For the first time in four years, Gillette Stadium will host postseason soccer when the New England Revolution host Sporting Kansas City for the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals. Kickoff is set 8:00pm ET.
• Head-to-head in 2013: The teams settled for a 0-0 draw on Mar. 23 at Gillette Stadium, while Kansas City staked a 3-0 win on Aug. 10 at Sporting Park.
• Regular season records and finishes: Revolution (14-11-9, 51 points), third place; Kansas City (17-10-7, 58 points), second place.
• Scouting report on New England: The Revolution finished the regular season as one of the hottest clubs in the league thanks to a six-game unbeaten run (4-0-2) that carried them to their first postseason berth since 2009.
Although they’re one of the youngest teams in MLS, Revolution coach Jay Heaps won’t make any excuses. To the contrary, few teams have gotten more from their youth than the Revolution. Diego Fagundez, 18, led the team in scoring (13 goals), and either tallied or assisted in four of the team’s last six contests. Kelyn Rowe, 21, topped the club’s assist chart by helping set the table eight times this season. Meanwhile, Juan Agudelo, 20, is one of the league’s most dynamic forwards and has scored seven goals this season, including the game-winner in last week’s clash at Columbus -- a win which paved the way for the Revolution’s postseason trek.
• Scouting report of Kansas City: Peter Vermes’ team was nearly unstoppable in the final two months of the regular season, claiming points in seven of their final eight games (6-1-1). It was a finish that nearly netted them their second straight Eastern Conference crown.
It’s not a stretch to say that Kansas City is one of the most talented teams in the league. They feature two of the strongest center backs in MLS with Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler, who’ve helped cement their team’s reputation as the strongest defense in the league. In the midfield, the cerebral Uri Rossel and the dynamic Graham Zusi are capable of flipping the switch and sending penetrating passes into the final third. While potent forward Kei Kamara is no longer with the club, youngsters like Dom Dwyer, C.J. Sapong and Soony Saad have picked up the slack and have kept the offense flowing over the last two months.
Three Revolution players to watch
• Diego Fagundez: While the teenager only saw 33 minutes off the bench in the Revolution’s last match against Kansas City (Aug. 10), he’ll be counted upon to exploit the space Kansas City leaves behind with its high-pressure approach. If he can survive the punishment Kansas City regularly dishes out, and stays focused, don’t be surprised if he finds the back of the net or aids on a teammate’s tally.
• Juan Agudelo: Perhaps no player has had as much impact on the Revolution’s success than the 20-year-old striker. Since the May 7 trade that sent him to New England from Chivas USA, the Revolution have gone 8-2-4 when he’s on the pitch. If he and Fagundez can get on the same page early, the hosts may just figure out a way to get the best of their guests.
• Jose Goncalves: Despite picking up a hamstring injury in the opening minutes of last week’s game at Columbus, Goncalves fought through it and ensured the Revolution kept the door shut against the Crew. While hamstring strains don’t heal overnight, expect the Portuguese center back to do what he’s done all season: hold the defense together.
Three Kansas City players to watch
• Matt Besler: The reigning MLS Defender of the Year has once again been a rock in the rear for a Kansas City side that conceded a league-low 30 goals this season. His keen anticipation skills and strength have been an asset all season, and his ability to shut down some of the best strikers in the league earned him plenty of action at the national team level with the U.S.
• Graham Zusi: What more can you say about one of the most talented players in the league? He may not have hit double-digits in the assist column after collecting a league-high 15 in 2012, but the savvy midfielder can still put an opponent on its heels at a moment’s notice with his majestic crosses.
• Jimmy Nielsen: The veteran goalkeeper remains one of the best at what he does, and what he does is stop shots and snuff out dangerous chances near the net. Some may consider his style cavalier at times, but when he does gamble, it’s rare to see him come up short.
Three key considerations:
• The Revolution’s inability to breach the Kansas City backline: There’s no question the elephant in the room for the Revolution is the 501-minute goal drought that goes back to the 2011 season. So the first order of business for the local XI is, without question, getting on the board -- and preferably early.
• Kansas City’s recent postseason failures: For all the talk about how good Kansas City has been this season, it’s hard to forget that this is largely the same unit that flamed out of the postseason in last year’s Conference semifinals. Can they avoid a similar fate this year?
• Youth vs. experience: It’s fair to say that Kansas City has plenty of experience to go around, and at playoff time, few things are more valuable. Then again, the young Revolution enter Saturday’s contest fearless and not bothered by the heightened expectations Kansas City will have on its shoulders during this two-legged semifinal series.