike many European competitions, road goals in the MLS postseason are not weighted more than home goals. If the aggregate score is tied after 180 minutes of play, two 15-minute extra time periods will be played in their entirety, followed by penalty kicks, if necessary.
The club with the most goals at the end of Wednesday’s clash will advance to the Eastern Conference finals, which will kick off on Saturday at the home of the lower-seeded club.
• What to expect from New England: Look for the Revolution to pick their spots going forward in the early going. There is no such thing as a safe one-goal advantage at Sporting Park, so the Revolution will be searching to widen the gap in the first half. To do so, they’ll have to absorb the waves of pressure Kansas City will send their way, and exploit any space they can find to get a third goal.
Should the Revolution continue to hold the advantage at halftime, it’s no secret they’ll drop numbers back and bunker in. Jay Heaps will likely use all of his available substitutes for defensive purposes, as the Revolution will do their best to see the game out.
• What to expect from Kansas City: Is there any question that Peter Vermes’ team will step on the pedal right from the start? Still smarting from Saturday’s loss, Kansas City will employ its high-pressure approach in an attempt to level the game early. Should they succeed, they’ll continue to hassle the Revolution inside their own end, much like they did the last time the teams met at Sporting Park. The final score of that game saw the hosts claim a 3-0 win.
But if Kansas City doesn’t claim an early equalizer, they’re liable to get frustrated, which will likely sabotage their chances.
Typically, Kansas City fouls to stifle their opponents -- an approach that’s worked against the Revolution a number of times in recent years. However, if they can’t figure out a way to find the back of the net, it could get ugly real fast for the hosts.
Three Revolution players to watch
• Jose Goncalves: The Revolution skipper will be counted upon to keep the lines of communication open and use his veteran savvy to anticipate his opponents’ moves and ideas. Although he wasn’t the most active member of the back four, Goncalves was a major part of the defensive effort that held Kansas City to one goal last Saturday. This time around, though, expect Goncalves to step up his efforts to keep the scoreboard unblemished.
• A.J. Soares: Last week, Soares led all Revolution defenders with 14 clearances and two interceptions, and read the Kansas City attack like a best-seller. Not only was he smart on defense, but he was strong enough to keep Teal Bunbury in check for much of the night. With the Kansas City attack ready to bear down on the Revolution defense, the test presented to Soares will be even tougher on Wednesday.
• Andy Dorman: The Revolution are going to need a big game from the veteran midfielder if they’re going to keep -- or strengthen -- their advantage. Not only will he be asked to stifle Kansas City in its pursuit of an equalizer, but he’ll need to win second balls and find teammates on the counterattack. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the Revolution’s success rests heavily on Dorman’s shoulders.
Three Kansas City players to watch
• C.J. Sapong: The imposing striker used his strength to win a number of aerial dues and point the attack in the right direction on Saturday. And in the 69th minute, he even showed remarkable awareness when he flicked a delicate pass to Collin on his club’s lone strike of the game. But with the chips down, Sapong will need to be much more effective in the final third if the hosts hope to get on the board.
• Graham Zusi: There’s no doubt that Zusi will need to deliver in the face of a one-goal deficit. Whether it’s from the run of play or the set piece, the dynamic midfielder must be at his best in order for the attack to flow. And there’s reason to suggest that he’ll do just that after he nearly set up a Chance Myers strike in the 18th minute on Saturday before aiding on Collin’s sure-fire shot in the 69th minute.
• Uri Rosell: As the lynchpin of Kansas City’s midfield, no one frustrated the Revolution more than Rosell. He pocketed a slew of second balls, and often detoured the attack as he and his teammates tipped the possession scale in their favor as Saturday’s game progressed. With Kansas City set to press from the outset, Rosell may be called upon to do even more on Wednesday.
Three key considerations
• Sporting Park is a difficult place to play: The Revolution have never won at Kansas City’s state of the art stadium, which opened in 2011. During their last trip -- back on Aug. 10 -- they were throttled 3-0, and finished with nine men after Dimitry Imbongo and Andy Dorman were sent off. What’s more: Kansas City posted a +14 goal differential at home, the second-highest total in the Conference.
• Kansas City has everything to lose: While Kansas City may be one of the most talented teams in MLS, they’ve had a hard time living up to that reputation in the postseason. After clinching the conference last season, they were bounced out of the conference semis by Houston. Last week, they allowed the Revolution to get the jump on them, causing some to wonder whether Kansas City is in the midst of another postseason collapse.
• The Revolution have only claimed one clean sheet in their last 10 matches: While the Revolution may have visions of keeping Kansas City off the board, recent history suggests it may be too tall a task. After watching what Kansas City’s unrelenting, high-pressure approach did to them in August, the Revolution are probably going to need at least one more goal in order to punch their tickets to the Conference finals.