Was a scrappy affair, enlivened during that brief burst of second half goals. NER will be happy to win. SKC will be pleased to have cut the lead back to one goal.
Thanks for reading, emailing, tweeting. Sorry I couldn't use them all.
I won't delay you any longer. Click here and join Graham for Seattle vs Portland.
Final: New England Revolution 2-1 Sporting Kansas City
And that's it...
Reis claims Zusi's corner and it's still NER 2-1 SKC.
SAVE! 90+2 mins
The ball bounces to Dwyer in the NE area and Reis makes a fine save. Dangerous moments, Corner.
And now Barrett is carded - for shouting at the ref after being penalized for a shoulder charge.
They've added another minute on for the foul and card. Don't see that happen very often.
More scrappiness. The home crowd are quite cheerful. Another yellow card, this time for NE's Soares. After trying to let the play flow in the first half, he's gone a bit card-happy in the second. Three minutes to be added on. NER 2-1 SKC
The ball floats into the area and New England head it clear. And the ref gives a free-kick to NE anyway.
KC have a free kick about 22 yards out after Dwyer goes down under a challenge from Goncalves. This is a good position for KC...
Dwyer makes his way to the right flank but gets nowhere. NER 2-1 SKC
NE bring Barrett on for Rowe. There were a bunch of substitutions around those goals that I totally failed to keep track wih...
And yet another yellow card. This time for Nguyen, who made minimal contact but did raise his studs.
KC pushing for an equalizer but NE defending firmly. A lovely little dink over the top is clutched by Reis.
A lovely spin and turn by Sapong down the KC left ends when he's upended. Scrappy.
More bobbling. And then a very long delay by NE over a throw-in and eventually the ref loses his patience and awards the throw-in to KC (although, surprisingly in the circumstances, no yellow card). What a strange passage of (non-)play.
And another yellow card, this time for the Collin. NER 2-1 SKC
Quick reminder that another game follows this one, you can join Graham for the build up to that one here.
KC try from long range and a shot clips the left post and goes wide.
And now the ref is trying to calm it all down by brandishing his yellow card, after a bunch of offences went unpunished in the first half. Bunbury and Imbongo both carded.
Wow. The game has come to life. I was just trying to give more description of New England's second, when KC pulled one back. And now KC are pushing.
GOAL! New England 2-1 Kansas City
A long ball into the box, it bounces around, Myers forces the ball goalward and Collin gets the final touch.
GOAL! New England 2-0 Kansas City
A nice little interchange into the KC area and Rowe pokes the ball home. 2-0.
It's raining now and as anyone who has ever played on artificial turf that adds an extra skid to the ball (and makes the slide tackle even more inviting).
KC keeping the ball a little better, but failing to make much progress towards the NE area. Revolution 1-0 Sporting.
Back to bobbling, fractured play. A bit more urgency from KC.
KC believe that NE had three players offside for that goal. Would need another look, but it would be marginal at best. This is the playoffs nightmare scenario for KC, who are so good during the regular season but not-so-much during the postseason.
Graham Parker writes:
That's what this series needed for sure — New England to score first.
That and a tin of yellow paint.
Nielsen is still furious about the goal. He made one good save but the ball bounced in the air. Vermes is shouting too. Not entirely sure what the compaint is about. Did it flick a hand somewhere in its travels?
GOAL! New England 1-0 Kansas City
New England take the lead when the ball bounces around the six-yard box. Nielsen saves first, the ball bobbles and Dorman gets the final touch. NE 1-0 KC
The long ball into the area is headed clear by Collin. Fagundez picks up the ball and tries a shot and earns a corner.
Booking! 52 mins
Sinovic body checks Farrell and earns a yellow card. Free kick out wide on the right for New England...
KC's passes are just as overhit when they're in the air as they are when they're on the ground. Another one falls into Reis's arms.
Imbongo and Nguyen pass the ball nicely into the KC penalty area but fail to carve out a chance and the ball is simply cleared. 0-0
More fractured play. Both teams have been strong away from home this season. Another reason why NE won't be too disappointed. Still 0-0
The most exciting thing to have happened in this second half so far are the enormous number of streamers that descended on Jimmy Nielsen and the KC goal area. Very pretty. Nielsen looks a bit annoyed by them.
And we have more of the same. What did the coaches say at half-time?
And the teams are back out...
Simon McMahon emails again:
Can you explain the regional conference thing that goes on in American sport, Steve? Is it purely geographical or is there more to it? And do you think it could ever catch on in the UK? The South, Midlands, North West, North East etc. playing in small leagues before play-offs and a grand final...
Well, it is mostly geographical. Although Houston play in the East, and that's not a particularly eastern city. But, Simon, how can you forget the glorious days when Division Three in England was split between north and south? Also, Simon, it's a very big country. More of a continent, really. And geographical breakdowns make sense of "local" rivalries.
