As he made the walk back to the visitors’ locker room Saturday inside Gillette Stadium, Sporting Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen expected to be greeted by a somber mood. Only moments earlier, the New England Revolution had handed Sporting KC a 2-1 defeat in the first game of a two-game playoff series.
But there was no somber mood. The players weren’t deflated, either. Instead, they were ready for another chance — and that comes tonight.
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Sporting KC welcomes New England to Sporting Park at 8 p.m. for the second and final leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals.
“Everybody was yelling that we (wish) the game (was) tomorrow,” Nielsen said. “We’ve had a few days to recover, but everybody is still pumped for the game. It’s a huge game for us. It’s a huge game for soccer in Kansas City. It would be a gigantic disappointment if we don’t go through to the next series.”
They’ve got some catching up to do.
The Eastern Conference semifinal series features aggregate scoring, meaning New England essentially opens tonight’s match with a 2-1 lead.
Sporting KC needs a two-goal victory to advance to the Eastern Conference finals. A one-goal victory would force two 15-minute overtime periods. If the aggregate score remains tied after overtime, penalty kicks will determine the series winner.
But first things first — Sporting KC opens the game in comeback mode.
It’s familiar territory for the club, which fell 2-0 to Houston in the first leg of a two-game playoff series last season. Sporting KC defeated Houston 1-0 in the second match while dominating play, but it wasn’t enough to advance.
In that match, Houston elected to sit back and play an ultra-defensive style. A year later, New England has the option of doing the same inside Sporting Park.
“We’ve seen it many times,” Sporting KC coach Peter Vermes said. “If they do it, we’re not going to be surprised. If they want to come out and play against us, it’s going to be a good game from our point of view, because we’re going to come to play.”
But Sporting will be a couple of players short.
Lawrence Olum suffered a fractured fibula during extra time of Saturday's loss. His status for the rest of the postseason is unclear, but that injury generally requires a recovery of six to eight weeks.
Peterson Joseph will also miss tonight’s match because of an undisclosed health issue.
During a news conference Tuesday, Vermes voiced his displeasure in Olum’s injury and the fact it didn’t result in a red card.
“We’re going to have to be ready to take matters into our own hands,” Vermes said. “When our guys get taken down in the box like a football tackle — a couple of their players could try out for the Patriots the way they were taking down guys in our box — those things will be dealt with over the course of the match. There’s no doubt in my mind.”
Vermes declined to elaborate — “That’s for you to watch the game and see,” he said — but it was one of several things that had him fired up during the news conference.
That fiery attitude appears to have worn off on his players.
“He’s very intense. He’s very excited,” Nielsen said. “And he’s got a big belief that we will take care of business. That’s the players’ mentality, too.”