FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The scrap in Columbus on Sunday earned the New England Revolution a chance to impress in the postseason for the first time in four years.
To make the best use of the opportunity presented by the first leg of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Sporting Kansas City on Saturday (8 pm ET, NBCSN), the Revolution must return to the slick passing game used to carry them to the playoffs, according to defender Darrius Barnes.
“This game is going to be completely different than the Columbus match,” Barnes told MLSsoccer.com on Friday. “That game was just clawing and scratching, trying to hang onto a result there. In this game, we're going to have to come out and play against a quality side that has been at the top of the table all season long. We'll have to bring our best stuff tomorrow if we want to win.”
Finding rhythm is a particularly difficult assignment against Sporting, a disciplined and organized side designed to roust the opposition in their high-pressure, 4-3-3 setup. New England's recent stumbles against Sporting – including a six-match winless streak and a 501-minute scoreless streak in regular season play – suggest the Revs must find a way to cope with Sporting's aggressive deportment.
The best bet involves finding a way to play more quickly through midfield to sidestep Sporting's ability to break up the play quite as readily with a clever foul or a timely tackle, according to Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman.
“A lot of teams try and do the same thing, but they're probably not as effective as Kansas City,” Dorman said. “It's part of the game. They press high. We have to figure out a way to get out of it, whether it's talking to the referee and making him aware or whatever it takes, really.”
Revolution defender José Gonçalves applied a similar mentality when he played through a hamstring complaint for the final 85 minutes of the playoff-clinching 1-0 victory at Columbus. Although the effects of the knock still linger, Gonçalves (questionable with a right hamstring strain, according to the club injury report) said he planned to do whatever he could to retain his starting place for Sporting's visit on Saturday night.
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“Good, I'm feeling good,” Gonçalves said. “Mentally, physically, I'm getting there from the little injury I had in Columbus. I still have today and tomorrow also to improve my injury.”
Revolution coach Jay Heaps will also assess the claims of Kevin Alston (questionable, right hamstring strain) and Chris Tierney (questionable, right ankle irritation) before deciding on his choice at left back. Barnes looms as the most likely option if Alston and Tierney are not available to feature.