Well, that wasn't pretty to watch. KC probably had the better of it with three decent chances. But it's still 0-0 and neither side will be particularly unhappy with that.
Simon McMahon, who I swear is trying to get a comment onto every single Guardian sports liveblog this year, enters our caption competition:
Good evening Steve. It's well known that Peter Vermes is a fan of the world-famous Dundee United FC. That's why he's as upset as me that we could only draw 1-1 at Celtic earlier today, despite leading for most of the match. C'mon United I think he's shouting. Yes, you're right, I have been drinking.
45 + 2 mins
Imbongo is getting a talking to by the referee. Peterson is having Q-tips pushed into his nose. No card. Peterson is back up. Peeeep! Half-time.
45 + 1 mins
Peterson is down on the ground clutching his face. There didn't seem to be much contact on first viewing.
Yet another NE goalkick to be taken by Reis as an overhit KC pass bobbles out of play. 0-0.
More fractured midfield play. The managers starting to wave their arms around in an exasperated manner. Still 0-0.
Neilsen, respendent in pink, very bright pink, comes out to claim the ball as Agudelo chases a through ball. 0-0
New England just can't find any way through the light blue tackles. Still, NE can dish it out too. Agudelo fouls. The free-kick is floated into the Revs penalty area but Reis comes to claim it. 0-0.
It was a lovely ball by Zusi that set up that chance. And, to be fair, to Bunbury, his first touch was deft. But the second was more daft. Fagundez is briefly off the field after coming out worse in an encounter with a KC defender. It's a bruising job playing against Sporting.
Save! 34 mins
Bunbury gets the ball about 8-yards out, with the goal looming, but shoots straight at Reis. Disappointing waste.
So, as soon as I type that, it's all KC pressure. But some hopeful hoofs into the box are easily dealt with in the air by the NE defenders. 0-0.
And another shot from NE, Imbongo from range, creeps slowly along the floor and safely wide. But at least the Revs are showing some attacking intent.
Collin wins a header, sending Agudelo flying in the process. The KC defender avoids a card and the free-kick, 30 yards out goes straight into the wall.
KC definitely starting to become accustomed to the playing surface, measuring more passes. But not exactly gaining much headway. Farrell at right back for NE looks good, as does Goncalves in the middle.
Every time the Revs get the ball, Rosell breaks it down. 0-0.
New England haven't scored against KC for 527 minutes. That's not a good number.
Zusi's corner sails over the crowd in the penalty area for a throw-in. Still 0-0.
Halfway through the first half and KC are possibly edging this. They've come close twice and now they have a corner...
Shot! Zusi tries from range. Long range. And never going anywhere near the goal, scuttling along the ground for a goal kick.
By the way, in these days of change kits being worn (and sold) at every opportunity, it's intriguing to see both teams wearing their regular jerseys. Although possibly surprising given that both are blue (although a deep blue, with red trim, for NE, and pale blue for KC).
After those opportunities for KC we're back to the ball bobbling pointlessly around the midfield.
It was Nguyen showing the value of the man-on-the-post for corners there, chesting away Myers' header. Still 0-0.
Another (chance, that is) ! 17 mins
From the corner a header is going goalward until it's nodded off the line. There are KC appeals that it crossed the line but the ref waves them away.
Chance! 16 mins
Zusi is getting his measurements now, a through ball finds Peterson wide on the right. he drives the ball across and Bunbury almost turns it home.
Was that a shot? The first shot? It was hard to tell really, as Agudelo just outside the penalty box drove, but was blocked before the ball had got anywhere. 0-0.
Some neat play down the NE left by Boele and just as the Revs seem to be making progress they lose the ball.
Zusi tries to get to the byline but Goncalves does a great job of shepherding the ball out for NE. Still 0-0.
I'd love to be able to give you a report with a narrative here, but neither team seem capable of stringing together more than two passes. This is all part of SKC's plan of course. They break up the play well. But who would a 0-0 result benefit here? I always thing that you wouldn't be unhappy to take a goalless draw to an away second leg.
Still very messy in midfield with neither side able to keep hold of the ball for long.
KC pump a long ball into the penalty area but it's cleared comfortably. Zusi then tries a measured pass forward but it's far too fast and far for Peterson. An early sign that this artificial turf may be an advantage for New England? Still 0-0.
NE make some space wide on the right and gets a cross in, which Nielsen punches away safely.
Revs get the first goalkick of the game as some more rather aimless bobbling puts the ball out of play.
There's some pointless bobbling around in the middle of the field (the astroturf field that is, featuring all the markings of the NE Patriots - and with all those extra markings, how the hell can anyone tell whether the ball has gone out for a throw-in or if it's just outside the NFL lines. Let's all fully support the Revs fans and their hopes for their own stadium).
KC take the kickoff and we are off...
Graham's keys to the game
Graham also has some thoughts on the game itself:
You just feel that New England need to get a lead tonight, however narrow. If they draw or lose, Sporting can manage them out of the series easily back at Sporting Park.
