Revs face tough test at K.C. on Saturday

Thanks to a pair of positive results in their previous two road games, the Revolution (4-9-8, 20 pts.) will step onto the field at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park against Sporting Kansas City (6-6-8, 26 pts.) on Saturday night with a renewed sense of confidence.

After clinching their first road win of the season with a 1-0 result over D.C United on July 20th, the Revs followed it up with a come from behind 2-2 draw at Colorado on July 23rd, giving them considerable momentum going into the final match of their three-game road trip.

How the Revs claimed points in their previous two matches can be boiled down to one key idea: stifling their opponent. During their victory over D.C, the Revs withstood a lively United attack that tested the defense from start to finish. But the difference between D.C. and New England was that the Revs cashed in on one of their few offensive opportunities when Stephen McCarthy put his forehead into a Chris Tierney set piece special and sent it through to give the Revs a one goal edge they would not relinquish.

The same held true in Colorado, where the Revs survived a chaotic game that featured a red card ejection for Tierney, a penalty awarded to each team, and a 70-yard Kosuke Kimura goal. But, just as it happened in the Nation’s Capital, the Revs held their own in the face of Colorado’s ambitious attack, keeping them off the board for over an hour. Even after going shorthanded for the final third of the game, the Revs found a way to level it, thanks to a last-minute Shalrie Joseph penalty, as New England procured an improbable point in Commerce City.

This week, however, the Revs will undoubtedly face their stiffest competition of this road swing. Riding a 12-game unbeaten streak (5-0-7), Sporting K.C., a team that had been stuck in last place earlier this season, have transformed themselves into one of the league’s strongest sides since the opening of the LIVESTRONG Sporting Park in early-June. And with Omar Bravo and Kei Kamara finally starting to score goals, K.C.’s attack has awakened with a vengeance. Last week, they pummeled Toronto FC 4-2 in a game that saw both Bravo and Kamara score two goals apiece.

If the Revs are entertaining any ideas of coming away from Kansas with something to show for it, they’ll have to do the following against the resurgent Sporting K.C. side:

Protect the flanks. The last time K.C. and the Revs met on the field, the Revs were overrun on the wings by Graham Zusi and C.J. Sapong during a May 25th U.S. Open Cup game that saw K.C. run up the score with a 5-0 win. This time, the Revs have to be smarter along the flanks, especially in transition, where wingbacks Kevin Alston and Chris Tierney will have to stay on their toes against the speedy Sapong and the dynamic Zusi.

Keep the game in front of you. This phrase has undoubtedly been the mantra of the Revs current road stand. Manager Steve Nicol knows that when facing good offenses, the key for his squad is to keep the attack ahead of them. Plug the holes, and play for the counterattack and set pieces. It may not be the prettiest way of playing soccer, but the recent results are hard to argue with.

Finish. The Revs have not been particularly great at creating chances from the run of play this season. But with Bravo and Kamara lurking, K.C. is capable of lighting up the scoreboard without hesitation. Therefore, the Revs -- specifically, Rajko Lekic -- have to start converting their chances with far greater frequency. Otherwise, K.C. will have no problem putting this game away early.

Saturday night’s match will conclude a grueling three-game road trip that has, nevertheless, yielded four valuable road points for the Revs so far. But they’ll have to be at their sharpest if they want to close it out on a high note.

Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.