Well, friends, another season is here. And with another season comes the inevitable hangovers--the joys and pains of this game, this league, and of course this team that we love so dearly. It is human nature to reflect on the things we observe, especially those that we hold so dear. It is also part of our nature to ask questions; Why? Who? What if? What happened? And so on...
And so we begin another season of over-analyzing and overreacting, venting and validating, guessing and, well, just getting it all out.
For our first installment, it is my absolute delight to bring to you not really so many questions or concerns (as is usually the case), but rather compliments and congratulations. What a treat!
For compliments, we have many. The rookie sensation Andrew Farrell was an absolute revelation on Saturday, showing us exactly why the Revs moved up in the SuperDraft to get him and proving that he was just as MLS-ready as everyone said he was. His debut was not without its rookie mistakes, such as an ill-advised pass to class Kalifa Cisse leading to Dilly Duka's chance on goal. But, the positives far outweigh the negatives. Welcome to New England, Andrew. I sure hope we can keep you around for a while.
Not unlike Farrell, the likes of Jose Goncalves and Kalifa Cisse deserve applause as well. They were physical when they needed to be (a key attribute that Jay Heaps and company were banking on when they signed them both this offseason) and demonstrated a calm yet sharp soccer IQ. It's of course still early to tell, but these guys might just be the game-changers that we so desperately lacked in 2012. For Goncalves, I think that there is still room to improve in terms of his agility, especially when you consider that the Revs will have to face much faster MLS strikers than Sherjil MacDonald (for example). But I believe that he will be able to kick it up a notch as he continues to adjust to the pace of the league. Cisse played a simple, clean game and even got involved in the attack. But his adjustment to MLS will still take some more time as well. As long as both can stay healthy (KNOCK ON WOOD!) then there is reason to believe that they will be the backbone of this Revolution team in 2013.
Jay Heaps deserves credit as well, for a number of reasons. Right off the bat, I was (and still am) a fan of the 4-2-3-1 formation that he employed, with Juan Toja as a free-roaming attacking midfielder/second striker. This eliminated the "empty-bucket" situation that we saw in pre-season while still allowing for two defensive midfielders to be included in the starting line-up.
More than that, though, Jay Heaps' squad appears to have already overcome one of their biggest hurdles--one that we saw time and time again in 2012 as well as this pre-season--and that is the task of seeing a game out to the final whistle. Too often did we see the Revs cough up a lead in the final minutes last season, but at Chicago on Saturday they managed to keep their goal advantage without suffering any unfortunate mental lapses and thus conceding late, heartbreaking goals. Minimizing mistakes in the final stages of the game was surely an objective that Jay Heaps set for his squad in 2013, and it seems (at least so far) that they've been able to do that. Now we'll just have to see if they can continue to do so.
One other player who made his Revolution debut on Saturday was second-round SuperDraft pick Donnie Smith. Smith's inclusion in the lineup was likely a product of Chris Tierney's injury but also his impressive pre-season with the club. Despite the quality he showed in Arizona, Smith's first professional game was largely pedestrian. He showed more hesitation in serving in crossed from the by-line, and was generally a non-factor in the attack. Despite those things, I cannot point to any glaring mistakes by the rookie and simply can't criticize him very much.
Seeing this, Heaps' first substitution was to bring on Kelyn Rowe in Smith's place, which was arguably the best decision he made all game. Rowe has shown in the past that he can be a very effective "super-sub" (especially against Chicago) and has the ability to bring new energy into the game, which is just what the Revs needed on Saturday. Not only was he involved just about immediately, but he had a fresh set of eyes that managed to pick out an unmarked Jerry Bengtson making a run to the far post, which of course resulted in the game-winning goal. The question still remains, however, whether Jerry can keep putting them away with consistency.
As a unit though, the New England Revolution gave its fans plenty to smile about this week. Seriously, who'd have thought that we'd beat the Fire at Toyota park to kick off the season? Admittedly, I did not see that one coming. But, let's not get ahead of ourselves; there's still a long way to go for this club. This was exactly the first step that they needed to take though.
And so we reignite last year's mantra yet again: Believe In Heaps.