The New England Revolution will not defend their Desert Diamond Cup title later today as the Dynamo and Rapids will vie for the preseason title.
The Revs however will end preseason with an interesting matchup against the New York Red Bulls II, as the senior side is off playing in the CONCACAF Champions League.
As we’ve done once already this preseason, we chat with our buddy Austin Fido over at Once A Metro. Make sure to check out their site for my answers to their questions. The Revs and RBNY II kick off at 3 pm ET.
TBM - So the Revs will be playing RBNY II on Saturday. This is me hiding my excitement...but the senior RBNY played a CCL game earlier in the week and that's why they aren't here. How'd it go? RBNY going to make the semis or is there work to do?
OaM - There's work to do if the team is going to make the semis, no question. The 1-1 tie at home in the first leg means RBNY has to go to Vancouver and score (at least) a goal. And the reason we tied 1-1 at RBA is pretty accurately illustrated by the shooting stats: the Red Bulls fired off 14 shots, and landed two on target. One of those two was the goal, of course; the other was a saved penalty. And not to pile on Sacha Kljestan when he's down, but it was one of the most comically awful penalties you'll ever see. It's been described as a failed Panenka, but I'm not sure it even deserves that reputation - Sacha basically passed the ball into David Ousted's legs.
So not the worst result, but for a team that clearly needs to work hard on its shooting, scoring a goal is a challenging proposition.
Bigger picture: the Red Bulls are back on to the 4-2-2-2 bandwagon this year. Last year, they fell off it because of that awful start (during which, incidentally, we couldn't score much) - six games lost in the first seven of the year. Against Vancouver, we looked too often narrow and predictable, which is a known issue that can arise with this formation, at least in RBNY's hands. The Caps played 20 minutes with 10 men, and handled us pretty well as they focused on protecting a result they knew would give them the advantage heading into the second leg.
It wasn't a disaster, but there is a lot of work to be done by next week.
TBM - RBNY II are the defending USL Champs, do they play the same system as the MLS team? Give Revs fans a name or two that we might see in MLS later this season or even next year on a regular basis.
OaM - It's the same system, with the caveat that the II team doesn't need to win games to prove its worth. Jesse Marsch will get fired if he loses every game, so he needs to make adjustments and concessions to reality if things aren't working out. NYRB II's head coach, John Wolyniec, gives the impression that he has to stick to the game plan no matter what, results be damned. Winning USL last year with the sort of the constraints Woly has to work under (changing the lineup almost every week for a variety of reasons, mostly to do with opaque development priorities) was the US Soccer coaching achievement of 2016 for me.
The II team's job is to bring players through to the first team, with a proven understanding of the system so they slot straight in to the MLS squad with little need for adjustment. But since the first team needs results a lot more than the reserves do, Wolyniec plays a more sort of ideologically pure version of the core tactical philosophy driving RBNY at the moment (and for its perhaps purest expression - watch RB Leipzig).
Unless the first team succumbs to cholera this year, I don't expect any of the players in Arizona to feature regularly, or at all, in MLS this season. But the team can and will promote aggressively from the reserves if it has to, and Marsch is a coach who respects form over reputation: if a player is delivering on the field, that player will stick around in the starting lineup. So if the chance comes around, I suppose almost any one these reserves could make a break through.
But there are two rookies on MLS contracts to keep an eye on in particular. Hassan Ndam is an 18-year-old center back signed straight out of high school to the first team squad. The first team has had injury problems with CB before, and if they happen again: he's fourth on the first team depth chart right now, we assume; that'll drop to fifth when Gideon Baah gets back. But keep an eye on Ndam. His partner at the back should be Tim Schmoll, who is five years older and was part of last team's USL-winning squad. Schmoll is the barometer of Ndam's progress this season.
Secondly, Arun Basuljevic is a Homegrown signing who is very highly rated within the organization and by that small group of people who track RBNY prospects in college (he was at Georgetown). He has been playing as part of the holding midfield line so far in preseason, but some suggest he has Kljestan-like skills that might prove transferable to a more attacking role. I would expect this year will be used to explore his best position, and he'll be a reserve-teamer all season. But he is contracted to the MLS squad, so there is always the chance he sees some time with the first team.
Finally, watch for Florian Valot and Vincent Bezecourt. Both played with the II team last year and they are still (as far as we know) on USL contracts. But they were very good for NYRB II in 2016 and they're at the age - 23/24 - when it's either make the grade for RBNY at MLS level or move on. So this sort of game is important for both of them: performances against MLS opposition is what they need most of all right now, and what they will find hardest to get playing for NYRB II this year. They're both attacking midfielders. Bezecourt has a talent for direct free kicks; Valot is maybe the more effective in open play.
TBM - Last time we did this, I asked you to defend your boy Ali Curtis on the Dax McCarty trade. Now it's official, as you thought a few weeks ago, Curtis is out, what's the update and where does this leave RBNY?
OaM - It leaves RBNY without a sporting director. And, if you bought into the notion that Ali's 300-page plan was responsible for the changes at the club since 2015, it leaves RBNY without its man with the plan. Somewhat ironically, Ali Curtis is most strongly associated with the club's recent fondness for abrupt departures, since he's the one who usually had to explain them. One thing we have learned: Jesse Marsch can write a couple of lines of genial fluff for a press release just as well as Ali did.
Characteristically, Curtis' public statements on his exit have been stoically and blandly professional, just a glancing reference to unspecified differences of opinion. It has been rumored that difference was the difference between trading Dax McCarty and Felipe. The latter player is one Jesse Marsch asked RBNY to sign, along with Sacha Kljestan. The first big trade of Ali Curtis' tenure was bringing those two players in - and now Kljestan is captain and Felipe is on the roster while Dax McCarty is not. It feels a lot like this Jesse Marsch's team now. He got what he wanted this off-season, and it cost him his sporting director.
In Curtis' place, there is...no one, right now. The official line is that most of what Ali did was done by committee anyway, and so that committee will carry on as usual, with an empty seat at the table.
Assuming that Curtis wasn't cut loose because RBNY suddenly realized he wasn't doing anything, it would seem obvious he did contribute something to the club. My thinking is he is justly credited with getting the deals the Red Bulls wanted done, on unusually favorable terms for the most part. There have been some misses in the player acquisition department - there always are - but the art of the job, for me, is to not only get the guy you think you want, but have the ability to recover (and sign someone else) if that guy doesn't come through as hoped. Ali seemed to be good at that, and it's not clear why the coaching staff would have had anything to do with it beyond requesting a particular player here and there.
I didn't work with Curtis, I don't know what he really did day to day, or how much authority he truly had over the club's decisions. But he did something for a couple of years in which the club has prospered. What that something was exactly and how important it was to the successes enjoyed since 2015, I think we'll only realize when we start to miss them. It's a little too soon right now to say for sure, and RBNY is surely working to make sure his absence is never really flagged as a problem. Someone is doing what Ali used to do, but we'll likely only notice if that someone messes up.