FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Sporting Kansas City surprised many with a late-season surge to finish on top of the Eastern Conference standings last season, but Peter Vermes’ side is unlikely to catch anyone unawares in 2012.
In preparing for Saturday night’s showdown at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park, New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps expects a stern test from a balanced Sporting KC team which employs a high-pressure approach to defending and a strength-in-numbers philosophy when on the attack.
“They’re going to run with numbers and they’re going to press,” said Heaps. “We have to find those times in the game to absorb what they’re going to give us. It’s like any good team that you’re going to play against; there’s going to be times when you don’t have the ball and they’re dictating the flow.”
Patience and a strong defensive line will be critical against Sporting KC’s high-powered attack, but stifling the hosts’ offensive weapons – including Kei Kamara, C.J. Sapong and Graham Zusi – is only half of the equation. The Revs must also pick their spots to put Sporting on the defensive, control the tempo and make use of their own skilled attackers.
“You deny what they do well and hopefully that takes away their weapons that come off of that,” said center back A.J. Soares, who’s pushing for a quick return to health after tweaking a sprained right knee in last weekend’s loss to the San Jose Earthquakes. “Try to stop it at the source.
“In addition to that, we have to hit them with our weapons,” he added. “We have some really good players. They’re going to be worried about Benny (Feilhaber) just like we’re worried about some of their guys. They’re going to be worried about Kelyn (Rowe). They have the same problem coming into the game that we do; you have to watch out for the good players.”
Despite last weekend’s setback in San Jose, the Revs are a confident bunch as they continue to adapt to Heaps’ possession-based approach on a daily basis. While they respect their opponent, there’s an air of self-assurance evident amongst the tight-knit group of players.
“It’s definitely a tough team to play,” Soares said of Sporting KC. “They showed why they finished so high in the league last year. But we’re much improved and we’re going to be a tough team to play every week – week in and week out.”