What we learned from Saturday’s New England-Sporting Kansas City playoff match
- Football lines. Sigh
For all the wonderful strides in Major League Soccer, every now and then the smack in the face arrives, the one that reminds everyone the league still has miles to go.
Saturday the reminder blow came from both playoff venues, one outside Boston and one in Seattle. In both cases, games were played on artificial turf, as usual per the facility. The difference was in the dizzying American football lines, as both venues prepare to host NFL games to come.
It’s not just that it clobbers the game’s aesthetics. In New England’s case, the NFL’s Patriots – the Kraft family owns both teams that play at Gillette Stadium, the MLS club and the NFL organization – shorten the soccer field so that it won’t intrude on the Patriots’ end zone logo.
So the field plays at about 106 yards, just barely enough to comply with FIFA regulations. A shorter field, combined with the fast, skidding pace we always see from artificial turf, made for a hectic match. One that was pretty hard on the eyes, too – hardly what the league ideally wants to showcase in its post-season money matches.
- Claudio Bieler did not travel for KC
When a Designated Player cannot get into the starting lineup, trouble is a’ brewin’.
When a DP doesn’t even travel, something has gone terribly, terribly wrong.
Argentine striker Bieler lost his place in manager Peter Vermes’ starting lineup lately for Kansas City. It had to do with a groin injury, we think; from there it’s all kind of murky. Did he come back unfit? Or is he just turning out not to be what the club expected?
Bieler started well enough in his first year at Sporting Park, among the league’s leading scorers early in the season. But his scoring fell off the table in the summer – and then he lost his place in the lineup.
- Talking about the refereeing, and the controversial goal
The game wasn’t without controversy, as Andy Dorman’s opener was very close to offside. (Hat tip to journalist Travis Clark, who summed it up best like this: “Consensus from my Twitter feed about that goal: clearly onside and offside.” Exactly.)
It was an extremely tough call. I keep watching it, and I still cannot be sure.
Otherwise, referee Ismail Elfath probably managed this helter-skelter mess of a match about as well as it could have been. Elfath is one of the less experienced MLS referees, but generally one who can manage players better than some of the older hands.
Remember, Sporting KC led the league in fouls. That’s a statistical fact. Not so easily proven through data is this: Sporting is the league’s best team at the cynical art of tactical fouling. So, that’s a lot for the man in the middle to sort out, and Elfath wasn’t completely overmatched by it.
Sporting KC right back Chance Myers may hear from the league about twice getting his hands to the face/head of New England players. And so may New England’s Dimitry Imbongo, who always had the elbows up high too often.
By the end, seven players were booked.
If notoriously physical KC to advance, its depth will surely be tested. Two post-season bookings will mean that a player sits out the following match.
- Kansas City didn’t respond well
Sporting Kansas City got just a little lucky in getting that absolutely massive 69th minute goal, cutting New England’s lead in half. First, Imbongo’s bad foul along the flank gave the visitors a free kick, which turned into an opportunity and a goal.
It happened at a moment when Sporting KC was falling absolutely to pieces, not dealing at all with the controversial goal – or with the deficit that came with it. Clearly frustrated, they were fouling and missing runners – which is exactly how New England’s Kelyn Rowe slipped in for the Revs’ second strike.
It was all so reminiscent of last year’s playoff ouster – from which Sporting KC apparently learned absolutely nothing. Peter Vermes’ team fell behind by a goal at Houston. Rather than playing it safe and sticking with the original plan, SKC pushed forward. Instead of concocting an equalizer, they were exposed and gave up a second goal to Houston … which was one goal too many for the furious return leg.
It’s a two-game series, guys. You know that, right?
- Revs young attackers have a hard time
Revolution 13-goal scorer Diego Fagundez? He was virtually nowhere to be found Saturday. It was, after all, the 18-year-old’s first playoff game. And dealing with Myers along SKC’s right side is never a bunch of fun.
And second-year man Kelyn Rowe certainly made a huge moment with his game-winner – but he wasn’t having a great match before that.
In all fairness, attacking players with good matches weren’t really to be found at all Saturday at Gillette. The field was small and fast, and both defenses were in charge.
The exception early was Kansas City’s Graham Zusi, who was able to find just enough space to do a little bit of creating for his team. Zusi was the conductor on the only three first-half chances, all from the visitors. But he was quiet after intermission, as the Revolution gained some possession and managed to put a foothold on the game.
Once again, the match highlights from NBCSN: