The New England Revolution will begin play in the Desert Diamond Cup tonight as they are slated to face Real Salt Lake at 8 pm EST. Now in their second season under head coach Jeff Cassar, the Claret and Cobalt have made some big changes. To help us get an idea of what to expect from tonight's match, we spoke to Randal Serr of RSL Soapbox.
1) There's been a lot of turnover in RSL lately, including two players being plucked in the Expansion Draft by former head coach Jason Kreis, now with New York City. Does that mean RSL is in rebuild mode or just transitioning?
No team ever wants to admit they are rebuilding, so this may ring hollow. But I insist that even though RSL has lost and acquired more players this off season than in any other in recent member, Real Salt Lake is not in rebuilding mode. I say this because I genuinely think that a rebuild means that you are starting from something closer to scratch than retaining core players. RSL still very much has a core that has been leading this team for years including Kyle Beckerman, Nick Rimando, Javier Morales, and others that are going to take more of a leadership role this year including Luis Gil and Tony Beltran. I would actually argue that RSL is deeper this year than last year. At the forward position, RSL is deeper than it has ever been with four legitimate, proven scorers. At midfield, there are plenty of options, most notably a Luis GIl that is ready for a breakout year. And at defense, the coaching staff and management is very pleased with the options they have, both in veterans like Olave and Schuler and new faces like Elias Vasquez (who they have said could be as good or better than Carlos Salcedo who left to Chivas Guadalajara.) I expect great things in 2015 for a RSL club that is in year three of a "three-year-plan" that Garth Lagerwey started three years ago.
2) The Western Conference was already loaded with talented teams, now Sporting KC and the Houston Dynamo are being realigned to the West. How difficult will it be to make the playoffs in the West this year?
It will be very difficult. I personally think the East has strong teams in New England and DC, but the competition outside of those clubs is spotty and unpredictable. Maybe I will be surprised. I think every team in the West now has a legitimate shot at the Playoffs. As Kyle Beckerman stated in a recent interview, it will be a "bloodbath" in the West with all the teams fighting for a spot.
3) Which unit (defense, midfield, attack) will benefit the most from a strong DDC?
For Real Salt Lake, the Desert Diamond Cup and the entire preseason is really focused around getting used to a new formation that can be unleashed on will in addition to the diamond formation that they have been using since 2008. The new formation will be a 4-3-3 so this means that the center of the field is going to operate much differently than in years past. The biggest question I have is how Luis Gil will play a more prominent role this year with one less midfield spot available for regular minutes.
And here are our responses to Randal's questions:
1) Will we get a look at Juan Agudelo in this match? How much help will he provide to the club?
We certainly hope so. The only real question is where Agudelo will line up. With Charlie Davies finishing 2014 really strongly, it will be difficult to replace him up top as the lone striker right off the bat. There's a good chance Juan lines up on the left wing, a position that Diego Fagundez and later Kelyn Rowe held last season. What Agudelo did in 2013 was nothing short of amazing, 7 goals in 14 games across all competition, and he really propelled the Revs that year despite missing a lot of games due to injury. Much like Jermaine Jones in 2014, it was his mid-season acquisition that sparked the Revs' push for the playoff and it's very likely that Agudelo will have a similar impact with the Revs in 2015.
2) What new faces should we watch for that will be emerging for the Revolution this year?
Surprisingly, the Revolution don't really have a lot of new faces since they're returning so many players from the squad that went to MLS Cup last year. Beyond Agudelo, who can sort of be called new, the Revs biggest offseason acquisitions have been attacker Sean Okoli from Seattle and defender Jeremy Hall from Toronto FC. But there will be a familiar face in a new position as Andrew Farrell slides over to center back to replace A.J. Soares. Farrell played a number of games last year at center back with Jose Goncalves missing time early in the year with an injury. Furthermore, he's familiar with the position overall, but we'll see how he partners with Goncalves for 2015.
3) How much will fatigue play a factor with the Revolution playing all the way through the beginning of last December?
There's probably a joke here involving Jurgen Klinsmann, Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen, who were in January camp for the United States but I digress. I don't think the Revs will be fatigued as far as they haven't had as much rest/as long of an offseason as the rest of the league by comparison. I will say that this Revolution team is really deep in the midfield and the attack in general, so Jay Heaps should have no problem giving players rest by giving spot starts throughout the year. The team shouldn't be overally affected by having a regular first team player like Jermaine Jones missing time due to surgery.