The New England Revolution will be out for revenge this Saturday night when they play host to defending MLS champion Sporting Kansas City in a 7:30 p.m. match.
New England finished the 2013 regular season with a flourish, going 4-0-2 to make the playoffs for the first time since 2009. It looked like the dream would run continue after winning a first leg Eastern Conference semifinal against Kansas City, even leading on aggregate as late as 12 minutes from full time in the second leg.
But Sporting K.C. went on to score in the 79th minute and again in overtime, dashing the Revs’ MLS Cup hopes and sending the club back into a slump to start 2014.
Now, in their first game of meaning since then (they played to a 0-0 tie in the Revs’ preseason opener), it looks like Eastern Conference leader Kansas City (3-1-2, 11 points) might have the upper hand again, with Kansas City displaying its typical wizardry in a 4-0 win over Montreal last week and the Revolution likely coming in undermanned.
Center back and team captain Jose Goncalves (right quad strain) has been ruled out this weekend, while playmaker Kelyn Rowe (left hamstring strain) was listed as questionable on the New England’s weekly injury report.
A third difference-maker, Diego Fagundez left last weekend’s 1-1 draw against Chicago at halftime with what coach Jay Heaps reported as back tightness. Regular left back Chris Tierney, provider of some of New England’s best service, didn’t enter last week until halftime, after missing the previous week’s match against Houston with a hip injury. Neither Tierney nor Fagundez were listed on the injury report.
The Revs will be further shorthanded with the absence of wing back Kevin Alston, who was red-carded against Chicago after handling the ball in the box in the 90th minute. Alston was on his best run of form since his leukemia diagnosis in April 2013, scoring two weeks ago vs. Houston and drawing a penalty at Chicago last week.
Despite New England (2-3-2, 8 points) coming in dinged up, there is reason for optimism. The Revs are 4-0-2 in their last six games at the Gillette Stadium, including last season’s playoff win over Saturday’s adversaries.
New England also played Sporting in a windswept 0-0 tie at Gillette Stadium earlier in 2013.
The Revs have yet to allow a goal at home this season, but it may be a tall task to keep that streak intact as forward Dom Dwyer enters Saturday having scored four goals in Kansas City’s last four matches, including a brace last week.
With Andrew Farrell’s likely shift to center back, New England’s flanks may be again left more exposed than coach Jay Heaps would like.
The obvious storyline up front continues to be former Kansas City star Teal Bunbury’s inability to net despite going the distance in all seven games so far. The microscope will be on New England’s lone striker even more so against his former team, which jettisoned the 24-year-old Bunbury to the Revs back in February.
Whether Heaps elects to continue with his preferred 4-5-1 formation, or finds a way to take some pressure off Bunbury, should provide some insight into whether the Revolution view his play to date as a tough-luck start or as general ineffectiveness.
New England will hope it can at least control the middle of the field as the central trio of Andy Dorman, Lee Nguyen and Daigo Kobayashi has been stout so far.
The Revs will likely see a pair of familiar faces in Benny Feilhaber and Seth Sinovic, both New England outcasts who have thrived in coach Peter Vermes’ high-pressure system.