CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Preseason matches are often approached with defined objectives, those objectives evolving and developing as clubs get deeper and deeper into training camp.
For the New England Revolution the objectives were clear heading into Friday morning’s preseason opener against Sporting Kansas City. First and foremost, the match was designed to continue building up game fitness as the players are now just one week into camp. Additionally, head coach Jay Heaps wanted his side to focus on defensive movement as they continue to incorporate new faces into the mix.
After the teams played to a scoreless draw featuring limited scoring opportunities for both sides, there was a general consensus that those most basic of goals had been met.
“We’re a little bit early in preseason to be really flowing with how we want to attack and certain things in that regard, but defensively we did a nice job,” said Heaps. “It showed that we have a lot of work to do on the attacking side, which [requires] timing and really spending some time working together.”
Rather than operate like a traditional match with two 45-minute halves, Friday’s game consisted of three 30-minutes periods. Heaps opted to use unique lineups for each 30-minute session – only making changes between periods – in essence creating a trio of half-hour matches.
Four of the Revolution’s offseason signings started the opening period, including forward Matt Horth, whose signing wasn’t officially announced until after the match. Kalifa Cisse and Andy Dorman paired up in central midfield, while Jose Goncalves played alongside A.J. Soares in central defense. But while Friday’s game situation did provide a chance for those pairings to build a bit of familiarity, Heaps made it clear that the battle for starting spots will continue throughout preseason.
“We’re still a little early in the final partnerships of midfielders and center backs,” Heaps said. “We’re defining those roles as we go. We don’t want to say these are going to be our starting center backs without giving guys opportunities to win spots all over the place. We want competition this year and we certainly have that in a lot of positions.”
That competition will continue in the coming days and weeks, while the objectives will continue to evolve as each preseason game approaches. New England’s next chance to take the field against MLS competition will be on Tuesday night, when the club is set to meet Vancouver Whitecaps FC to close out a 10-day stay in Casa Grande.
“To start preseason it’s always a little bit hectic just in terms of the way the team plays,” said Chris Tierney, who played Friday’s first 30-minute period at left midfield. “We’re still getting to know each other. We’ve got a bunch of new faces this year and we’re trying to learn each other’s tendencies, pick up how guys like to play, where they want the ball, etc. It’s a learning experience, but it’s good to get [the first game] under our belt and we’ll look to get better next game.”