CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Saturday morning’s preseason opener against Real Salt Lake was another step in the process as the New England Revolution continues to build toward March 8.
Both sides used entirely different lineups for each half of the 80-minute contest, with New England riding an early goal from Charlie Davies and a second-half strike from newcomer Sean Okoli to a 2-1 win.
“The main goal for the team was just to go out and compete, and just apply what we were doing in training all week to the game,” said Okoli, who played on the right wing in his first appearance with the Revs since arriving in a draft-day trade. “There’s a lot to work on, but it was a good start.”
Jay Heaps opted for a strong starting group featuring 10 players who appeared in last year’s MLS Cup, matched up against a younger group from RSL. Those roles were reversed in the second half when RSL head coach Jeff Cassar used his starters against New England’s second group.
Saturday’s game, however, wasn’t necessarily about the competition, but rather continuing to build a fitness base and regaining the sharpness lost throughout the course of a six-week offseason.
“First and foremost you want to make sure that guys are playing the right amount of minutes. You’re managing minutes across the board,” Heaps said. “It’s the first time you’re playing against another team, so you want to make sure that you have a good system, you have your formation set up, but at the same time, you’re trying to gain sharpness and overall fitness.”
The formation used on Saturday morning closely resembled the 4-2-3-1 which was so successful during the Revolution’s late-season run last year, but Heaps said the formation will always be malleable so long as the Revs continue to play with the philosophy established in 2014.
“I think the group is further along than last year at this time, just because we’ve established what kind of rhythm and what kind of philosophy we’re going to play with,” said Heaps. “The formation can adapt, but it’s really about how we want to play and the pieces we want to use to do that.”
“At this point, we know who we are,” added Davies. “We have a good identity of how we want to play and at this point it’s just building on our sharpness. I think you’ve got to get the kinks out in the first couple of preseason games. Today we were able to keep the ball and possess it, and see how we want to play and how we want to attack teams. It was definitely a good start.”
With the first preseason contest under their belts the Revs will now build toward their next test, set for Wednesday morning when they’ll head to Tucson, Arizona, for a meeting with Vancouver Whitecaps FC.