TUCSON, Ariz. – New England Revolution fans’ delight at seeing Xavier Kouassi in the starting lineup for Wednesday night’s Desert Diamond Cup opener against the Houston Dynamo quickly turned to dread when the DP midfielder was removed after just 17 minutes.
But those fans can breathe easy, as Kouassi was always scheduled for just a brief runout.
It’d been more than 12 months since Kouassi had taken the field in a match, missing the entirety of 2016 after suffering a right knee injury in his final game with FC Sion. He returned to training late last season and spent the offseason and the early parts of this preseason working his way back to fitness.
Kouassi still has a ways to go in that department, but he looked sharp in limited minutes on Wednesday night, and most importantly took a massive mental step in his progression back to game action.
“He’s still, from a fitness standpoint, a little bit further away,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “But at the same time, I think it was a good stepping stone to get a game in, live action, prepare for a game and get in there and compete at the highest level.”
With New England’s regular-season opener just about two weeks away, it’ll be a race for Kouassi to be fully fit for that March 4 meeting with the Colorado Rapids. But the plan is to continue increasing the 27-year-old’s minutes as the DDC progresses, with still three more matches on the docket.
“I think it was a good first test for him,” Heaps said. “Now hopefully that continues to kind of spark even more minutes coming up.”
Revs suffer first preseason loss in “a tale of two halves”
After going 3-0-1 on their first trip to Arizona, New England suffered their first setback of the 2017 preseason on Wednesday night, falling 2-0 to the Dynamo.
Results are far from the primary objective in preseason, however, particularly as the Revs used two entirely different groups for each half of Wednesday’s game, employing close to a first-choice lineup for the opening 45 minutes before using a host of trialists and Academy players in the second half.
Heaps was pleased with the Revs’ defensive effort in the first half – limiting the Dynamo to a series of half chances and zero shots on target – and admitted it was always going to be a tall task in the second half as the Revs’ inexperienced group went up against Houston’s starters.
“I thought we had some good movement, some good play in the first half,” Heaps said. “We weren’t as dangerous as we’d like to be, but solid defensively, didn’t give up much.
“We were a little bit light on numbers (in the second half), so we had a lot of trialists in and guys that we hadn’t really seen, quite frankly – guys who hadn’t even trained with us … That last 45 minutes was not easy and our guys worked really hard just to try to play together.”
With Je-Vaughn Watson away with Jamaica, Juan Agudelo just back from international duty, and center backs Antonio Mlinar Delamea and Benjamin Angoua finalizing their visas, New England turned to three players who’d never trained with the club and Academy product Joe Brito in the second half.
While that opened the door for Erick “Cubo” Torres and Alberth Elis to score the goals that earned Houston the victory, Heaps was still pleased with the evening’s exercise.
“Overall it was a good test for our guys, start to finish,” he said.
Heaps says it’s “too early to tell” the extent of Herivaux’s injury
Perhaps the most frustrating moment of Wednesday night’s game arrived in the 60th minute, when third-year midfielder Zach Herivaux limped off – with the help of New England’s athletic trainers – after falling under a dangerous lunging challenge from a Dynamo defender.
Herivaux looked to be in some pain, although the extent of his injury isn’t yet known.
“They’re just doing tests right now,” Heaps said. “Too early to tell.”
DDC schedule continues on Saturday with season opener preview vs. Colorado
There will be an interesting wrinkle to the Revolution’s next preseason match, as they’ll face the Colorado Rapids on Saturday afternoon (3 p.m. ET), just two weeks before they’ll visit the Rapids in the regular-season opener on March 4.
New England’s starting group will likely increase their fitness on Saturday, playing deeper into the second half, but both sides will also be careful not to reveal too much with a meaningful meeting looming in just 14 days.
“I think it’s a great opportunity for us to get a better understanding of what Colorado brings, especially for myself having never played them,” said goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who played the opening 45 minutes against Houston. “I think every game really at this point is about feeling out every different team and seeing what they do.”