USA TODAY Sports
New England often struggled to carry out a complete game plan in 2012, so we decided to break down the Eastern Conference for Jay Heaps and give him some advice on what to expect this season and how he can win! Aren't we nice?
The Revolution may have made some important moves this offseason, but so has the rest of the MLS Eastern Conference. While New England has reinforced their squad in all areas of the pitch, they'll need to compliment those reinforcements with a game plan for each and every opponent they face this season. So, let's take a look at the changes that have happened across the East and what the Revs will need to do to keep themselves at the top of the table in 2013.
Chicago - The Fire have most notably bolstered their midfield by adding MLS veterans Jeff Larentowicz and Joel Lindpere as well as the promising young talents of Dilly Duka and Brendan King. However, they've also lost speedster Dominic Oduro, who was unsettled in the windy city after the mid-season addition of DP Sherjill MacDonald. Not only that but their midfield mainstay Parvel Pardo has retired this offseason and Alvaro Fernandez has been loaned out to Al Rayyan, a club in Qatar.
So how might the Revs fair against their bitter rivals in 2013? Well, they'll have to outsmart them in the midfield. New England will be heavily relying on Kalifa Cisse this season, especially against a team like Chicago, to use his size and muscle to keep New England's physical edge. The Fire tend to stick with a 5-man midfield, so threading through it will be the real challenge. Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, and Juan Toja will need to be sharp with their passing and smart with their possession.
Columbus - Speaking of Oduro, well, he's with the Crew now. What's scarier is that he is a likely candidate to pair up with Federico Higuain up top, making the Crew even more dangerous on the counter attack which they tend to rely on more often than not. On their backline, Colbumus have added Glauber and Agustin Viana to shore up the defense along with Homegrown signing Chad Barson and Tyson Wahl. The Crew have also seen a number of departures as well in the offseason, most of which were declined options on a handful of players from their 2012 squad.
Jay Heaps will need to stay true to his plans for a possession-based attacking Revolution team, especially against Columbus. If their 2013 squad plays anything like that which took the field in 2012, then New England will need to play smart and limit their mistakes to few or ideally none at all. It's also worth noting that the Revolution end their 2013 season with back-to-back games against Columbus--two games that just might end up being crucial in the race for the playoffs.
DC United - DC made some big acquisitions last offseason (Hamdi Salihi, in particular), but they didn't work out quite as planned. He's gone now, along with Andy Najar and Maicon Santos (who is now with Chicago via the Re-Entry draft). Those are some pretty big blows for United. But they also added the talents of Brazilian striker Rafael as their newest DP. Add that to the return of captain Dwayne DeRosario who spent the latter part of last season injured, and you've still got as formidable a foe as ever.
The Revolution almost always show up against United (hope I didn't jinx anything there), and that should be no different this season. The New England backline will need to step up and match DC's muscle while limiting their chances in the midfield to make something out of nothing, Once again, the Revolution will need to call upon their possession game to keep the tempo in their favor--never an easy task.
Houston - Down in Texas, the Dynamo have remained relatively quiet this offseason. But I suppose a team that has made it to the MLS Cup final 2 years in a row doesn't need to do much of an overhaul. Though they let go of former US National Team midfielder Colin Clark and sold defender Andre Hainault to Ross County of the Scottish Premier League, they've bolstered their options up top with adding Omar Cummings from Colorado and highly touted college prospect Jason Johnson in the SuperDraft.
Houston has never made it easy for the Revs, and I expect much of the same in 2013. One advantage they always seem to have on their side against New England is their proficiency with set pieces. Brad Davis can place a dead ball anywhere he likes, so Jay Heaps' squad will really need to be working on defending set pieces, an area where the Revs struggled mightily in 2012. One way to reduce that risk, of course, is not giving away silly fouls, especially late in the game. With resident hot-head Benny Feilhaber out of the picture, perhaps tempers will be more manageable against the creamsicles this season. Perhaps.
Montreal - L'Impact haven't made too much noise either aside from hiring on Marco Schallibaum to replace Jesse Marsch at the helm. They traded away Josh Gardner and Lamar Neagle to Sporting Kansas City and the Seattle Sounders respectively. For additions, they've brought in Midfielder/Forward Andrea Pisanu on loan from Bologna and Forward Andres Romero on loan from Tombense. They managed to hold onto Justin Mapp despite being originally listed as available for the Re-Entry Draft as well as Sanna Nyassi who was a real Revs-killer in 2012.
