The wait is over. We have endured the months of speculation, and it’s time for the real thing. Revolution fans can put behind them the disappointing 2015 campaign and the enigma that was Jermaine Jones, and, with a clean slate, finally watch regular season MLS again. The Revs travel to Houston to face the Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium on Sunday, and I will be taking a look at where each team stands heading into the season opener.
How did each team fare in the preseason?
While it is never too useful to look at preseason games as a prediction for the regular season, if anything, the Revs showed signs that they are ready to compete among the top of the league this year. After splitting two matches during their first stint in Arizona, shutting out the San Jose Earthquakes in a 2-0 win and falling to the Vancouver Whitecaps 3-2, the Revs traveled to Tucson a week later to compete in the Desert Diamond Cup. The eventual trophy-winners went unbeaten in four DDC matches, drawing two and winning two, including a win against this week’s opponents. The Revs ended preseason on a high note with a 1-0 victory over defending Conference Champions Columbus Crew SC.
The Dynamo had quite a tepid preseason. There were rare exciting moments, but for the most part Houston’s preseason was, in a word, boring. The Dynamo, fellow Desert Diamond Cup competitors, finished the DDC towards the bottom of the table with two draws and one loss. They ended the preseason with one win, one loss, and four draws overall.
Entering Week One of any season, there are naturally going to be many question marks leading to many storylines. The Revs squad entering 2016 has one big question mark in the defensive midfield pairing of Scott Caldwell and Gershon Koffie. Caldwell, the 2015 team MVP, is no stranger to Revs fans, but newly-acquired Koffie is. After the injury to future arrival Xavier Kouassi and finally letting go of the possibility of resigning Jermaine Jones, the Revs compensated by trading for MLS veteran Gershon Koffie. Caldwell and Koffie are individually experienced and accomplished, but have only seen 45 minutes on the pitch during the preseason as a pair. These two will likely start come Sunday, and we’ll see if their lack of on-field chemistry will be detrimental to an otherwise solid midfield.
The Dynamo had a busy offseason, adding a handful of potential starters. Watching a revamped lineup mesh will be something to watch for, but keep an eye on Head Coach Owen Coyle as well. Coyle is entering his second season as Head Coach after becoming the second man in Dynamo history to fill that role. He had quite large shoes to fill, replacing two-time MLS Cup Champion Head Coach Dominic Kinnear. Nonetheless, Coyle failed to meet expectations in his first season finishing in 8th place in the Western Conference, 9 points out of a playoff spot. Houston is a club with playoff aspirations this season, and it will take Coyle to get them there.
Players to watch for:
The player I’ll be focusing on this weekend the most will be Charlie Davies. Davies emerged in 2015 as the Revs’ top goalscorer, but right behind him on the depth chart is Juan Agudelo. Head Coach Jay Heaps found Davies to be the more reliable of the two over the course of last season, despite Agudelo showing his polarizing talent at times. This season’s Revolution midfield will have to play deeper within the pitch after losing Jermaine Jones’ ability to play as a box-to-box midfielder, meaning the lone striker of Heaps’ 4-2-3-1 formation will have to cover more ground. Davies will start the season up top, but Heaps may eventually turn to a platoon system with Davies, Agudelo, and possibly Teal Bunbury. This positional competition will keep Davies on his toes to constantly perform.
For the orange and black, look out for newbie Andrew Wenger. The former top overall draft selection was traded to Houston from Philadelphia this offseason after failing to reach what many people thought was his full potential. Dynamo fans hope that potential is still there, and this Sunday will be his first test in the new colors. The question regarding Wenger is his positioning. He saw time on each third of the pitch during his stints in Montreal and Philadelphia, lining up at forward, on the wing, and at fullback. Houston looks at Wenger as a winger, at least for now. While he has seen his fair share of the Revolution, entering his fifth MLS season, it will be interesting to see how he deals with the Revs’ fullbacks who love to overlap, and consequently his ability on the counter-attack. As a natural forward, it may not be in Wenger’s repertoire to defend, but with Chris Tierney’s repeated attack on the left flank, that will be necessary.
The Revs will have a chance to make a first impression on their supporters without Jermaine Jones for the first time since he joined the club in 2014, and personally, I’m excited. With the former-DP’s departure, other experienced players such as captain Jose Goncalves, Chris Tierney, Lee Nguyen, and Andrew Farrell will be turned to for on and off-pitch leadership. If the Revs play as they should on paper, Sunday’s contest will be an easy win.
The Revolution face the Dynamo at 3 PM EST on Sunday to kick off their 2016 season.