After a few months of questions, frustration and more disappointment, the 17th edition of Major League Soccer, featuring our favorite red-headed stepchildren, the New England Revolution, is finally upon us. While the likes of Eastern Conference (give us a single table already!) foes Chicago, Kansas City, Houston, DC, Filthadelphia, ect, have all re-tooled and improved in one way or another, even the most optimistic of Revs supporters can only expect a slightly modest improvement over the absolute disaster that was the 2011 season. While there is no doubt that the Revvies are on an upward trend of improvement, the question is how soon will we be back in the thick of the playoff hunt.
While the shockingly disappointing (infuriating, really) promotions of bumbling FO'ers Brian Bilello and Michael "stop calling me 'Mike'" Burns has most Revs supporters continuously taking sharp turns to Negative Town, there is one move that actually has be slightly optimistic: the hiring of Jay Heaps as head coach. There, I said it. Color me excited about the Jay Heaps era. While I, like many others, was initially discouraged and angered over this "cheap way out" signing that is ever-so the norm with the Krafts, Heaps' enthusiasm and determination has really grown on me. While never the best player during his serviceable 8.5 years as a Rev, his passion for the game and non-stop desire for success really showed every time he stepped onto the pitch. He truly bled New England red, white and blue (or silver according to our 2010/11 Patriots-reject design kits). His zero coaching experience is obviously a massive point of concern, but his energy, enthusiasm, and passion for success seems to have really trickled down on the players. For instance, Benny Feilhaber - in my mind our most important player - has clearly shown a much more positive outlook on this upcoming campaign, while the remaining veterans from the Steve Nicol era seem to really enjoy the direction in which Heaps has the side going. There has been a very noticeable contrast between Feilhaber's obvious negative body language on the field last season, to his upbeat, positive outlook on the start of the Heaps era through various Tweets, interviews, ect. Keeping him happy and performing at his best will be a major factor in this side's improvement.
While Heaps' vision and attitude seems to have a positive effect so far on the team, the way-out-of-his-depth Burns is another story. Now fully accountable for player acquisitions, or-lack-there-of, due to his "promotion" to General Manager, we enter yet another season with an incomplete team. While Burns states that we can expect more signings "within the next 10-14 days", such signings need to be made in January and February, not a week or two into the season. The fact that he continued to chase down who I like to call "His Nine-ness" Jose Moreno after that whole debacle with the Colombian media instead of securing a worthy forward who actually might want to play here, further underlines his incompetence as a GM. Making the entire Moreno debacle even more of a joke is that the striker won't even be available to play tonight.
As for tonight, hopeful (I stress "hopeful") goal-scoring hero Saer Sene, he of Bayern Munich II fame, will also miss out on tonight's match with knee swelling. With he and Moreno missing, where will the goals come from? 17 year old Diego Fagundez, as talented as he is, surely can't be counted on to shoulder the burden. In contention for tonight will almost certainly be Colombian attacker Fernando Cardenas. Better suited out wide, Cardenas will have to utilize his cheeky skill and quickness in order to be the scoring threat that New England will need tonight. After watching a few preseason matches, the winger reminds me of William Sunsing - similar in style and approach to the attack. Where Sunsing showcased his skills a bit too much to be deemed effective, thus becoming increasingly more frustrating to watch the more he played, Cardenas will need to provide a more disciplined mentality in order to succeed. His likely partner up top will be ex-DC United reserve Blake Brettschneider. How Feilhaber and first-year USA youth international Kelyn Rowe, both likely to start on the left and right side of midfield, orchestrate the attack will likely determine how successful Cardenas and Brettschneider are tonight. Captain Shalrie Joseph and Clyde Simms are expected to anchor the midfield, disrupt San Jose's attack, and spark counter attacks. Holding down the fort in the back will likely be second-year star AJ Soares and Colombian centre back John Lozano, flanked by the energetic Kevin Alston on the right, while Darrius Barnes will likely fill-in for the suspended Chris Tierney on the left. Mainstay Matt Reis is the undoubted choice in net.
Recent signings Lee Nguyen and Jeremiah White, carrying a collective 4 USA caps between the two of them, add hope to the attack, though while Nguyen may feature at some point tonight, White will not be re-joining the team until next week after 2 trial spells during preseason. Why it took the Revs so long to secure White's services remains unknown, but it seems to be yet another strike against Burns and his ability as a GM.
Tonight could be very ugly, and while San Jose aren't exactly league beaters, they still boast dangerous attacking players Chris Wondolowski and on-loan Tottenham Hotspur midfielder Simon Dawkins. The New England defense will surely be tested, and any hope to pull off a victory will rest on the shoulders of both Feilhaber and Rowe, and their ability to create goal-scoring opportunities.
My money is on an ugly 1-1 draw, Joseph scoring the lone New England goal from the penalty spot. Regardless of the outcome, the start of the Jay Heaps era will certainly be an interesting one to watch. See you at the Banshee!