KANSAS CITY, KS - JULY 30: Rajko Lekic #10 of the New England Revolution blocks a free kick by Jeferson #10 of Sporting Kansas City in front of the Revolution goal during the game on July 30, 2011 at LiveStrong Sporting Park in Kansas City, Kansas. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
It's kind of nice to be the underdog again.
While the preseason - perhaps unrealistically - raised expectations for this young and still building squad, the truth came out after the game against the San Jose Earthquakes that the New England Revolution still have a long way to go.
In a game where Steven Lenhart continually pestered our injured defense, Chris Wondolowski did what Chris Wondolowski does, Shalrie Joseph looked unprepared, and Kelyn Rowe looked like the rookie he is, we were brought back down to Earth on just what it is that Jay Heaps has to do with this team before they become competitors for a playoff spot, let alone MLS Cup or Supporter's Shield.
The truth is that the opening game against San Jose was the judgement of two much improved teams. Sure the Revs didn't look like world-beaters, but there were moments of brilliance. However, going into this weekend's match against Sporting Kansas City, the Revs look to be far more outmatched.
When looking at New England's injury report, it appears that someone just copied down the entire backline and called it a day. Amongst our already beleaguered backline, Darrius Barnes is out, A.J. Soares is questionable, and John Lozano is doubtful. This does not even take into account that Saer Sene is still questionable, Zak Boggs is out, Sainey Nyassi is out, Jose Moreno is - as far as I know - still not with the team, and Florian Lechner will be unavailable this weekend.
With so much of the backline out, doubtful, or banged up, the Revs now have to face a Sporting Kansas City, a team many believe are the most potent attack in MLS. How potent are they? Well, one of SKC's starting forwards, Teal Bunbury, will be away for Olympic Qualify with the U23s and his "replacement" - CJ Sapong - might be in better form than he is. With Sporting having attacking depth like that, in addition to old friend Seth Sinovic, Matt Besler, and Jimmy Nielsen locking down the defensive third, most people are giving the Revolution almost no shot at winning this game.
Following this Saturday the schedule does not get much friendlier. The Revolution are home to Portland Timbers, away to LA Galaxy, away to FC Dallas, home to D.C. United. Conceivably, the Revs could be going into the D.C. game with no points. But then again, perhaps when Jose Moreno appears, or Saer Sene makes his first regular-season MLS debut, there will be better possession and more goal scoring opportunities put away. Perhaps when the entire backline is healthy New England will show the defensive prowess they showed for the majority of the Desert Diamond Cup. Perhaps I have taken one too many negatives out of the first game of a season featuring a rookie head coach and a roster filled with injuries.
Sill, I keep having to tell myself that this is a rebuilding squad, that is learning to gel. And with that in mind, there are positives (Lee Nguyen, Stephen McCarthy, and Benny Feilhaber for starters) to take away with all of the negatives (I'm looking at you Shalrie Joseph and Blake Brettschneider) from the debut game - even if the negatives seemingly far outweigh the positives. Now all I can do is look forward to the next match and hope for a better outcome.
Until then, here's what I'll be looking at/for during this weekend's match:
- How will the Revolution adjust to the much wider pitch at LIVESTRONG Sporting Park?
- Could we see Clyde Simms used as a substitute in case Shalrie has another horrendous game?
- Is there a possibility of seeing Lee Nguyen, Fernando Cardenas, and Diego Fagundez playing together?
- How will New England's battered and bruised backline deal with SKC's "explosive" offense?
- Will Saer Sene make his debut and if so how effective will his knee be after the flight?
What questions do you have going into this weekend? How will injuries affect the game's outcome? What would you like to see improved this Saturday against Sporting? Comment below.