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Know Thy Enemy: Revs Begin Unique 2022 Campaign Out West

New England begins its Shield defense out in Oregon, but faces a new challenge they have not yet seen before - the perils of being a talented and selling team in MLS.

New England Revolution Practice Photo by John Tlumacki/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

The 2022 New England Revolution season begins anew today, actually on network TV at 730pm Eastern on big FOX against the Portland Timbers. The defending Shield winners against the defending Western Conference playoff champions and MLS Cup runner-ups.

While the schedule will say it’s the regular season opener for all of Major League Soccer, for the Revs it is more of the first half season opener. That’s because this season is going to be very weird for New England.

Obviously Matt Turner is leaving for Arsenal in the summer, which means the Revs have a few months to either sign or trade for a replacement (Sam Minton named three potential candidates and I don’t think breaking out seven figures of GAM for Dayne St Clair is a bad idea) or training up the group already on the roster so one of Edwards/Knighton/Jackson is ready to step into the net full time.

Entirely possible is also the departure of one Adam Buksa during the summer window, especially if he keeps up his stellar form up top. Bruce Arena has been getting the USMNT/Galaxy band back together and Jozy Altidore would likely get a lot of minutes up top if Buksa were sold as well.

Which means the Revs are essentially playing two seasons. The first half where they go for all out CCL glory and try and pile up as many wins as possible before the potential sale of two key starters in the summer. Then a second half where they effectively prepare for an playoff run. Sure staying near the top of the East and Shield standings would be nice, but that mountain was climbed last year and in record fashion as well.

I have every confidence in Bruce Arena’s ability to manage both of these goals and keeping players rested throughout the year as that was the key to the Revolution’s success last year. Now with the added CCL and Open Cup competitions, New England will be asking a lot more from veterans and youngsters alike.

Sebastian Lletget is a far more natural fit at central midfield than Tajon Buchanan was and the hope is that team cohesion will improve to compensation for Tajon’s ability to...well, be Tajon freaking Buchanan and just torch people one-on-one among other things. How much adding the Revs will have to do this summer depends a lot on their performance in the first half of the year.

Will the Revs need to acquire a true Tajon replacement out wide? Can the platoon of Tommy Mac/Maciel/Traustason handle the workload next to Lletget in midfield? Will the turf monster eat Jozy? We might not have answers to these questions for a few months, but like the pending question at goalkeeper, they are very important to the Revs success at the end of the year.

Right now though, we have to take back Maine. By invading Oregon...or something like that, my brain is mush from back-to-back 16 hour shifts. Sam Svilar of Stumptown Footy was kind enough answer some questions for us and as always, you can check out my answers to Sam’s questions over on their site.

TBM: What’s the Timbers roster looking like? Losing the legend that is Diego Valeri obviously hurts, is the club prepared to fill that hole?

Sam: Still not over losing Valeri, to be honest. The fact that he wrote a beautiful goodbye like this makes it even harder:

He was an absolute Timbers legend, and when his statue is built in front of Providence Park it will be wholly deserved.

His loss however is largely a purely emotional one. His on-field production took a dip in 2021, and over last season the Timbers gradually became less Valeri dependent- and more Sebastian Blanco dependent. He stepped into that main playmaker role, and made an immediate impact in the attack. His movement, ability to score from basically anywhere, and skill in finding good spots in front of goal adds a whole different level to how effective the offense can be.

The challenge is that he’s about to turn 34, and has a somewhat worrying injury history. If he’s hurt or unavailable, the Timbers have to change the way their offense functions. They’ve shown what that could look like in the preseason, with Yimmi Chara and U-22 signing Santiago Moreno taking over playmaking duties, in more of “free attacker” roles who look to create overloads and unlock defenses with quick passing. It looked reasonably effective, but the fact is that isn’t as dangerous or effective as when Blanco is on the field.

TBM: David Bingham is likely the new man in net but it seems like the entire keeping corps has turned over, are there any other major positional overhauls?

Sam: The Timbers brought in Bingham last summer to train with the team, and now he’s officially on the roster. But the one likeliest to start in goal is probably 28 year-old Aljaz Ivacic. He’s been with the Timbers since 2019, and knows the system and staff. He’s started behind the first choice lineup in preseason, so he’s going to get his shot.

But it is indeed a bit change, and until Ivacic proves himself, whether he can make the jump from backup to starter is a big question mark.

Outside of keeper, most of this roster is actually very similar to the one that made MLS Cup. The Timbers are trusting their core, and putting faith in players developing in other areas to become contributors. One position that encompasses this is center back during the first few weeks of this season- regular starters Larrys Mabiala and Dario Zuparic are out recovering from off-season surgery, so backup Bill Tuiloma and young player Zac McGraw are going to have to step up in the interim. How well the Timbers do in this early part of the year is probably directly proportional to how well those two perform.

TBM: Losing an MLS Cup hurts, New England knows this, but can Portland contend in the West for another go at a playoff title?

Sam: Another thing I’m not fully over: MLS Cup 2021. It really felt like the Timbers were going to do it after that last second Felipe Mora equalizer. But alas, they were denied the storybook ending, and it’s been a sad winter in the Rose City.

That said, as I mentioned this is basically the same time that made the final last season, and we know that thats’s where their ceiling is. So I do fully believe that this team can make another run- if everything goes right.

Portland’s key players- Diego Chara, Blanco, Yimmi Chara, and Larrys Mabiala- are all over 30, and they’ll need basically all of them to stay healthy and productive over most of the season if they want to stay in contention. If they’re not, and if the young players don’t develop the way Portland needs them to, it might be tough sledding for the Timbers, especially in a Western conference that on the whole probably got better this year.

Injuries/Lineup/Predictions/Etc

The only two players we know for sure our due to injury are Felipe Mora (FW), Eryk Williamson (MID), Larrys Mabiala (DEF), and Dario Zuparic (DEF). Sebastian Blanco (MID) is questionable, as is David Bingham (GK). Rumor is Blanco may be fit enough for some minutes on Saturday.

My best guess at a starting lineup:

Ivacic; Bravo, McGraw, Tuiloma, Van Rankin; Paredes, D. Chara; Asprilla, Y. Chara, Moreno; Niezgoda.

I predict goals on Saturday- likely from both teams. If New England plays the way they can, and Portland does as well, we could be looking a high scoring draw. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see Portland run out of gas and lose- a lot of absences and question marks is, well, a lot to overcome.