FOXBOROUGH — The New England Revolution took the first leg of its Eastern Conference semifinal on Saturday night against Sporting KC at Gillette Stadium, 2-1, in the team’s first playoff game in four years.
The buildup for the first goal started after Kelyn Rowe lofted a ball to forward Juan Agudelo, who headed a pass wide right to midfielder Diego Fagundez. Fagundez took a touch before cutting right and hitting a shot that rebounded off Kansas City goalkeeper Jimmy Nielsen.
Following another quick deflection, the ball rolled by Agudelo and into the path of midfielder Andy Dorman. The Scotsman tapped the ball in from 2 yards out to give the Revolution a 1-0 lead in the 55th minute.
Twelve minutes later, the Revolution struck again. Midfielder Lee Nguyen ran at the Kansas City defense before slipping a smooth pass into the path of Rowe on the right.
Rowe struck the ball with a right-footed shot as he slid toward the goal — the ball just evading Nielsen’s outstretched arms before finding the far corner to give the home team a 2-0 lead with just 20 minutes left.
“I know Lee can play that ball, so I made the run,” said Rowe. “I didn’t know if I could get there with my left foot, so I decided to slide down there and hit it with my right.
“I was a little worried — I was looking the whole way. I thought it was going to hit the post and go out. I was happy it went in.”
But the two-goal lead was quickly cut in half. Following a corner kick, Kansas City defender
Chance Myers struck a shot into the path of forward C.J. Sapong. Sapong deflected the ball into Aurelien Collin’s path before it found the back of the net in the 69th minute.
The visitors came close to equalizing two minutes into stoppage time, but Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis came to the rescue.
Kansas City forward Dominic Dwyer latched onto a bouncing ball from about 18 yards out and fired a half volley toward the top-right corner.
Reis jumped into action and threw himself to his right, pushing the ball wide after getting a strong right hand to the shot. If the shot had gone in, the Revolution’s chance of advancing into the Eastern Conference final would have seemed fairly bleak. The team realized that, and Reis’s heroics didn’t go unnoticed.
After the game, Dorman let out a sigh of relief when reminiscing about the save.
“It’s a great save,” he said. “It gives us a little boost going into the next leg. [Dwyer] hit it so well, and Matt stood up well and came up big again.”
Revolution coach Jay Heaps also praised the 38-year-old veteran, who has come through in clutch situations countless times in his career.
“It’s a huge save,” said Heaps. “It’s a long ball, bounces around, and we have enough guys around it, but it seems to bounce to their guy.’’
The Revolution travel to Kansas City for the second leg on Wednesday night, with an opportunity to advance to the Eastern Conference final. The one-goal lead isn’t an ideal scenario for the Revolution, but Heaps will take it for now.
“We have a one-goal lead, it’s halftime, and we have a big, big battle going to Kansas City,” said Heaps.