FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – As soon as the final whistle blew on Major League Soccer’s last regular-season game to lock in postseason matchups, New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps and his staff began meticulously preparing for an Eastern Conference Semifinal series with Sporting Kansas City.
Every opponent in parity-fueled MLS provides a stern test – particularly in the postseason – but Sporting KC has risen to the league’s upper echelon in recent years. After finishing atop the Eastern Conference standings in 2011 and 2012, Sporting missed out on this year’s Supporters’ Shield by just a single point.
“Playing against Sporting KC obviously is a tough task,” said Heaps. “I think some would argue they’re the best team in the league and I don’t think that they’re wrong in that argument. So we know we have a big battle ahead of us and we’re looking to give our best effort and see how far we can take this.”
Battle is likely an appropriate term to describe the two-leg, aggregate-goals series between two of the league’s top defensive sides. While the Revs finished second in MLS in shutouts (14) and tied for third in goals against (38), Sporting KC had the league’s stingiest defense with 30 goals conceded.
SKC’s defensive prowess has been on display in recent meetings with the Revs, who’ve been shut out in five straight matches against Sporting KC. But since being blanked in a 3-0 loss on Aug. 10 at Sporting Park, the Revs have scored at least one goal in 11 straight matches and have found an attacking rhythm.
“They’re the best defensive team in the league by design and I think they’ve got good defenders,” said Heaps. “I think we’re playing a little differently since the last time we’ve played them and I think we’re finding our stride a little bit chemistry-wise in the attack. So it’s going to be a lot of those same things that have been successful for us in the last few weeks.”
Overcoming Sporting KC’s disruptive tactics could be priority number one; Peter Vermes’ side led the league in fouls committed (511) by a wide margin and has found success in upsetting the opponent’s rhythm. But Heaps believes as long as the Revs prepare for what’s coming, they’ll be able to adjust accordingly.
“I think that as the game goes on, we’ll be able to play our game with the right preparation,” he said. “I think that if you don’t expect them to press, you’re going to be behind it. But we have played them twice this year and they do a nice job with that, so we’re going to prepare ourselves for it.”