Kansas City travels to New England for the first leg of an Eastern Conference semifinal, during which its composure away from Sporting Park should serve it well.
The first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal between Sporting Kansas City and the New England Revolution takes place at Gillette Stadium, but that doesn’t mean Sporting will be out of its element.
Peter Vermes’ club finished the regular season with the best mark away from home in MLS, taking 28 points from 17 games. But the Revolution come into Saturday's meeting (8 p.m., NBCSN) unbeaten in their past six matches, with the last loss coming Sept. 14 against Chicago.
Saturday’s hosts have found success combining a dynamic attack featuring up-and-comers Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez and Stoke signee Juan Agudelo with a defensive unit anchored by Goal USA MLS Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves, though the Portuguese center back is questionable because of a hamstring injury.
While those players lack postseason experience, there are a handful of veterans who will hope to keep the new players grounded. Goalkeeper Matt Reis has taken part in many big playoff matches and Andy Dorman, who manager Jay Heaps has called upon to fill the defensive midfielder role recently, was key for the Revolution in their 2006 playoff run.
Despite the strong recent form by the Revolution, Sporting still heads into the match as the favorite. The club finished one point from the top of the table and is eager to avenge premature playoff exits the previous two seasons.
This year could be a good one to do so with Graham Zusi playing the best soccer of his career and Sporting offering a top center back of its own in Matt Besler, who won last year’s positional prize. While the rest of the unit has been more prone to errors this season, it too improved at the end of the regular season, allowing three goals in the last seven matches.
The biggest thing holding Kansas City back during the season was an inability to score consistently after Kei Kamara moved to Middlesbrough at the end of the summer. One of Sporting’s young and talented but inconsistent forwards will need to fill the void and put one past Reis if Vermes’ club is going to head back home for the second leg with an advantage.