FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Any lingering concerns about Xavier Kouassi’s health were put to rest the past two weekends as the New England Revolution midfielder strung together back-to-back 90-minute performances against the Portland Timbers and Houston Dynamo.
Kouassi was out of competitive action for more than a year after undergoing right knee surgery last February and admitted to being less than 100 percent when he made his MLS debut on March 18 in Dallas, but he’s hit peak form in recent weeks, anchoring the Revolution’s midfield diamond.
For fans, players and coaches alike, Kouassi’s return has been worth the wait.
“Watching his highlights from his former team (Swiss club FC Sion), you knew he was a good player; he just had to get healthy,” said Andrew Farrell. “Now that he’s coming into full strength, he’s great.
“He can break up plays. He’s a force in front of us (defenders). He can also spread the attack and get involved that way. He’s been a great addition.”
Kouassi’s tactical awareness has helped him clog passing lanes and pick up critical second balls, but it’s the 27-year-old’s physicality and grit that have been the biggest additions to New England’s midfield.
The once-capped Ivorian international had perhaps his best outing in a Revolution kit last weekend against Houston, making 11 recoveries, five interceptions, and two successful tackles as Heaps said Kouassi “didn’t take a wrong step” in 90 minutes.
“He’s so physical in that role and very smart in his positioning, reading the game and knowing when to step in, when to drop and cover,” said Heaps. “He’s also really in a good position to shift into center back, so if a center back does get taken out of the play, he’s in a good position to cover.”
“He’s huge. He wins everything,” said Scott Caldwell, who has shifted into a right midfield role since Kouassi’s return. “He’s so athletic, he can cover ground. He’s got that good outlet pass when he wins it, too. There’s a whole bunch of stuff that he does really, really well.”
Kouassi will face perhaps his biggest task yet in MLS this weekend when the Revs visit the Chicago Fire, who feature three significant new faces in the middle of the park: Bastian Schweinsteiger, Dax McCarty and Juninho.
“Those three are, I think, one of the best (midfield) three in the league,” said Heaps. “It’s very important for us to win our battles in midfield, but also look for areas where we can put the game on our terms and our strengths.”