The Colorado Rapids and the New England Revolution met up just two weeks ago in Tucson for the Desert Diamond Cup, and find themselves matched up again this afternoon at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park. Unfortunately, the Rapids will be wearing Burgundy today and the Revs will be wearing their away kit - not a combo that is easy on the eyes. At least the Revs away jersey is mostly white. Kind of.
We talked to Jake Catanese from The Bent Musket to find out what we can expect from the Revs.
Burgundy Wave: As we know, the Rapids beat the Revs 3-1 in preseason. Do you think that will have an impact on this game, and if yes, how so?
The Bent Musket: Trying to judge team form in the middle of preseason is really hard, probably especially so for the Revs this year. Several players were absent from camp due to national team duty (Juan Agudelo, USA; Je-Vaughn Watson, JAM) and two key players were working their way back to full fitness from injury. Designated Player Xavier Kouassi missed all of last season with an ACL tear and never joined the Revs after signing a pre-contract with the team a year ago. The holding midfielder is the heir apparent to Jermaine Jones and Gershon Koffie for New England but he's still likely not fit to play 90 minutes, and while he might be available off the bench, the Revs are taking things very slow with him.
Another new signing for the Revs is also a little banged up but is expected to play, and that's center back Benjamin Angoua. Before signing with the Revs on loan from France's EA Guingamp, Angoua was carrying a bit of knock and it limited his minutes in preseason and his ability to work with another new center back in Slovenian international Antonio Delamea. The Revs have enough cover in the midfield where they won't miss Kouassi, but the center backs missing out on key preseason game minutes wasn't ideal. However, the Revs offense has been clicking so maybe we can just outscore everyone for the first few weeks until the defensive side of team is firing on all cylinders as well.
BW: I saw in your preview that the Revs have made some changes in the offseason - what changes did they make and how will this affect their style of play?
TBM: I've already detailed the new players above, with the exception of perhaps Cody Cropper getting the nod as the Revs top keeper. New England never really replaced center back AJ Soares after the 2014 MLS Cup Final run and it was center back by committee next to former captain Jose Goncalves the last two seasons. Shoring up the backline was a must this offseason and the Revs front office came through with two solid signings.
The biggest change to the Revs style of play came last year, when Jay Heaps abandoned his preferred 4-2-3-1 for a 4-1-2-1-2/4-4-2 Diamond setup. Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara were partnered up top and the Revs dropped one of their holding midfielders to the bench. The question for the Revs will be when Kouassi is healthy and assumes the starting CDM role, who ends up on the bench: Kelyn Rowe, Scott Caldwell or Diego Fagundez?
Also, Lee Nguyen has been listed as a striker for most of the preseason, swapping roles with Juan Agudelo at times. I think it's just a way to give those two players more freedom to work off each other in the final third and Nguyen will be more of the primary midfielder, but it's an interesting wrinkle to watch for in the Revs formation.
BW: Last year, the Revs' highest goal scorers had seven and six goals. Is that a concern, and if so, how will it change this season?
TBM: I think largely the Revs will still be a team that scores by committee, meaning the midfielders like Nguyen, Rowe and Fagundez are going to get their fair share of goals along with the strikers. The main idea behind the formation change is take advantage of the space created by players like Agudelo and Nguyen in the final third and use combination play in the box to generate chances. That part has never been an issue for New England, they're always among the top teams in chances created, sadly the finishing was lacking tremendously last year.
However, if Agudelo continues he breakout form at the end of 2016, the rest of the league could be in serious trouble. Also, New England will be performing voodoo rituals and rain dances upon all the goal posts to appease the soccer gods as the Revs hit a lot of woodwork last year that ruined a lot of good shots.
Projected Lineup/Injuries/Final Score
Cropper; Tierney, Angoua, Delamea, Farrell; Caldwell; Fagundez, Rowe; Nguyen; Agudelo, Kamara
Only Zachary Herivaux is the only one officially ruled out by the Revs for this one with an ankle injury he picked up in preseason. There are fitness concerns for Angoua who should start but it wouldn't surprise me to see him perhaps subbed off late. Kouassi doesn't get the start for me but might be available on the bench.
I will happily take a road point to start 2017, 1-1 draw.
See what TBM asked us here.