In its first playoff contest since 2009, the New England Revolution scored twice after halftime to take a tentative one-goal margin into the return leg against Kansas City in the teams’ Eastern Conference semifinal series.
Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe scored in the Revolution’s 2-1 win Saturday at Gillette Stadium, where the playoff energy, artificial turf and shortened field made for a fast, hectic and rugged match. And an eventful one, as the important first goal was highly controversial, and where seven players will go into this week’s return leg at Sporting Park on yellow card warning after bookings in Saturday’s scrappy match.
Kansas City center back Aurelien Collin had a back-post tap-in to cut the deficit to 2-1 in the 69th minute – otherwise SKC would go home facing a hairy and eerily reminiscent two-goal deficit. That was the exact situation Sporting faced a year ago, returning home against Houston after a 2-0 playoff loss.
So, while New England is certainly excited to win its first playoff contest in four season, and the first for young manager Jay Heaps, a one-goal lead against favored Sporting KC looks just shaky enough to be uncomfortable.
The Revs, with no chances, sketchy passing accuracy and little possession before the break, looked night-and-day better after intermission. Dorman’s opener was surely controversial, as three New England Revolution attackers were very close to being offside as a ball pinged around inside the SKC goal area.
Sporting KC, clearly affected by the controversial sequence, looked irritated and unfocussed – and paid the price 12 minutes later. Rowe, having such a sensational second season in MLS, slipped inside KC left back Seth Sinovic to collect a loose ball and double his team’s lead after 67 minutes.
As rain began to fall in suburban Boston, Collin was in the right spot to clean up a free kick into the Revs area that the home team couldn’t clear properly.
The first half was choppy and nervous, with chances scant on either side, but especially for the home team. Graham Zusi was able to find the right passing speed on a ball down the right to create the game’s first chance. And his corner kick into Chance Myers needed to be cleared off the line by New England’s Lee Nguyen.
Later, surprise starter Teal Bunbury slipped through in the 35th minute on Zusi’s delicate, lobbed pass. A fabulously soft first touch from the young American striker left Bunbury with only Revs’ goalkeeper Matt Reis to beat. Apparently not sensing how much time he really had, Bunbury’s hurried volley from inside 12 yards was directly at New England’s goalkeeper.
Revolution manager Jay Heaps did, expected, choose to keep Andy Dorman in the lineup, the holding man in his 4-1-4-1. That was to help match the league’s most physical team.
On the other side, Vermes used Bunbury along his three-man front line rather than recent starter Soony Saad. Bunbury, still recovering from major knee surgery as the 2013 season began, had started just one match during the regular season.
New England: Matt Reis; Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Jose Goncalves, Darius Barnes; Andy Dorman; Dimitry Imbongo, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez; Juan Agudelo.
Sporting Kansas City: Jimmy Nielsen; Chance Myers, Aurelien Collin, Matt Besler, Seth Sinovic; Oriol Rosell, Lawrence Olum, Graham Zusi; Jacob Peterson, Teal Bunbury, C.J. Sapong.