FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Postseason soccer returns to Gillette Stadium for the first time since 2009 on Saturday night when the New England Revolution hosts the first leg of an Eastern Conference Semifinal series against Sporting Kansas City.
Kickoff between the three-seed Revolution (14-11-9, 51 pts.) and two-seed Sporting KC (17-10-7, 58 pts.) is set for 8 p.m., with local coverage beginning at 7:45 p.m. with a 15-minute pregame show on Comcast SportsNet. NBC Sports Network will carry the game nationally throughout the rest of the country, while 98.5 The Sports Hub’s HD2 channel will have the local radio call.
The second leg of the two-game, aggregate-goals series will be held at Sporting Park on Wednesday, Nov. 6.
Current Form: Revs enter MLS Cup Playoffs riding season-long six-game unbeaten run
Only one team will begin the postseason on a three-game winning streak: The New England Revolution.
All told the Revs went unbeaten through their final six games (4-0-2) to climb from seventh place up to third in the Eastern Conference, bypassing the Knockout Round and earning a berth in the conference semifinal. That season-best run was capped with a 1-0 road victory over the Columbus Crew last Sunday afternoon; a result the Revolution needed to clinch a playoff spot.
“We work hard all year to get to this place and we feel that we’re where we should be,” said Jay Heaps, who is making his first postseason appearance in his second year as a head coach. “We’re excited to be having this opportunity. But at the same time, there’s a real good vibe in our locker room that the guys are hungry and that we want to keep this thing going.”
Sporting KC was also hot down the stretch, going unbeaten (3-0-1) in October to cap a 6-1-1 run to end the year. Although SKC fell just shy of a third straight Eastern Conference regular-season crown, Peter Vermes’ side was only edged out by the New York Red Bulls for the Supporters’ Shield by one point on the season’s final day.
Past Meetings: Revolution and Sporting KC set for first-ever postseason meeting
Saturday night’s match will be the 50th all-time meeting between the Revs and Sporting KC in all competitions, but the first-ever in the MLS Cup Playoffs.
Sporting KC has proven a difficult matchup for the Revs in recent regular-season meetings as New England is winless (0-3-3) in its last six games against SKC. That dry spell includes a current run of five straight shutouts; the Revs haven’t scored against Sporting since Rajko Lekic tallied in a 1-1 draw at Sporting Park in July 2011.
In two meetings with Sporting KC this year the Revs went 0-1-1. The teams played to a windswept 0-0 draw in the Revolution’s home opener on March 23, while former SKC forward Kei Kamara scored twice in New England’s 3-0 loss at Sporting Park on Aug. 10.
Injury Report: Trio of defenders listed as questionable for New England
Captain and center back Jose Goncalves put forth an otherworldly effort last weekend at Crew Stadium, fighting through a third-minute hamstring injury to play the full 90 minutes (plus eight minutes of stoppage time) and guide the Revolution to a club record 14th shutout and a spot in the playoffs.
That performance capped an ironman season for Goncalves, who was one of only three field players in MLS to play every minute of every regular-season game in 2013.
New England’s defensive rock and emotional leader has spent the week carefully recuperating the injury in the hopes of continuing that streak into the playoffs. Goncalves is listed as questionable on the official injury report.
Also listed as questionable is a pair of other Revolution defenders, Chris Tierney (R ankle irritation) and Kevin Alston (R hamstring strain). Alston filled in for Tierney at left back last weekend in Columbus, but was replaced by Darrius Barnes when he himself went down with an injury in the 74th minute.
Sporting KC also lists a trio of players as questionable: Paulo Nagamura (L ankle sprain), Josh Gardner (L ankle sprain) and C.J. Sapong (neck strain). Nagamura has stated that he hopes to be available for next week’s second leg after missing the last six games through injury.
Final Thoughts: Tight-knit locker room ready to fight for each other in the postseason
“I feel great about the team spirit,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis. “We all are pushing for each other. You can see it out on the field that we’re willing to work for each other and that’s what you need for a team that’s going to go far. You need guys to believe in what we’re doing and to believe in each other. I’m excited.”