HOUSTON – It’s been more than four months since the New England Revolution’s 2013 campaign was ended by eventual MLS Cup champion Sporting Kansas City, but the interminable wait for 2014 is finally over as the Revs will kick off the new season on Saturday night against the Houston Dynamo.
The Revs and Dynamo compiled identical 14-11-9 (51 pts.) records last season, but third-place New England finished ahead of fourth-place Houston in the Eastern Conference standings based on the goals scored tiebreaker. Both sides were ultimately eliminated by Sporting KC in the playoffs; the Revs in the conference semifinals and the Dynamo in the conference finals.
Saturday night’s season opener kicks off at 8:30 p.m. ET from BBVA Compass Stadium. The Revs will host official viewing parties at both The Banshee (Boston) and Ri Ra (Providence), while the broadcast will be available on Comcast SportsNet and 98.5 The Sports Hub’s HD2 channel.
Comcast SportsNet will also debut the “State of the Revs” season preview special at 8 p.m. ET.
Current Form: Young Revs on the rise; Dynamo aims for consistency
Entering their third season under head coach Jay Heaps, the Revs are hoping to continue the upward trajectory which saw them return to the MLS Cup Playoffs last year for the first time since 2009. In just two seasons, Heaps guided the Revs from a five-win, last-place finish in 2011 – the year before Heaps took the helm – to a 14-win, third-place finish in 2013.
Not only have the Revs improved dramatically in recent years, but they’ve done so in style. Young stars like Diego Fagundez (19), Andrew Farrell (21) and Kelyn Rowe (22) have made New England one of the league’s most exciting sides to watch, while offseason additions like Teal Bunbury, Steve Neumann, Patrick Mullins and Daigo Kobayashi have further boosted the club’s attacking options.
The Revolution’s newest additions appear to have meshed well with the club’s returning players, as evidenced by the club’s preseason performances, but after six weeks of preparation, everyone’s ready for the real thing.
“That’s the biggest thing is the excitement that preseason is done,” said Rowe. “The two-a-days are done, we don’t just practice throughout the week; we have something to lead forward to and that’s the first game in Houston.”
While the Revs aim to continue progressing in 2014, the Dynamo hopes to simply stay the course. Dominic Kinnear’s side has reached the Eastern Conference Final in three straight seasons, finishing as the MLS Cup runner-up in 2011 and 2012. All told, Houston has reached six of the last eight conference finals.
That consistency has been the hallmark of Kinnear’s Dynamo sides, which typically blend a physical, hardnosed style with deadly efficiency in the wide areas. But while the Revs do have a basic understanding of the challenges they’ll face at BBVA Compass Stadium, there’s always adjustments to be made in each new season.
“I think you know a little bit, but there are subtle changes to every team,” said Heaps. “For everyone, the start (of the season) and the excitement just changes a little bit than, say, if you’re playing the fifth or sixth game where you have a little bit more of a track record of a team. For us, our preparation is a lot about them, but also about us and how we’re going to approach the game.”
Past Meetings: Revolution only visiting MLS team with a winning record in Houston
Houston has historically been one of the most difficult trips for visiting clubs to make, but the Revs have bucked that trend to the tune of a 5-2-1 road record against the Dynamo. Not only are the Revs the lone visiting team with a winning record in Houston, they’re also the only club with a positive goal differential (9 goals for, 5 against).
That success continued last May when the Revs claimed a 2-0 win at BBVA Compass Stadium behind goals from Fagundez and Juan Agudelo. But the Dynamo similarly figured the Revolution out at Gillette Stadium, claiming a 2-1 victory in Foxborough in July before the clubs played to a 1-1 draw in late September.
Injury Report: Both sides coping with absences ahead of the season opener
Both Farrell (L tibial stress reaction) and Lee Nguyen (R groin strain) were listed as out on the Revolution’s injury report earlier this week, putting their status for Saturday’s season opener in serious doubt. Farrell sat out New England’s final five preseason matches, while Nguyen was also a spectator for the Desert Diamond Cup finale against the Colorado Rapids.
The Revs also have a quartet of players listed as questionable – Andy Dorman (concussion), Jose Goncalves (R quad strain), Saer Sene (L ankle surgery) and Chris Tierney (L hamstring strain) – but there is positive news with regards to Sene. After missing the Revolution’s entire seven-game preseason slate while recovering from ankle surgery, Sene’s upgrade means he could be available for selection this weekend.
Houston, meanwhile, has three players listed as out on its official injury report: Warren Creavalle (knee tendonitis), Servando Carrasco (R ankle sprain) and Eric Brunner (R ankle sprain).
Final Thoughts: Excitement, optimism high with a new season on the horizon
“They’re a consistent group,” Bunbury said of the Dynamo. “I feel like we have a talented group here, though. The whole preseason’s been leading up to this first game and I think we’re mentally there. We’ve been training very sharp and the guys are just excited and ready to have some fun on that field tomorrow night.”