FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution are an outlier in the 2013 MLS playoffs. It's not their age or inexperience – this is the team's first foray into the postseason in four years – instead it's their approach to possession.
The other nine teams that made the postseason all placed in the top 10 for possession in the 2013 regular season, all higher than 50 percent or within a fraction thereof.
The Revs? They were fourth from bottom, keeping the ball just 46.89 percent of the time.
So when Sporting Kansas City harried and hassled the Revolution out of any attempts to establish a cadence on the ball (58.4 percent passing accuracy, according to Opta statistics) in the first leg of their Eastern Conference Semifinal matchup, that only exacerbated New England's pragmatic streak.
The continuous pressure disrupted any attempts to settle the game down on a smaller surface and shunted the match into a sort of incoherence, through which the home team was able to find order for two second-half strikes.
“I think Kansas City does a nice job pressuring,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told MLSsoccer.com earlier this week as he reflected on his side's 2-1 triumph on Saturday. “I thought we could have found more time. Early in the second half, I thought we moved the ball pretty well. They do a good job. They're tactical in how they play, tactical in how they foul, tactical in how they press. They're pretty good at it. We have to find our way.”
At this stage of the season, the Revs move forward by tailoring their work to the match itself. They have adapted during the second half of the season and transformed into a side capable of addressing the encounter as it unfolds. Their dexterity provides them with the latitude to churn out the desired results regardless of the operating principles established in a given game.
“In the first half of the season, we played some pretty soccer and got some results,” Revolution defender Andrew Farrell said. “In the second half, we were fighting teams and getting results like that. Now it's time to put together a performance with both of those combined. We need to fight them and also play some soccer.”
It isn't necessarily about playing soccer all the time, though. At this juncture, it is more about finding the right moments – preferably when Sporting commits numbers into the attack and leaves gaps to exploit when the Revs win possession – to combine quickly when those openings appear than about dictating the terms of the affair.
New England produced two goals in the first leg by cobbling together brisk, technical sequences to seize upon the opportunities presented. It isn't the first time the Revolution pounced in that sort of fashion – the playoff-clinching 1-0 win at Columbus turned on a neat one-two from Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen, for example – during the past few weeks. It cannot be the last if the Revs want to secure a berth in the Eastern Conference Championship.
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Nguyen said he and his teammates must break through the first wave of Sporting pressure more regularly in order to create more chances to play during the second leg Wednesday night (9 pm ET, MLS Live).
“I think they did a great job of trying to make us play quicker than we wanted to, but, at the same time, we have the ability and the players to play out of pressure,” Nguyen said. “We have to do that on Wednesday. We just have to go there, know it's 0-0 and we still have to put goals away.”
The mindset reflects the way the Revs have approached their duties over the closing stages of the season. Sporting will do all it can to thwart those efforts on Wednesday night, but the Revs insist they must remain true to their core tenets in order to continue their postseason run.
“It's the same style that we play,” Agudelo said. “If we try to do something different that we're not accustomed to or familiar with, then things might not work out. We're confident in the way that we play.”