February 3 brings the third game of the 2017 preseason for the New York Red Bulls. After a 2-0 win over Portland Timbers and a 1-0 loss to Real Salt Lake, it is time to see what the New England Revolution have to offer. But first, The Bent Musket's Jake Catanese has stopped by to share a few thoughts about what the Revs have been doing this year.
1. Well, RBNY is having a merry preseason. We fired (pun intended) our captain and mislaid our sporting director and every time we make a new signing it seems to be someone younger and less well-known than the last. What have the Revs been up to?
Booooooooooooooooooooo...bad pun. Sorry, that's a conditioned response.
Well, up until last week you could've argued the Revs were having a worse preseason because they hadn't really done anything. Jay Heaps returning was actually the first team announcement of the off-season, Carlos Llamosa was hired as an assistant coach and Daigo Kobayashi had been resigned. But the losses for the Revs were piling up, especially on an already thin back line, and no replacements for Jose Goncalves had been announced.
Then the Revs front office swooped in with two international centerbacks: Slovenian Antonio Delamea and Ivorian Benjamin Angoua. Delamea has one international cap and was the captain of last year's Slovenian league champions, Olimpija Ljubljana. He was brought in on a transfer using TAM. He's also the first Slovenian to play in MLS and he'll likely be partnered with Angoua in defense. Angoua comes in on loan from French side Guingamp and has 17 international appearances with the Ivory Coast. They will be joined by DP Xavier Kouassi, also from the Ivory Coast, at holding midfield this year; he was injured in the spring while finishing his club season in Europe, and he will join the Revs in the summer.
Combined with a solid MLS SuperDraft class, the Revs' offseason has gone from bleak to pretty good in the last week or so. There's still a lot of things that need to go right for the team this season but at least all of the pieces are in place for 2017.
2. What should we be looking for out of the Revs in this game? Tactical priorities? A player or two to keep an eye on?
As far as tactics, the Revs switched from a 4-2-3-1 to a 4-4-2/4-1-2-1-2 diamond midfield last year. In preseason, I expect to see Heaps deploy both of these formations in some combination. There are a lot of players who will have to get acclimated to a new team as well, and the Revs are taking things slow with Kouassi and Angoua in particular, though Delamea saw action earlier in the week against Minnesota.
First round draft pick Brian Wright, a striker out of Vermont, drew a penalty in that first preseason game and back-up left back Donnie Smith notched an assist to Kei Kamara to equalize in a 1-1 draw. There's also a decent crop of trialists with the Revs right now, including former Chivas USA man Tristan Bowen. The team has a handful of open back-end roster spots available, so there are roster battles happening in camp. Zachary Herivaux will be getting a lot of minutes at holding midfield until Kouassi is ready and that should be good news for the other Revs homegrowns.
3. Jay Heaps has taken your Revs to two major Cup finals in five seasons. What are expectations for the coming year, and is Heaps in for the long haul or any hint of pressure on him for 2017?
The Revolution were fairly quick to announce that Jay Heaps would be back for 2017 and I don't think that surprised a lot of people though the fanbase might not have been all that thrilled. The Open Cup aside, last year was a failure for a team two years removed from an MLS Cup Final, and it's only this year that the Revs are addressing a central defense that has been thin since AJ Soares left for Europe. I don't think Heaps is on the proverbial hot seat as far as getting sacked in 2017 - that's not really how the Krafts do things in New England - and I do think Heaps is the head coach for the near future. But the expectations for 2017 should be a home playoff game or two this season and I don't think that's an unrealistic goal
At their best, I think the Revs starting lineup can play with anyone in the league, and Juan Agudelo was a force late in 2016 but it wasn't enough for the Revs to sneak into the playoffs as a six-seed. After two less than stellar seasons in a row, the Revs need a solid rebound season and desperately need to avoid a slow start or their annual summer swoon. If this team can stay healthy and consistent, and the new trio at center-back/holding-midfield are as good as Revs fans hope, I think the results will come and this should be a team that stays in the top half of the East standings most of the year.