New England should expect the Impact to put up just as much of a fight in 2013 if not more so. The Revs may struggle most to match the speed of the impact. Aside from the aforementioned Sanna Nyassi, there's also Felipe Martins to worry about, who was a real force to be reckoned with for all of MLS last season. As a relatively well-balanced squad, Montreal will test New England's patience in 2013 and force them to find their own balance out on the pitch.
New York - The Red Bulls, as usual, have stolen most of the headlines this offseason. But this time, it was their massive player turnover rate that comprised most of the chatter. All together, 16 different players were sent packing including Sebastien Le Toux, Wilman Conde, Rafa Marquez, and lead goal scorer Kenny Cooper. Meanwhile, they made some key additions by bringing on Jamison Olave and Fabian Espindola from Real Salt Lake and most notably Juninho Pernambucano from Vasco De Gama. Oh and they have a new coach in Mike Petke.
Juninho will give the Revs headaches with his set-piece ability and Dax McCarty, who extended his contract with the Red Bulls just this past week, looks set to command the midfield alongside him. Oh, and then there's still the not-so-small matter of Thierry Henry to deal with. This season the Revs will have to play their hated I-95 rivals twice at Red Bull Arena, so finding a way to top New York will be that much harder. With such a large amount of turnover, including an almost completely new coaching staff, the Revs may have a slight upper hand, but they shouldn't count on it.
Philadelphia - 2013 will see the homecoming of local man and defender Jeff Parke as well as the triumphant return of Sebastien Le Toux. Not only that, but the Union have added Conor Casey via the Re-Entry Draft, midfielder Alex Mendoza from the Harrisburg City Islanders academy system, Trinidad and Tobago international Damani Richards, and PDL stand-out forward Aaron Wheeler. Yes, it is a new-look Philadelphia Union, a look which no longer includes the likes of Gabriel Gomez, Josue Martinez, or Zach Pfeffer. Additionally, Designated Player Freddy Adu's time in the city of brotherly love seems like it is just about up.
John Hackworth will surely be hoping that his squad will show more consistency than last season. The Union, not unlike the Revs, are still searching for that sense of identity, and in a way that makes them as dangerous as ever. The thought of dealing with both Le Toux and Casey will send shivers down most opponents' spines, but New England's reinforced back-line should be up to the task.
Kansas City - The reigning Eastern Conference champs may have lost Kei Kamara and Roger Espinoza to the English Premier League, but arguably 2 of their biggest moves this offseason weren't even moves at all. Despite similar Premier League interest to Kamara and Espinoza, Sporting Kansas City managed to hang on to midfielder Graham Zusi as well as defender Matt Besler, both of which who have become regular figures with the US National team. They've also made some other key additions as well in acquiring Ike Opara, Cameroonian defender Yann Songo'o, Benny Feilhaber, and new DP striker Claudio Bieler from LDU Quito. KC looks ready to pick up where they left off and will assuredly be a handful to play against in 2013 as they always are.
For the Revs, they need to find a way to match Sporting's physicality, something they failed to do in 2012 against them and other teams as well. Jay Heaps has brought in the likes of Kalifa Cisse and Jose Goncalves to give the Revs not only some leadership on the pitch but also some muscle, and it will be expected that they will flex it in 2013, especially against teams like Sporting Kansas City.
Toronto - Unless you've been hibernating all winter, you know about the insanity that has taken place in Toronto this offseason. The big one is of course the hiring on of Ryan Nelsen, who currently plays for Queen's Park Rangers in the EPL, as their new head coach--a move that raised more than a few eyebrows. Let's not forget that Kevin Payne was brought in as the new club president, too. As for their player personnel, the Reds parted ways with Eric Hassli, Joao Plata, Ryan Johnson, and Eric Avila, to name a few. For additions, they've signed on Danny Califf and Gale Agbossoumonde to reinforce the defense and now have Justin Braun up top. In the middle, Kyle Bekker and Julio Cesar will hope they can give Toronto the backbone they'll need in 2013.
Toronto is in a bona fide state of flux, so the Revs will hope that they can take advantage this season. Although Danny Koevermans is expected to return from injury in 2013, the Revs' biggest task against TFC will be to have a more dominant midfield for a full 90 minutes. Califf and Cesar are MLS veterans, and know how to shut down New England, so Jay Heaps will need to have some new tricks up his sleeve when facing Toronto, but it should be manageable task if the boys in blue can see out a game plan.