The New England Revolution kick off the 2014 MLS season this Saturday at the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium in Houston, Texas, at 8:30 p.m. ET, broadcast on Comcast Sportsnet, and then fans will get their first real look at the local team in 2014.
Last season, the new-fashioned Revolution, under the leadership of head coach Jay Heaps and former U.S. Soccer Youth National Team coach Jay Miller, showed improved technical quality and results after several dismal seasons. But Miller was released and replaced by former D.C. United head coach Tom Soehn, who will make an impact on the team, one way or another.
In 2013, New England made their first post-season appearance since 2009 after finishing the 2014 season third in the Eastern Conference (10th overall). The Revolution were eliminated by MLS Cup Champion Sporting KC 4-3 on aggregate in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, but the team did legitimately make the playoffs.
But the Revolution's off-season does not bode well for 2014. Veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis retired from the professional game and now former No. 2 goalkeepers Brad Knighton (recently of the Vancouver Whitecaps) and Bobby Shuttleworth will battle it out for the starting position. Both are capable keepers, but the Revolution could lose 2014 Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves, who organized the backline and often covered other defensive positions. Goncalves was reported to have financial disputes with the Revolution in the off-season and considering a return to Europe and his commitment to the team is uncertain.
Young forwards Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez are bright lights indeed and work well with midfielder Lee Nguyen, but the team needs proven veteran leadership in the top half of the field. While Saer Sene is obviously talented, he seems rather fragile and prone to injury. New technical midfielder Daigo Kobayashi could be helpful but the Japanese veteran is already 35 years-old and will play on the hard turf at Gillette Stadium, which is never kind to older legs.
Ominously, Shalrie Joseph returned to train with the Revolution in late February and this can hardly be viewed as a positive thing. Joseph was one of the all-time greats in MLS, but began to drag down New England before his trade to Chivas USA, who then plummeted, and then Seattle Sounders, who also struggled when he was on the field in 2013. The Revolution holds onto players and staff long after their shelf life and it's a lesson they refuse to learn.
Paul Mariner, former assistant coach to former head coach Steve Nicol, returns to the Revolution as broadcast color analyst in concert with play-by-play announcer Brad Feldman. Hopefully, Mariner will share his extensive and humorous knowledge on air without homer bias and spur the team forward with criticism as well as praise.
Preseason results are seldom indicative of how a team performs in the regular season and New England's line-ups and neutral results are not a reliable indicator of success or failure. Good coaches try out new players and formations to discover what works before teams find out they don't work in competition. Although young standout Fagundez didn't score in preseason, he will be a major factor, as will Rowe who scored twiced. Although Teal Bunbury scored twice, his declining results in MLS don't speak well for the once-heralded forward.
Date Opponent Result Score Goal Scorers
Jan. 31 vs. Malmo FF (SWE) D 1-1 Rowe
Feb. 4 vs. Philadelphia Union D 1-1 Melo
Feb. 6 vs. Ft. Lauderdale Strikers W 2-1 Imbongo, Barnes
Feb. 19 vs. Real Salt Lake D 0-0 N/A
Feb. 22 vs. Chivas USA L 2-3 Nguyen, Bunbury
Feb. 26 vs. Chicago Fire W 1-0 Rowe
March 1 vs. Colorado Rapids D 2-2 Bunbury, Mullins