FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Grappling with Sporting Kansas City requires an innate understanding of pressure. No team in MLS squeezes space and time more earnestly or effectively than Sporting does. The pursuit isn't reckless or wanton, either. It is carefully designed and orchestrated to place the opposition under duress at the proper junctures and in the right areas of the field.
“It's very difficult,” Revolution forward Juan Agudelo told MLSsoccer.com. “They're a high-pressing team, especially with their aggressive defenders. Maybe it'll open up some other areas on the field because it's always 11 v. 11.”
Numerical restrictions create an opportunity for the Revolution to use Sporting's pressure against them in certain circumstances. Those moments occur rarely given the discipline, intelligence and oppressiveness displayed by Sporting over the course of 90 minutes, but they emerge occasionally to provide openings for teams willing to absorb the pressure, keep their heads and pounce quickly when invited.
“We have to be calm and composed on the ball,” Revolution midfielder Lee Nguyen said. “We're going to have more time than we think. They have to put pressure, but as long as we get through the first wave, the second guy and the third guy will have more time on the ball.”
By finding a way to cope with immediate confrontation, the Revs can turn the ardent chasing against Sporting. There are inherent spatial limits, after all: The desire to close down the ball in one area inevitably creates room in another.
If the Revs – as they did at points in the 2-1 victory at Gillette Stadium in the first leg of this Eastern Conference Semifinal on Saturday – lean on their technical ability to play out of danger smartly, then they find those gaps and mine them accordingly.
“When we play one- and two-touch and play out of them, we're surprised at the number of holes we're able to find when we get out of that pressure,” Agudelo said.
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Agudelo, Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe combined in the first leg to transform one of those glimpses of freedom into the lead heading into the decisive return match. More of the same at Sporting Park on Wednesday night (9 pm ET, MLS Live) could underscore the utility of assessing the situation properly and transforming that dogged pursuit into a positive once more.
“Once we do break them, they're only going to get more desperate,” Nguyen said. “And I think that's going to be better for us.”