The New England Revolution went into Saturday night's match needing a result at home to give them the best possible chance of advancing to the Eastern Conference Finals. Sporting Kansas City stood in the way, a club they hadn't even scored against in over 500 minutes of regular-season soccer, let alone beaten.
On goals from Andy Dorman and Kelyn Rowe - first-ever playoff tallies for both midfielders - they did just that. Aurelien Collin added a goal for Kansas City to make Wendesday night's rematch a nervy one, but nevertheless the Revs finished 2-1 to the good.
"I thought it was a hard-fought battle between two teams fighting for everything," said head coach Jay Heaps after the match. "It certainly wasn't a pretty game, but it was two teams pushing hard, and two teams trying to get ahead in the playoffs."
Heaps' statement about the aesthetics of the game certainly weren't unfounded. The first half was a complete mess for both sides, with little by the way of chances created and bad touches all over the place. New England's only real chance came in the 3rd minute when a short corner led to a Kelyn Rowe cross that just missed the head of Dorman at the near post. Kansas City, meanwhile, had a goal-bound header cleared off the line by Lee Nguyen in the 18th, as well as a clear breakaway for Teal Bunbury smothered by Matt Reis.
The turf appeared particularly hardened and wet, causing the ball to skip unpredictably and play extremely fast. Neither team appeared able to adjust in the opening half, and even the Revs looked as though they'd never played on such a surface.
"They just wet it down before the game the way we like it," said Kelyn Rowe. "And it did [play differently]. You saw the ball kind of skip more than we usually get, but, you know what? We had to deal with it, and we got it down and played in the second half."
During the two goal sequences, the Revs certainly played the ball on the floor and played it well. However, to say that they got the ball down and played it for the majority of the second half would be disingenuous. New England had 84 total passes in the second half, with a completion rate of 53.6%. They also conceded 69.6% of the possession.
One could call that ugly, or even lucky. On the other hand, it could be seen as efficient; on something like 42-43 successful passes, the Revs scored two goals.
The first, coming in the 55th minute, was slightly fluky. Diego Fagundez rifled a shot on goal from inside the box on the right, but Jimmy Nielsen had the tight angle covered. Unfortunately for the White Puma, the save ricocheted off the chest of Juan Agudelo, who had been crashing the near post, and dribbled past the keeper toward the goal line. Andy Dorman drifted to the ball and opportunistically tucked it away for his first career playoff goal and first MLS goal since 2007.
Kansas City players lobbied intensely for an offside call - Nielsen was carded for dissent in the process - but Ismail Elfath and his assistant called it a valid goal. Replays showed that it was close.
"It was obviously good," said Dorman of the goal. "It kind of settled us down a little bit. And, you know we went on and got the second, and unfortunately conceded pretty soon after."
The second goal was arguably the best-looking soccer either team played all night. Dorman dropped the ball off to Juan Agudelo on the right side of the middle third, and the striker took off, cutting hard into the heart of the Sporting defense. He laid the ball on to Lee Nguyen, who also dribbled directly at the defense before playing a lateral pass to Rowe in the box. Rowe had been making a diagonal run from the right flank, and with Seth Sinovic hanging all over him, managed to slide onto the ball and finish with the outside of his right foot just inside the far post, extending the lead to 2-0 in the 67th minute.
Rowe capped it off with his now-trademark "Roweing" celebration, joined by several teammates.
"I know Lee can play that ball, so I made the run," said Rowe. "I got a little tug so I didn't know if I could get there with my left foot, and decided to slide down and hit it with the outside of my right. I was a little worried, I was looking the whole way. I thought it was going to hit the post and go out, I was happy it went in."
Kansas City's response wasn't long in coming, however. The visitors began to ratchet up the pressure, and New England responded with confusion and desperation at the back. To be fair to Sporting, a goal looked likely.
It came in the 68th minute, mere moments after the second Revolution goal. A free kick was not properly cleared and fell to Jacob Peterson, who headed it to Chance Myers in the box. The right-back drilled a cross-turned-shot across the face of goal that was backheel-deflected by C.J. Sapong. The ball skipped to Collin, who buried from close range.
Despite continued pressure from Kansas City, the Revs managed to see out the result and maintain an advantage going into the return leg in the Heartland. It's a match that can build momentum, especially since the Revs finally broke their two year-long scoring duck against Sporting. Kelyn Rowe eloquently illustrated what changed:
"[We] put the ball in the back of the net."
More from The Bent Musket:
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- The Missing Subplot: Benny Feilhaber vs. the Revs
- Revolution vs. Sporting KC - 2013 MLS Playoff Preview - Recapping The Regular Season Games vs. SKC, Sort Of
- MLS Playoffs 2013, Revolution vs. Sporting: Know Thy Enemy, Eastern Conference Semi-Finals First Leg Edition
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