1) New England closed out the season unbeaten and won four of those matches. What are some of the reasons why the Revs closed out the season so well?
I think a big part of it was maturity. The squad knew that they needed to get it done to be in the playoffs, and they went out and did that. On the flip side, as Matt Doyle wrote recently, they're also too young to be nervous. That kind of freedom can allow some teams to go out there and leave it all on the field. I think that happened.
Another reason would be the inspired play of Matt Reis, which can't be understated. He has the league's best goals-against average among goalkeepers with at least 10 starts, and apart from a match against Montreal where he was red carded inside five minutes, his record in 2013 regular season play is 7-0-4. He didn't lose a game he backstopped for 90 minutes, and most of those starts were in the stretch run of the season. His maturity and ability has been essential, and will continue to be essential if the Revs are to advance.
Finally, it's important to recognize the players who have stepped up and filled voids when necessary. Whenever Juan Agudelo has had injury issues, Dimitry Imbongo has stepped up and performed admirably as a pure, physical target man. Now, with Saer Sene shelved for the season, Imbongo has been called upon again, and in the last few matches he has demonstrated even more ability with his back to goal, taking down long balls and bringing others into the play. In the penultimate match of the season, Lee Nguyen was suspended, forcing Andy Dorman into his first start in months. Dorman not only played well, he earned a Man of the Match performance and a place in the starting XI the following week. Kevin Alston filled in great for Chris Tierney last week, shutting down Dominic Oduro - and then when he went down, Darrius Barnes did the same.
This is a hungry team right now. I don't envy anyone who has to face them.
2) Last time Sporting KC and New England met, Sporting won 3-0 in a fairly dominating match. What's changed since then for the Revs and what about them should scare Sporting KC fans?
Well, the obvious answer would be that the 3-0 game featured two red cards to the Revs. Deserved or not, they changed the game. Also, Sporting doesn't have Kei Kamara anymore, who absolutely crushed New England in that match. He's always been a bit of a REvs killer (or maybe I'm just terrified of him), so not having him in the lineup should make you a little uncomfortable. Not that KC doesn't have plenty of attacking talent otherwise - I'm particularly afraid of Dom Dwyer, if I'm being honest with you - but Kei is just one of those players who seems to have the Revs' number.
What should actually scare SKC fans, though, is that the Revs have Juan Agudelo for this match. He wasn't in New England for the 0-0 draw yet, and he wasn't playing in the 3-0 loss. Pieces have been written across the MLS coverage base about how the Revs are infinitely more dangerous with Agudelo on the field than they are without, even when he isn't scoring. The kid is just money. Aurelien Collin and Matt Besler will have their hands full with him this weekend, and the Revolution team you will all see on Saturday will not mirror the team you've seen twice already.
Also, inexplicably, Diego Fagundez didn't start either match this season. He never even came on in the draw, and he was a second-half sub in the 3-0 loss. Yeah, this ought to be a very different team you'll see on Saturday.
3) If the Revolution had a weakness that could be exploited by Sporting KC, what would it be?
They still don't deal well with physicality, and there's nothing you can do that will ever convince me that SKC doesn't have an explicit and well-documented plan to beat up the teams they play. I'm not condemning them by any means, but there's a reason that Oriol Rosell leads the league in yellows, and Collin is often referred to as a butcher (I happen to like him as a defender myself, but he's brutal). That will continue to serve you well against the Revs, who don't have a lot of size in midfield and seem to only rarely respond well to being challenged physically in the center of the park.
New England may look to counter that by continuing to start Andy Dorman, who has size and is a veteran of the good ol' days of MLS where nothing short of a flying side-kick could earn you a red card. He's played well in the last two matches, but he lacks the touch and passing savvy of a Scott Caldwell. We'll have to see how that works out.
Packing the middle also works wonders. For a team with as much skill as the Revs have, they have trouble using any width. Chris Tierney is really the only instinctive wide player on the pitch most times, which has proved to be an issue in the past. He's also the only guy who consistently puts in a good cross. Now, he's good enough with that left foot to get decent service into the box even if teams key on him, but when the team is also clogging the middle, it's not usually sufficient to get goals.