Well, it's finally here, folks. One grueling and snow-laden winter later, the New England Revolution will take to the pitch again in a game where three MLS points will be on the line. The boys in red, white, and blue are set to take on the Seattle Sounders at CenturyLink Field and surely are chomping at the bit to start the season on a high note.
A lot stands in the Revs' way, though. The Sounders won the Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and captured the Supporter's Shield last year. If not for yet another playoff defeat at the hands of Bruce Arena's L.A. Galaxy, Seattle would have completed the treble and brought further pride and glory to the Cascadia region.
Fast forward to opening kick and the Sounders have several parts of their game that should cause Jay Heaps and his players some worry. The Rave Green are returning nearly every starter, with DeAndre Yedlin being the only missing link, and there is every reason to believe that Sunday is shaping up to be a tantalizing affair. Let's take a look at three areas that allow Seattle to achieve success and how the Revs can deal with each.
1.) The Dempsey and Oba Show: The US and Nigerian international constitute arguably the most formidable attacking partnership in the league, as they combined for 32 goals and 23 assists in 2014. Production of that level just isn't fair. Dempsey and Martins individually are dangerous, but when they link up together they become all that greater of a threat. They both are comfortable on the ball, understand how to make a dynamic and sly run behind the back-line, and can finish in almost any given scenario. Here's an example of Seattle's strike force tearing up the Philadelphia Union's defense in the Open Cup Final last year.
The ball is sent up to Dempsey, then Martins makes a dangerous run and holds off the Union's defenders, only to then slide Dempsey in for a cool, calm, and collected finish. Simply, any time Dempsey and Martins combine on Sunday the Revs will have their hands full. Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves will have to track runners, Bobby Shuttleworth will have to communicate with his defense, and Scott Caldwell will have to deny entry passes into Seattle's forwards. If none of that is done, the Revs could be having nightmares of Oba back flips and Deuce dancing by the corner flag.
2.) Chad Marshall: As dangerous as Seattle's attack is, center-back Chad Marshall is one of the most impactful players Sigi Schmid has at his disposal. He has a knack for getting his head on the receiving end of dangerous balls served into the box, but more importantly is a defensive wall. The defender stops virtually everyone and everything that comes his way, knows how to marshal a back-line, and helped steady a Seattle defense that often faltered in years past.
Whether it be tackles, clearances, or leaping into the air to head away a ball, Marshall can beats the attacker on the other side of the ball. It won't matter if Charlie Davies or Juan Agudelo start on Sunday because both have to overcome the tall task of besting Marshall's defensive acumen and physicality. Not an easy task for either.
3.) Don't Forget About Lamar: The brunt of Seattle's offensive responsibility goes to Dempsey and Martins, but Lamar Neagle is nobody to shrug off. From both a striker and outside midfield position he scored nine goals and tallied seven assists last season. There are many teams in MLS where that kind of production would make Neagle the main man, but he thrives in the secondary role he has with the Sounders. Take a look at the below video to see why the Tacoma, Washington native can be so dangerous.
That's against the Galaxy, the team who won MLS Cup last year. As the play develops, Dempsey and Martins combine centrally and cause LA's entire defense to collapse on them. With the space condensed, Neagle stays out wide, makes a late supporting run, and then slots the ball past Jaime Penedo to tie the score up. In that play Neagle shows supreme awareness of what is going on around him, allows the play to develop while keeping the width, and finishes when the opportunity presents itself. Whether Neagle pops up on Chris Tierney's or Kevin Alston's side remains to be seen, but tracking those types of runs will be crucial for the Revs on Sunday.