The opportunity to savor Saturday’s triumph in Toronto has quickly come and gone for the New England Revolution (10-12-3, 33 points), who return to the pitch on Wednesday for another critical conference clash with Sporting Kansas City (12-8-6, 42 points) at Gillette Stadium.
The match, which kicks off at 7:30 p.m., will mark the second time this season the longtime conference foes have met. Back on April 26, the Revolution clinched a pair of stoppage-time strikes to secure a 2-0 win over the defending champions.
For the hosts, the midweek match presents an opportunity to pick up right where they left off following last weekend’s 3-0 win over Toronto. The victory not only extended the club’s modest unbeaten run to three (2-0-1), but it also marked the first time this season that the Revolution posted consecutive clean sheets.
The picture hasn’t been quite as rosy for the Revolution’s adversaries, who enter the contest licking the wounds from an embarrassing 3-1 home loss to the ninth-place Houston Dynamo on national television. Making matters worse, cautions to Benny Feilhaber and Dom Dwyer will force both to miss Wednesday’s match due to yellow card accumulation.
With nine points separating the third-place Revolution from second-place Kansas City, here’s what to watch for during a classic “six-point” contest on Wednesday.
Don't get overconfident. Few would blame the Revolution if they believed that their summertime struggles were effectively over. Not only have they stayed unbeaten in their last three, but they’ve improved their form on defense with back-to-back shutouts. Plus, the three-goal shift put in by the offense on Saturday has likely turned more than a few skeptics into believers. However, Revolution midfielder Teal Bunbury said it’s far too early to believe they’ve turned the corner.
“I think we’re hitting our stride now, and we’re getting good results,” said Bunbury. “But we know there (are) still a lot of games left to be played. So we don’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves; we want to build from each result that we have.”
Will Jermaine Jones get the start? After Scott Caldwell’s 47th-minute caution in Toronto spelled a subsequent one-game ban, speculation immediately ran rampant that Jones could be in line for his first start, and at the friendly confines of Gillette Stadium, no less. Following Saturday’s 25-minute cameo, Jones admitted that he isn’t at 100 percent. But even though he may not be ready to play 90 minutes, don’t be surprised if the U.S. International finds himself in the starting lineup and slotted for 60 minutes, especially considering that Jones is the only natural defensive midfielder available.
Heaps isn’t overlooking depleted K.C. The squad that Kansas City will bring to Foxborough certainly won’t be its strongest due to the suspensions of Benny Feilhaber and leading scorer Dom Dwyer. And after the Revolution handed Peter Vermes’ squad a 2-0 loss earlier this season even with Feilhaber and Dwyer on the pitch, it’s clear that the defending champions are the underdogs. But as you might expect, Revolution coach Jay Heaps isn’t penciling in three points ahead of the clash.
“Any way you look at it, you have to be prepared for a Kansas City team that’s going to be difficult to play against,” Heaps said. “Any time new players come in, or new players play, it’s a different set of challenges, and neither one of them is easier than the other.”
Will Kansas City play for the draw? It wouldn’t be surprising to see the short-handed Kansas City squad march into Foxborough with one point as the primary objective. Not only will two of their best attacking players be absent, but under Vermes’ watch, Kansas City has often employed an overly physical and undeniably negative brand of soccer on the road. In fact, for all of the artistry they display in the attacking third, Kansas City leads the league in the fouls department, racking up an average of 14.8 per match. On the road alone, that stat climbs to 16.8. With that in mind, expect Kansas City to come out intent on disrupting and demoralizing the Revolution from start to finish.
Can the defense rise to the occasion again? It’s tempting to say that the defense has found its stride after watching the way Saturday’s match in Toronto unfolded. Not only did the Revolution keep a dangerous and quick-strike squad off the board, but they also limited them to only three shots on goal. A closer examination, however, reveals that the guests’ efforts were greatly aided by a host that repeatedly gave the ball away, and suffered a number of self-inflicted wounds. That said, any time a club can collect a clean sheet, confidence can only grow. And with Dwyer relegated to the role of bystander, the Revolution could find themselves in a good position to post their third shutout in a row.
“Whenever you keep the opponent to zero, you kind of feel good about yourself,” Revolution defender Darrius Barnes said. “You feel like you’re doing your job, and we feel, as a back line, if we’re limiting the opponents’ chances and keeping them at zero, then we’re always going to have a chance (to win).”