FOXBORO, MA - MAY 28: Benny Feilhaber #22 of the New England Revolution reacts to a call in the second half against the Los Angeles Galaxy on May 28, 2011 at Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Massachusetts. The Los Angeles Galaxy defeated the New England Revolution 1-0. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)
Preseason? We're talking about preseason here? Yes we are. After all, only so much can be taken away from a 2-1 win over a fourth division side. And while beating Boston College a few times is nice, it is still only beating a college team. The beginning of the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup is the first opportunity to see the Revolution compete against MLS competition.
The FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup has four teams competing in it: Real Salt Lake, LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and New England Revolution. For the tournament, the four teams comprise of one group. Each team plays three games competing only once with the other sides. Victories are three points, draws are one point, and no points are awarded for loses. At the end of the group stage, the top two teams play for the Desert Diamond Cup, and the teams with the third and fourth highest points compete for third place.
Entering the tournament most people understand that not every player who plays will ultimately end up making their MLS side's roster. This, after all, is partially about making that infamous "final cut." It is the start of creating new incarnation of all four of these teams. And it is - in theory - high quality competition for the Revs, who will be the only team participating who was not in last year's MLS Cup Playoffs.
But forget about last year for a moment. It is time to start anew, because as far as expectations go, entering a new season - in any sport - teams all start at the same level. No one has any points. No one has any wins. No one has any loses. Every team has a fresh slate, a clean start, a do-over, and all those other clichés. However, not all teams have the same expectations. And while, for the most part, expectations of the Revs are either realistic or realistically low for the Desert Diamond Cup, the three other teams in this preseason tournament are likely to have much loftier goals than the boys from Foxboro for the MLS regular season.
Los Angeles has the potential to compete for a treble (Supporters Shield, MLS Cup, CONCACAF Champions' League). Real Salt Lake will be attempting to win another MLS Cup and a first Supporters' Shield, as well as competing in US Open Cup and CONCACAF Champions' League group stages. New York Red Bulls will at the very least be trying to prove they were not the paper tiger they appeared to be last year, and they will most likely be in the mix for, at a minimum, the best record in the Eastern Conference. So as Revolution supporters, this seems like a very frightening way to start the preseason. The boys are being thrown into the desert with the sharks, and the overwhelming consensus on twitter seems to be: How can the Revs possibly win this tournament? But, again, this is the preseason.
So while winning would be nice, there are much more pressing matters to watch. As the games stream live on MLSSoccer.com, this will be the first opportunity for fans to see exactly how the Revs are coming together with the season kickoff on March 10th rapidly approaching. For myself, I will be looking at quite a few things. I want to see what the line-up Jay Heaps is running. I'm curious if all the talk about possession and playing the ball quickly on the ground will be apparent against three very good MLS teams. In addition, with new players and a new system I want to get an idea as to how Heaps is planning on using different players. Is Diego a forward or a midfielder? Does Simms play with Joseph? Is Tierney a left-back or left midfielder in Heaps's mind?
Speaking of players fitting into the system, I will also be curious to see the types of players Heaps covets. Yes I know that Matt Reis and Shalrie Joseph will inevitable be playing. But personally, I will be have a keen eye turned towards five new players I have yet to see play for the Revs: Kelyn Rowe, Fernando Cardenas, John Lozano, Tyler Polak, and Saer Sene, all of whom already are contracted to the team. Rowe, Cardenas, and Lozano have all earned glowing reviews from people who have been lucky enough to see the early matches against FC Tucson and BC, and Polak and Sene each sound like they have something to contribute immediately to the squad. Then, perhaps more interestingly, there are the players who are fighting to earn a deal with the Revs (Luisito Campisi, Tom Cruise, Bjorn Runstrom, Jeremiah White, Blake Brettschneider, and Alec Purdie amongst others). The way in which these players are used, or aren't used, will give us an idea of what type of role player Heaps wants to fill in the roster. In addition to the new acquisitions and the trialists, we also get to see how youngsters A.J. Soares and even younger youngster Diego Fagundez have adjusted after their first season with the first team. Or how Kevin Alston has readjusted after a relatively down year for him. Then, of course, there is Benny Feilhaber, who many pinned hopes to last year. A player I looked at as a disappointment despite his solid - if not spectacular - numbers last year.
The Desert Diamond Cup could potentially be a big opportunity for Benny. It has been said that it takes a season for a player to adjust to MLS's style of play. Its quickness and its physicality take time to navigate and get used to. So while Feilhaber was more than passable last season, I am curious to see how he reacts after a year of MLS seasoning.
In addition to watching the team's style and formation, its new players, its trialists, and its old players, there are specific positional battles that are of concern. Who will ultimately end up at LB? How does Heaps plan on using his wing-backs? Are Rowe and Cardenas the penciled in wingers or could someone else jump them in the depth order? Will Sene play as a sole forward? The team has repeatedly said it is looking for at least one more striker (perhaps other than Jose Moreno?). Is that player currently on the roster (Zack Schilawski?) or could he be trialing with New England during this tournament? But even if they don't win, I want to know how the Revolution look against competition that most consider vastly superior?
The FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup is just a preseason tournament, but for the New England Revolution it is more than just a preseason tournament. It is getting close to crunch time, it is getting close to game time, and it is getting close to go time. Do I want the Revs to win this tournament? Of course I do. But I am more concerned with seeing this team come together before the season starts as opposed to mid-August.
What are you looking for from the Revs during the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup? Discuss below.