TUCSON, Ariz. – New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps was satisfied with his side’s attacking creativity in last weekend’s 3-1 loss to the Colorado Rapids, but he wanted to see more end product.
On Wednesday afternoon, Heaps got about all the end product he could handle.
New England’s offense exploded on a steamy day in the desert, scoring five second-half goals en route to a comprehensive 6-2 win over Sporting Kansas City in Desert Diamond Cup action. Juan Agudelo and Lee Nguyen each had a pair of goals, while Diego Fagundez and Daigo Kobayashi were also on the board as the Revs matched their scoring output from their first five preseason games combined.
“It was a lot of fun,” said Fagundez. “Everyone was enjoying themselves. The way we were playing, moving off the ball, communicating, and of course finishing our chances, that’s what we want.”
“It was a lot of fun, because we did what we wanted to do, and in the end, we put our chances away,” echoed Nguyen, who had New England’s fifth (from the penalty spot) and sixth goals. “I think that also relieved a lot of pressure on the defensive side, because we were able to just relax and keep the ball and create more chances after that.”
Five of the Revolution’s goals were scored in a 27-minute span in the second half, when New England’s first-choice attacking corps of Agudelo, Nguyen, Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Kei Kamara entered the match.
While Rowe and Kamara didn’t find the back of the net themselves, they were heavily involved in several of New England’s goals, giving Heaps plenty of reason to be happy with the group’s recent progression ahead of next weekend’s opener.
“What I liked was everyone in the attack was part of it,” Heaps said. “Kelyn was doing a nice job of creating space. He didn’t get on the end of a ton, but he opened it up for Kei. Diego was there. Lee and Juan were really good. I thought we did a good job of supporting each other without getting too stretched.
“It’s an exercise that we’d worked on the last three or four training sessions, just trying to get the flow going and looking to be a little bit more varied in how we attack. I think today was a good example of that. We were able to get behind, but we also played underneath, and it was a good 45 minutes.”
Angoua debuts alongside Delamea; Heaps “really impressed” with partnership
Benjamin Angoua made his long-awaited preseason debut against Sporting KC, starting the second half and playing 35 shutout minutes alongside New England’s other central defensive signing, Antonio Mlinar Delamea.
Angoua had spent the past four weeks working his way back from a hamstring injury and finalizing his P1 visa, but he’d also studied the Revolution’s backline and defensive system in the film room and from the sidelines, giving him a bit of a head start before taking the field on Wednesday.
That work appeared to make all the difference, as Angoua not only looked comfortable with individual defending, but also showed good rapport with Delamea in their first game action together.
“I was really impressed with the way they communicated,” said Heaps. “He was physical when he needed to be physical, he played well with his feet. It was a good first 35 minutes. I think he could’ve gone a little longer, but we wanted to be conservative with his minutes today.”
Angoua will likely see more time when the Revs close out their preseason schedule on Saturday.
Kouassi continues to push his fitness with 45-minute appearance
Xavier Kouassi’s steady progression continued on Wednesday as the 27-year-old midfielder played the opening 45 minutes in central midfield; that after playing 17 minutes last Wednesday and another 30 in a postgame scrimmage over the weekend.
The Ivorian spent much of the 45-minute stint chasing and closing down space as the Revs were pinned in for long spells throughout the first half, but it was another good exercise for Kouassi as he continues to push toward full fitness following a lengthy injury layoff.
“I thought he did a nice job of getting himself through it,” Heaps said. “I think that’s the most important thing right now; (taking) steps and making sure that we’re not overdoing him, but we’re making progressive movements in terms of minutes, and in terms of what he’s doing to get himself stronger and more physical.”
Saturday’s preseason finale to serve as a dress rehearsal one week out from opener
Barring a few exceptions, very few players on New England’s roster have played a full 90-minute match this preseason, although that’s likely to change on Saturday.
The Revs won’t know their opponent or what time they’ll play until late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning, but regardless, Heaps will use this weekend’s preseason finale as something of a dress rehearsal in an attempt to replicate a regular-season atmosphere before opening next weekend against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Good’s Park.
“Saturday will be important,” Heaps said. “I think it’ll be really important that we stretch minutes for certain guys, but also have a sound game plan going into it.”