Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen insisted the predicament his side faced last year against Houston did not enter his mind when Kelyn Rowe scored New England’s second goal at Gillette Stadium Saturday night.
Then again, Aurelien Collin did not give him much time to ponder the meaning of a two-goal deficit in this Eastern Conference semifinal series, either.
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Collin scored at the far post after 67 minutes, giving Sporting a critical goal in this two-legged, aggregate goal series. The match ended in a 2-1 loss to the Revolution, but Collin’s strike could make all the difference heading into the second leg at Sporting Park on Wednesday night.
“Our goal gave us a good lifeline,” Nielsen said. “We’re still in it. It’s an open game going back to Kansas City. We’ve got the fans behind us. We’ll look forward to that game now.”
Sporting might take a moment or two to reflect on the opportunity squandered during the first half, though. The visitors dictated every component of the opening half by imposing their will upon the game and preventing the Revolution from establishing any semblance of rhythm through midfield. The ragged cadence of the early stages allowed Sporting to find its footing and then start searching for ways to expose the Revolution defense.
Most of those avenues appeared when Graham Zusi found himself in space in midfield. Zusi mined for midfield space in the Revolution’s 4-1-4-1 setup and slipped into dangerous areas when Sporting obtained possession. His ability to locate pockets of space placed the Revolution defense under duress and prompted Lee Nguyen to clear off the line after Chance Myers nearly headed home from the remnants of a corner kick.
“We played with a lot of discipline,” Nielsen said. “We were well-organized. And we were very good on the second balls. We forced the back four to play the long balls up to the strikers. Our center backs won the ball, and our midfielders were good on the second balls. They could play the deep balls to Teal (Bunbury), who was very dangerous and worked very hard for the team.”
Bunbury touched a one-time effort just wide of the far post from a Jacob Peterson cross in the early stages, but his best opportunity came 10 minutes before the half. Zusi played him over the top and sent him through in a one-on-one opportunity. The ensuing shot landed in goalie Matt Reis’ stomach, handing the Revolution a desperately needed reprieve and prevent Sporting from consolidating its advantage before the interval.
“The first half was excellent,” Vermes said. “I thought we were very composed. I thought, tactically, we were really, really good. And we created two very good chances. We had the corner kick blocked off the line and we had Teal’s situation as well.
“So I thought we came in at halftime — and I told the guys — it was an excellent half. Now we just need to keep it going.”
New England improved enough after the break to pose problems.
Rowe conjured up perhaps the Revs’ first cohesive move 10 minutes after play resumed when he collected a shoddy clearance and sprayed the ball out to the right flank for Diego Fagundez. He corralled the pass behind the Sporting defensive line and then placed his feed in a promising position for Agudelo to meet at the near post. Agudelo forced a good save from Nielsen, but the rebound deflected toward the goal line. Dorman found himself in the right spot (one Sporting vehemently argued was offside to no avail (and tapped home into the vacated net.
Nguyen later played neatly toward Rowe’s run on the right side of the penalty area. Rowe scored in style with a fine, first-time finish to hand the Revs a precious second goal.
Collin dashed the burgeoning optimism 2 minutes later after a scrappy sequence in the box.
“The great thing is that I thought we kept our composure,” Vermes said. “We didn’t panic. We get that goal and then, all of a sudden, we’re on them a little bit.
“Maybe if a little luck goes our way, we get the second one. In the end, we closed the gap for sure.”