It may only be preseason and the two teams competing will only meet once in the regular season, but Saturday's game between the New England Revolution and the Colorado Rapids still has important implications. First kick is only a week away, and both the Revs and the Rapids have goals that they hope to accomplish on the final day of the Desert Diamond Cup.
"I want to see guys continue to fight for the starting group," head coach Jay Heaps commented. "I think that we have an idea of where we're going (with) players probably 1 through 15. We want to see that group get deeper, and we want to see guys push for minutes and starting jobs."
While the Revs will head to Houston, TX for opening weekend, the Rapids will have a bye, which will afford them more time to fine-tune their tactics and continue to build their chemistry. Still, interim head coach Pablo Mastroeni knows that there are lessons to learn on Saturday.
"I think it's going to be a great challenge for our team to see where we're at," Mastroeni explained. "At the same time for us it's to continue building. We have an extra week on most MLS teams [because] we don't play the first weekend. It's going to be good to see where we're at from a physical perspective."
Being from different conferences, the Revs and Rapids don't meet often, but that doesn't mean that Mastroeni's men are oblivious to their opponents.
"[Kelyn] Rowe is one of the players that kind of sticks out," Mastroeni stated. "They've got a couple guys up top: [Teal] Bunbury and [Diego] Fagundez. They're a solid team front-to-back. They're very athletic. They're a very dynamic team."
It should also be noted that both teams have put a heavy emphasis on providing opportunities to young players. The Revs have one of the youngest rosters in MLS, boasting such talents as Andrew Farrell, Patrick Mullins and Scott Caldwell. Meanwhile, the Rapids rely on players like Deshorn Brown, Dillon Powers and Gabriel Torres. The parallels between the two teams add an interesting storyline to Saturday's match.
"Similar to us, they have a lot of young guys who are getting significant minutes in key positions," Goalkeeper Clint Irwin remarked. "I think it's going to be a good matchup tomorrow."
While the Revs and the Rapids are only scheduled to play once in the regular season, don't discount the possibility of the two teams playing for a second time. Perhaps on a grander stage.
"We only play them once, but maybe it's a preview for MLS Cup," Irwin hypothesized. "That would be great."
Three Questions Ahead of the Game
- Who gets the start? Heaps has effectively rotated his first eleven throughout preseason to allow every player an opportunity to make his case for a starting position. With only one preseason game left, you have to wonder if Heaps will give his starters the majority of the minutes. This could be particularly interesting in goal as it appears to be Bobby Shuttleworth's turn between the pipes. If he does get the nod, it could be the Rochester native's last opportunity to claim his spot ahead of the season opener.
- Who's next to grab a roster spot? When the Revs headed to Tucson, their roster stood at 24. The additions of Bunbury, Jossimar Sanchez, Daigo Kobayashi and Alec Sundly have ballooned that number to 28. Heaps has told the media that he will look to carry a full 30-man roster, though not necessarily before first kick. If the Revs do decide to add another player or two, they have interesting options in camp, including Gorka Lorrea, Pierre Omanga and Shalrie Joseph. They could also look to sign former trialists Marvin Ogunjimi or Evan Melo.
- Where do we stand on the injury front? The most recent injury report listed six players as unavailable: Scott Caldwell (illness), Charlie Davies (calf), Andrew Farrell (leg), Stephen McCarthy (groin), Lee Nguyen (groin), Saer Sene (ankle). To make matters worse, injuries forced Jose Goncalves and Joseph to exit early during the game against Chivas USA. No official word has come out about either injury, but they will be important to keep an eye on. With opening day only a week away, it will be important to have a full-strength roster.