Top 3 factors for New England:
1.Goncalves controlling defense
2. The turf
3. Agudelo or Fagundez - scoring imps
Top 3 factors for New England
1. The turf's effect on possession
2. St Zusi's supply
3. This year's surprisingly vulnerable defense maintaining concentration
Graham Parker takes a break from his preparations for tonight's Seattle-Portland game (join him after this one for that) to enter our caption competition:
Peter Vermes appears to be singing a rainbow — which is rather lovely.
SKC are undefeated in their last six games against New England, alternating draws with wins (three of each).
The second leg of this playoff will be hosted by Paolo Bandini, who is something of an expert on SKC, having co-authored Jimmy Nielsen's autobiography. It's a good read, although sometimes gruellingly so, as it spends a lot of time discussing the Danish keeper's gambling addictions. You can read an excerpt of it here. And buy a copy here.
I'm quite worried by that stat produced by Malena below: "the two lead [MLS] in shutouts". Let's hope it's not 0-0 tonight (although that score would set up a distinctly interesting second leg in KC). What do you think? You can share your predictions, thoughts during the game, whatever via Twitter to @Busfield or via email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
And here's an expert view of Sporting from Malena Barajas, co-founder, Women United FC, and SKC fan:
Last weekend, Sporting KC's hopes for the Supporters' Shield were trampled by a magnificent performance by the New York Red Bulls against the Chicago Fire. As NYRB piled on the goals, it became clear SKC would face the New England Revolution in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, and so dodging the Houston Dynamo who have ended SKC's playoff runs in 2011 and 2012 - perhaps a better deal as SKC sets its sights on the MLS Cup.
The Semifinals start Saturday in a nationally televised match at Gillette Stadium. During the regular season, SKC and NER met twice resulting in four points for SKC and zero goals to NER's credit. A good friend and NER supporter was quick to remind me that SKC's 3-0 win at Sporting Park in August against his team was a drama-filled event where two NER players saw red in the second half. That win also included two headers scored by Kei Kamara in the first half. I expect a lot less drama but just as much excitement in this series. NER worked hard to win a playoff spot, (the first since 2009), and SKC has evolved over the season even if Vermes is criticized for rarely changing tactics. Both teams have a lot of pride at stake, and as I review side-by-side stats from the regular season rounded to whole percentages, the two lead in shutouts, and are close to even on passing accuracy (SKC's 78% to NER's 76%) and duels won (SKC's 50% to NER's 48%).
NER should not be underestimated, especially as its forward and leading scorer Diego Fagundez and stronghold midfielder Lee Nguyen seem to be high on confidence. The SKC backline will have a lot of work to do over the two legs of this series and are the key to SKC's success.
No one projected the Revolution would finish 3rd in the East, and rightfully so. The Revs finished 9th in 2012, and no seismic off-season changes followed. The pre-season conversation was less about playoffs, and more about whether Heaps would hold onto his job. This Revolution front office is not known for its brilliant acquisitions. Aging French stars of yesteryear? A must. An ill-fitting striker who can't stop scoring for his national team, but has no desire to play in New England? Sign him up. Another, heralded as the new "number 9" who fired his first warning shot by refusing to get on the plane to Boston? By all means! Lozano, Feilhaber, Caraglio... Cue the laugh track.
No one had any reason to believe that Jose Goncalves would be different, but his impact was immediately palpable. Andrew Farrell lived up to the hype. Half-season rental Agudelo thrived alongside Nguyen. Rowe and Fagundez matured into legitimate game-changers. Shockingly, the Revs steadily gained swagger. And with their backs against the wall, the Revs finished 4-0-2 and surged into 3rd.
Once again, the expectations are low for New England. Pundits have chosen Sporting KC to advance, and for good reason: SKC's bruising defense does not unlock easily. If the Revolution (the darkest of horses) are to shock us again, they'll need to sustain flawless football over 180 minutes and capitalize on the few chances SKC allows. It's a tall order for a young team, but New England appears undeterred by the expectations of others.
The lineups are in:
Welcome to the first instalment of tonight's MLS playoffs doubleheader. My colleague Graham Parker will be liveblogging the much-anticipated Cascadian rivalry playoff Seattle Sounders vs Portland Timbers straight after this game.
(On a night of great sporting action, racing correspondent Greg Wood, is liveblogging the Breeders' Cup over here).
But here we have an enthralling MLS playoff between perennial regular season titans Sporting Kansas City and, how should we put this, an overachieving New England Revolution. The winner of this game will go on to face either the Supporters' Shield winning New York Red Bulls or playoff specialists, Houston Dynamo. (Full MLS playoff bracket here).
There will be more in-depth previews of our contestants in a moment. Just to say that Guardian US sports will have live minute-by-minute coverage of every MLS playoff game. We love the playoffs.