TUCSON, Ariz. – The primary objectives for the New England Revolution in Wednesday night’s Desert Diamond Cup group-stage finale against Real Salt Lake had less to do with the result and more to do with the personnel on the field. Head coach Jay Heaps stated before the match his desire to rest the core group of starters who had played significant minutes in the competition’s first two games, while he also wanted to assess many of the remaining players on the roster.
Ultimately the Revs accomplished their objectives – and then some – as Diego Fagundez and Bjorn Runstrom scored their first preseason goals to lift New England to a 2-1 win over RSL, clinching a spot in the championship match against the LA Galaxy on Saturday night.
“I tell the guys, when they go on the field, it’s their job to compete,” said Heaps. “We’ve asked them to do that and we want them to do that. But at the same time, we have to be real about what we’re looking for and it’s identification and it’s also minutes. We have to manage that as a staff, so tonight going into this we had drawn out exactly how we wanted to play.”
Part of the game plan was to provide minutes for defenders Kevin Alston and A.J. Soares, both of whom returned to action after missing the first two games of the competition for precautionary reasons. Alston started and played 45 minutes at right back, while Soares captained the side and played the full 90 minutes in central defense.
Soares was particularly happy with the Revolution’s defensive performance in the closing stages, when RSL inserted many of their starters in a push for a late equalizer. While the Revs made a habit of conceding late goals last season, it wasn’t the case on Wednesday night as they held on for the narrow victory.
“Salt Lake’s a good team so it’s good to play against a tough team, get the win and hold onto the win, most importantly,” said Soares. “I was really pumped, really proud of the guys; all the guys who stepped up to hold onto the win and carry it out.”
The victory improved the Revolution’s preseason record to 6-0-0 and the club finished atop the Desert Diamond Cup standings with nine points from three matches. Although winning the competition was always secondary to progressing ahead of next weekend’s season opener, the chance to compete for a trophy on Saturday night is something the Revs are relishing.
“We’re all focusing on trying to get better as a team,” said Fagundez. “But there’s a cup right here, so why not go for it and try winning it now?”
“We want to win every game,” said Soares. “We’re trying to win this tournament, straight up. That’s what we’re trying to do and you saw that tonight when we grinded that win out right there. So we’re trying to win it. There’s nothing else other than that.”