For the first time since the second leg of last year’s conference semifinals at Sporting Park, the New England Revolution (2-3-2, 8 points) and Sporting Kansas City (3-1-2, 11 points) will square off on Saturday at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 7:30 p.m.
Holding a 3-2 aggregate lead late in the aforementioned second leg, the Revolution eventually succumbed to Kansas City’s high-pressure approach, paving the way for a 4-3 comeback series win for the hosts. KC went on to capture the MLS Cup championship weeks later.
Though the bitter taste of the semifinal loss may have since subsided, the Revolution will surely enter Saturday’s clash looking for payback.
Here are a few things to watch for when the Revolution and Kansas City step onto the pitch at Gillette Stadium:
Absorbing the pressure. How Sporting Kansas City went from conference doormat to defending champion is largely due to the high-pressure approach they’ve employed to suffocate opponents. In short order, Peter Vermes’ men press high, not only looking to score but to win the ball right back when they lose it. While many coaches would love to employ the same system, Revolution striker Teal Bunbury (who spent his first four seasons in Kansas City) said that few teams have the cohesion needed to pull it off.
“There’s not one guy who’s a second late or a step behind to put pressure on a certain player,” Bunbury said. “I think that’s what sets them apart: they’re all working together and are all on the same page and it’s the same philosophy to use that pressure.”
Cutting down on mistakes. During last week’s contest in Chicago, the Revolution were overrun early due to careless mistakes and lackadaisical defense. Not surprisingly, the Fire took advantage when Quincy Amerikwa shot through the Revolution backline and scored in the 16th minute. Though the Revolution responded 15 minutes later through a Lee Nguyen penalty, their play didn’t greatly improve. In fact, it took a stoppage-time penalty save from Bobby Shuttleworth to rescue the Revolution from the brink of defeat.
This week, against a far stronger opponent, the Revolution won’t get away with the same mistakes.
Leaning on Dorman. If there’s one player the Revolution will be relying upon to get three points on Saturday, it’s Andy Dorman. The veteran holding midfielder has been a revelation at the six spot, winning balls and distributing well while the likes of Lee Nguyen and Daigo Kobayashi can focus on getting forward. And after putting together a strong performance against Kansas City in the first leg of last year’s conference semis, Dorman’s importance to the Revolution’s cause come Saturday cannot be overstated.
“He’s done well over the last couple of (games),” Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. “Even at the end of last year, and last games that we’ve had, (not only) in terms of how’s he’s played, but also getting the guys to play together, he was instrumental.”
Staying strong defensively. Kansas City enters Saturday’s match leading the league in possession (57.9 percent) and shots on target (5.8), while ranking second in shots per game (15). And after lighting up the Impact 4-0 last weekend, the Kansas City attack is keen to continue its good form against a depleted Revolution backline. Without the services of Jose Goncalves (quad injury) and Kevin Alston (suspension), team defense will be the key for the Revolution. That means Diego Fagundez and Saer Sene must stay faithful to their defensive responsibilities out on the wings, while the rest of the attacking contingent must also do their part to win second balls and challenge Kansas City in possession. Otherwise, it could be a long night for Revolution.
Fagundez looks to open his account. Last year, Diego Fagundez led the Revolution in scoring with 13 goals. But through the first eight games of the 2014 season, the 19-year-old still hasn’t gotten on the board. While the opportunities have certainly presented themselves -- Fagundez leads the team with 19 shots -- his finishing has clearly let him down. But if he manages to find the back of the net on Saturday, it could open the floodgates.
“I just think I’m trying to do a lot of stuff and trying to get that first goal, and I know everyone is,” Fagundez said. “As soon as one chance comes, and I can finish it off, I think everything will open up.”