Preseason is over, signings have been made, expectations have been set, and the New England Revolution are about to kick off their 20th season in MLS. They've traveled to Washington state to take on the Seattle Sounders in a real tough match-up to open the season.
TBM: The offseason seemed a little quiet for the Sounders this time around, unless it was on the exit sheet. DeAndre Yedlin is now in England. How does Seattle propose to replace the dynamic young defender, and apart from him, who do you think were the biggest losses and acquisitions this winter?
DC: The replacement for Yedlin is former EPL player Tyrone Mears. He's another reclamation project who hadn't played regularly since the 12/13 with Bolton Wanderers in the Champoinship. He is a bit like Yedlin in that he gets forward a lot so people think he's out of position. He is older, so reads games better. Style shouldn't shift much, and the defense may be a bit better.
Other losses were Traore, Anibaba and a lot of players with very few minutes. Those all shouldn't matter. The acquisitions were more about depth. Troy Perkins replaces Marcus Hahnemann which hurts a lot of narrative, but helps on the field. Draftee Cristian Roldan will be Seattle's number eight in the future. Two HGPs joined. Darwin Jones is a forward/left wing who plays an Oba-style game. Teen phenom Vic Mansaray will mainly be with S2 so he can finish high school.
TBM: Last time these two clubs met, the Revs went ham and hung five in a brutal shutout. Seattle then went on to a Supporters' Shield, so that was clearly a blip, but do you think it still sticks out in the minds of the guys in Rave Green, and will they be looking for some payback on Sunday?
DC: It's the home opener. They won't look for payback, they'll look to start the season off on a powerful foot. The only way to repeat and exceed 2014's two trophies is too start hot and stay hot. That means always winning at home, no matter the quality of the opposition. Last year won't matter. The 42,000+ in the stands will though.
TBM: I'll put your third question back to you: expectations on Seattle are always high, and this match is being billed as a slugfest among heavyweights, for better or worse. Do you agree with that assessment?
DC: From reader Matt Oak: Let's be honest, New England showed big in 2014 with the addition of Jermaine Jones and the rise of Lee, Nguyen - ing a ton of matches down the stretch. But don't get carried away - the Revs were an afterthought for years before 2014. They still have to prove that late 2014 wasn't a flash in the pan, and that they can hang with a Western Conference contender. It's yet to be seen what forward tandem they throw out, and how they work together, with Davies, Okoli, Bunbury, Fagundez, Agudelo all as options - but I like Marshall, Mears, Evans, and Gonzalez to be up to that task despite the combinations.
Seattle, meanwhile, is a pretty clear heavyweight as is. No getting around the tandem of Oba and Dempsey as a 1-2, and if another piece of the hydra gets a punch in, it's tough to think New England's new back four shuffle can hold them back. Looks like Farrell is moving to CB, and Seattle could exploit that, as good a defender as he is.
The equalizer is the absent Alonso. It's probably Azira and Pineda against the likes of Nguyen and Jones. If the NE midfield lives up, and considering it's week 1, we're looking at a pretty even middleweight matchup, but there hasn't been a ton of crisp jabs or hooks from either side in preseason viewing (grain of salt).
Good end to opening weekend, but I would expect a low scoring decision rather than a title fight.
DC: 4-4-2 - Frei; Gonzalez, Marshall, Evans, Mears; Neagle, Pineda, Azira, Pappa; Demspey, Martins
DC: Alonso, dammit.