Prior to Wednesday night's match against Real Salt Lake, New England's final game in Desert Diamond Cup group play, Jay Heaps had stated that the plan was to stick to 45 minute halves for just about everyone, and then use today's match (regardless of opponent) to push players toward full game fitness. If that's true, then tonight should provide a glimpse into the starting XI that Jay Heaps is leaning towards for the 2013 season, or at least the first match against Chicago on Mach 9th.
This pre-season has seemed to be all about positional battles, which I think is exactly what Heaps and his staff wanted. In all likelihood, 2013 might see Jay Heaps opt to play the "hot hand"-that is, whoever is playing best in both games and training-at a number of different positions.
It stands to reason that if Jerry Bengtson is in town (and healthy) he'll be starting alongside Diego Fagundez. Boy wonder has had an impressive pre-season by all accounts and should be started until he royally screws something up.
Along the back-line, A.J. Soares and Jose Goncalves seem to be the preferred starters at center back, and I expect them to start tonight against New York. For me, Soares' spot is pretty safe for the season. From what I've seen thus far, he's looked to be in great form. Goncalves has also played well, but so has Stephen McCarthy. I see Goncalves getting the nod on March 9th, but I think that McCarthy will be making his case all season for that second starting spot.
Kevin Alston should have left-back shored up, but this is mostly helped by Chris Tierney's injury earlier in the tournament for which we have not been offered a recovery timetable. If Tierney was healthy, I could see this being another hot hand situation. Right-back is likely going to Andrew Farrell because he's too good to keep off the field, basically. I can see Bilal Duckett knocking on the door over the course of the season, though
The midfield is much more of a crapshoot, however. I believe that Kalifa Cisse and Lee Nguyen will be locks in the midfield at defensive-mid and left-mid respectively, although Clyde Simms, not unlike McCarthy, will be pushing for his spot in the starting XI all season. But center and right-mid, however, are harder to predict. For the center-attacking-mid position, all of Andy Dorman, Juan Toja, and Scott Caldwell have shown well this pre-season. If I had to guess who would be starting there in Chicago, I'd say Andy Dorman. But it could just as easily be Caldwell or Toja. This position will surely be a battle all season. At the right, this will most likely belong to Kelyn Rowe, at least until Ryan Guy is healthy again and can fight for his spot back.
And then of course there's the Matt Reis vs. Bobby Shuttleworth battle. On that front, your guess is as good as mine (though I'm leaning towards Shuttleworth).
Formation-wise, Jay Heaps might try to play the empty-bucket 4-4-2 with two defensive midfielders, but if he does then I'm willing to bet he abandons it after long. The 4-4-2 narrow diamond, not unlike what Real Salt Lake typically plays in, seems to be the best bet if you ask me.
Plenty of other questions are still to be answered besides those regarding positions. The biggest is probably how Jay Heaps will choose to round out the rest of his roster. Donnie Smith and Gabe Latigue have certain made their case for contracts this season, while other trialists like Marko Jesic, Luis Soffner, Nermin Crnkic maybe have a more difficult time putting their pens to paper.
Additionally, Revs fans will hope to see things such as improved set piece defending as well as a more efficient ability to close out games from Jay Heaps' squad considering the past 2012 season as well as the recent results this pre-season.
Tonight's match against the New York Red Bulls, at the very least, should give us a pretty accurate display of what the New England Revolution will look like in 2013. It will test endurance, fitness, chemistry, and leadership-all things that Heaps has been preaching this winter. Time to see what we've really got