After making the MLS Cup Final the New England Revolution did not stand pat. In 2015, New England is pursuing the same thing as Seattle Sounders FC, their first MLS Cup. They brought in former United States National Teamer Juan Agudelo, former Seattle HGP Sean Okoli, and Jeremy Hall. But, it wasn't just a matter of getting stronger. A.J. Soares left for some place that doesn't play great soccer. After last year's strong season, expectations are as high in New England as they are in Seattle, LA and Toronto.
Answering three questions before this game is Steve from The Bent Musket. As usually occurs there is a projected lineup and notable absences. In this case both teams will be without their best defensive midfielder - Jermaine Jones and Osvaldo Alonso are out. New this year is that one question or answer from SaH will be by a regular reader.
SaH: Looking at this offense it is packed with fringe and/or former US National Team talents. Is there enough ball to go around for Agudelo, Davies, Bunbury, Nguyen and Fagundez (not USMNT, but UruNT)?
tBM: I think there's always enough ball to go around. The nice thing about this is that most of these guys have spent the last 1-3 years building chemistry. Even Agudelo, the new guy in that group, has a remarkable relationship with Diego Fagundez and has worked brilliantly with Nguyen and Rowe in the past. Some of these guys might have put themselves in line for more individual accolades or higher numbers if they were in teams that had less surrounding star power, but I think everyone benefits here. If nothing else, this team should produce one of the best attacks the league has ever seen, or at least one of the best this season.
It looks like Agudelo is going to start solo up top, which is bad news for Davies, who earned it last year, but good news for everyone else (especially Diego) because his size/speed/skill combo is top-class, and he likes the system. Fagundez may have played himself back into the starting lineup this offseason, with Bunbury opposite, and when fully healthy, Nguyen will run things from the middle, flanked by Jones and Caldwell. Even the odd men out here, Rowe and Davies, are DEVASTATING bench options. I think you'll see everybody putting on a show, and hopefully the depth means that when one guy hits a slump, there's always someone else picking up the slack.
SaH: Losing AJ Soares means Farrell will probably slide to a central role. How will he handle the increased defensive burden?
tBM: Andrew won't have any issues handling the burden. The problem is less about whether or not he's ready to be a top MLS defender, and more about whether or not he's in the best partnership to maximize his talents. When Jose Goncalves was hurt last season, Farrell paired with Soares, who is generally a more traditional, well-positioned, no-nonsense defender. That plays a perfect foil to Farrell's bold, risky, high-energy style of defense - partly because it's exactly the same thing that Soares did with Goncalves, who also likes to take risks. Goncalves, though, generally knows when to stay home; Farrell has no such restraint. Pairing the two of them together will work effectively in New England's high-line, high-pressure system, but discipline probably won't be a word much associated with the Revolution defense this season. Farrell needs to learn to temper his exuberance or he'll get exposed. Badly.
SaH: Expectations haven't been this high for the Revs since the Twellman era. Is Sunday's match against Seattle seen as an early test of quality, or is it too early for that?
tBM: I think you have to look at it that way, but I'll be watching it with some skepticism. The Revs started notoriously slow in 2013 and 2014 (0-4-2 and 2-3-1 through six, respectively) and even in the latter season, where the opening record isn't necessarily dire, they weren't playing good ball at all through those games. It almost seems like it's a hallmark of the Heaps-coached team, as much as the summer swoon. Plus, there are 24 or 25 players on the roster right now, so the pieces aren't all there yet. I think a better barometer will be where they are come May, a month where the Revs have traditionally turned it on. If they've opened the season well through six games, they may have really turned the corner for 2015.
On the other hand, this is supposed to be an MLS Cup contender. They need to show well against the cream of the crop, and Seattle certainly qualifies there. It could indicate whether or not the Revs are really ready to be favorites. Of course, with Jones and maybe Nguyen banged up and out, this isn't a full-strength New England side anyway. It's tough, you could look at it either way.
Projected Lineup: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Hall; Caldwell; Fagundez, Rowe, Kobayashi, Bunbury; Agudelo
Key Absences: Jermaine Jones, Lee Nguyen
tBM: The offseason seemed a little quiet for the Sounders this time around, unless it was on the exit sheet. DeAndre Yedlin is now in England. How does Seattle propose to replace the dynamic young defender, and apart from him, who do you think were the biggest losses and acquisitions this winter?
SaH: The replacement for Yedlin is former EPL player Tyrone Mears. He's another reclamation project who hadn't played regularly since the 12/13 with Bolton Wanderers in the Champoinship. He is a bit like Yedlin in that he gets forward a lot so people think he's out of position. He is older, so reads games better. Style shouldn't shift much, and the defense may be a bit better.
Other losses were Traore, Anibaba and a lot of players with very few minutes. Those all shouldn't matter. The acquisitions were more about depth. Troy Perkins replaces Marcus Hahnemann which hurts a lot of narrative, but helps on the field. Draftee Cristian Roldan will be Seattle's number eight in the future. Two HGPs joined. Darwin Jones is a forward/left wing who plays an Oba-style game. Teen phenom Vic Mansaray will mainly be with S2 so he can finish high school.
tBM: Last time these two clubs met, the Revs went ham and hung five in a brutal shutout. Seattle then went on to a Supporters' Shield, so that was clearly a blip, but do you think it still sticks out in the minds of the guys in Rave Green, and will they be looking for some payback on Sunday?
SaH: It's the home opener. They won't look for payback, they'll look to start the season off on a powerful foot. The only way to repeat and exceed 2014's two trophies is too start hot and stay hot. That means always winning at home, no matter the quality of the opposition. Last year won't matter. The 42,000+ in the stands will though.
tbM: I'll put your third question back to you: expectations on Seattle are always high, and this match is being billed as a slugfest among heavyweights, for better or worse. Do you agree with that assessment?
SaH: From reader Matt Oak: Let's be honest, New England showed big in 2014 with the addition of Jermaine Jones and the rise of Lee, Nguyen - ing a ton of matches down the stretch. But don't get carried away - the Revs were an afterthought for years before 2014. They still have to prove that late 2014 wasn't a flash in the pan, and that they can hang with a Western Conference contender. It's yet to be seen what forward tandem they throw out, and how they work together, with Davies, Okoli, Bunbury, Fagundez, Agudelo all as options - but I like Marshall, Mears, Evans, and Gonzalez to be up to that task despite the combinations.
Seattle, meanwhile, is a pretty clear heavyweight as is. No getting around the tandem of Oba and Dempsey as a 1-2, and if another piece of the hydra gets a punch in, it's tough to think New England's new back four shuffle can hold them back. Looks like Farrell is moving to CB, and Seattle could exploit that, as good a defender as he is.
The equalizer is the absent Alonso. It's probably Azira and Pineda against the likes of Nguyen and Jones. If the NE midfield lives up, and considering it's week 1, we're looking at a pretty even middleweight matchup, but there hasn't been a ton of crisp jabs or hooks from either side in preseason viewing (grain of salt).
Good end to opening weekend, but I would expect a low scoring decision rather than a title fight.
Projected Lineup: 4-4-2 - Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Neagle, Pineda, Azira, Pappa; Demspey, Martins
Key Absences: Alonso, dammit.