In a wide-open match that featured two teams hungry for goals, the New England Revolution simply couldn’t covert enough of them and fell 3-1 (4-3 on aggregate) to Sporting Kansas City, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals 4-3.
Here are five takeaways from Wednesday night’s second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals at Sporting Park.
• Kansas City’s pressure was simply too much for the Revolution to handle. The hosts wasted no time laying siege on the Revolution, and tested Matt Reis within four minutes when he had to collect an early C.J. Sapong header. So when Aurelien Collin scored right before halftime, it was clear that the Revolution wouldn’t be able to keep Kansas City’s attack at bay all night -- especially with a miniscule 28 percent first half possession stat. Although they were able to stem the tide somewhat in the second half, and capitalized when Dmitry Imbongo struck in the 70th minute, it was clear that they were only delaying the inevitable. Seth Sinovic’s 79th minute goal sent the match to overtime, while the high-pressure approach converted a turnover into paydirt on Claudio Bieler’s series-winning goal in the 113th minute. Simply put, a team’s chances of survival when an opponent outshoots them 32-5 register at next to nothing.
• The Revolution weren’t as opportunistic as they were on Saturday. For all the Revolution had to withstand on Wednesday, it should be noted that there were a handful of chances to be had. Juan Agudelo found opportunities in the seventh and 109th minutes, but couldn’t send it through on either occasion. Diego Fagundez went clear on Jimmy Nielsen in the 85th minute before his shot nicked the top of the bar. Sure, there wasn’t a wealth of chances to seize upon for the overmatched guests. It may be true that some credit is due for the Revolution’s ability to get on the board at all given their recent offensive failures at Sporting Park. But if they were going to find a way to outlast Kansas City, they needed to be clinical in the final third, and they simply weren’t.
• Scott Caldwell’s inclusion in the second half was the spark the offense desperately needed. It’s hard to blame Jay Heaps for starting Andy Dorman in a high-stakes match like Wednesday night’s. After all, Dorman had proven to be an asset to the side in recent weeks, and brought the kind of veteran presence the Revolution midfield needed as the regular season came to a close. But for all he brought to the table, he was largely ineffective in the first half, which prompted Heaps to replace him with the rookie Homegrown Player. The results were almost immediate. With Caldwell on the pitch, the optimistic balls started to disappear. The midfield finally started to serve as a clear link between the back four and front four. The offense gathered steam and started to test the Kansas City backs. Not surprisingly, the Revolution used that improved form to find a goal from Imbongo, and briefly gave hope to the idea that, perhaps, they’d see out the result. Although the subsequent goals from Sinovic and Bieler proved otherwise, Caldwell’s performance shouldn’t be overlooked, as it put the Revolution in a position for the upset.
• The future looks bright for this band of upstarts. Say what you will about the overall domination of Kansas City or missed opportunities that fell by the wayside for the Revolution on Wednesday night. The truth is that few actually believed at the beginning of the season that the baby-faced bunch would reach the postseason in 2013. Not only were they deemed too young and inexperienced, but many pointed to the dearth of veterans present to mold them. Nevertheless, after a slow start, the Revolution found its identity as the season progressed. They weren’t just a group of college-age kids -- they were a cohesive unit that carried an undeniable swagger. They collected a franchise-high 14 clean sheets, thumped two teams (Los Angeles and Philadelphia) for five goals, and rode a six-game unbeaten streak to a postseason date with Sporting Kansas City. Once they got there, they grabbed not one, but two aggregate leads against one of the most formidable teams in the east. Wednesday’s loss may sting for the moment, but rest assured that the young and wily Revolution will be impossible to overlook next year.