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Sporting KC's simple defensive priority: Stop the Revolution's counterattack

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Sporting Kansas City know they'll need to put the ball in the net at least twice on Wednesday night (9 pm ET, MLS Live) – either in regulation, overtime or penalties – to advance past the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Semifinals.

They're also conscious of the need to keep the ball out of their own goal, with the Revolution bringing a 2-1 aggregate lead into the second leg.

“Our defense has to be organized, even when we attack, because they've got some good guys up front with a lot of speed, a lot of movement off the ball,” goalkeeper and captain Jimmy Nielsen said during a news conference on Tuesday. “They're not a bad team. They've done very well lately. We need a lot of communication on the field.”

In an earlier interview on Kansas City's SportsRadio 810, center back Matt Besler also stressed the need for smart defense.

“We cannot give up a goal on the counterattack because it puts us in the same position as last year, needing two just to tie,” Besler said. “A lot of focus is going to be not allowing the counterattack goal, and if a couple of us focus on that and do our job, I'm confident in the rest of the guys that they're going to be able to get a ton of chances and get goals."

The responsibility for Sporting's defensive shape begins all the way in the back, Nielsen said, even when the club is pushing forward.

“The communication starts with me and then goes up through the rest of the team,” he said. “It's very, very important that you're well-organized, so if a weird bounce or anything happens, you're in the right position to deal with that.”

If Besler had his way, though, Sporting wouldn't need to worry about the aggregate score.

“You can't change it right now. We have to deal with it,” he said. “If you're asking me how you give the higher seed the most advantage – because that's what we've worked for all year long – I'd just say play one game at the higher seed's home stadium.

“But then you get into the argument of, 'Well, you play 34 regular-season games and you could get knocked out in just one game and your season is over. There are arguments either way, but if you're asking my opinion, that's how I would do it: one knockout game at the higher seed's stadium.”

Steve Brisendine covers Sporting Kansas City for MLSsoccer.com.