SEATTLE – The longest three months of the year are finally over.
No, not winter. If you live in New England, that’s never ending. I’m talking about the MLS offseason.
Almost three months to the day since dropping a heartbreaker in MLS Cup 2014, the New England Revolution return to action on Sunday night, kicking off their landmark 20th season against Seattle Sounders FC.
Kickoff from CenturyLink Field is set for 9:30 p.m. ET with national television coverage on Fox Sports 1 and the local radio call available on 98.5 The Sports Hub.
To watch the game with fellow Revs fans, head to one of the club’s official watch parties.
Current Form: Both Revs and Sounders on the rise after breakout 2014 campaigns
After a return to prominence last season, the Revs are hoping 2015 is the year they finally bring home a title.
New England was Major League Soccer’s hottest team through the second half of 2014, racking up a remarkable 12-2-3 record from mid-August through the postseason. That form carried the Revs all the way to MLS Cup for the fifth time in club history, but again they fell just short, Robbie Keane winning it for the LA Galaxy in extra time.
With the core of last year’s club returning – 16 of the 18 players who dressed for MLS Cup remain on the Revolution’s roster – New England’s players know that this team is capable of taking the next step.
“Obviously there are going to be higher expectations,” said Teal Bunbury. “But we’re all professionals and there are always going to be high expectations, no matter what we’re doing – winning or losing.
“It’s just how we deal with that. If we stick together as a unit and are able to go out there each day and push each other in training, I think it’s going to show in the games.”
Seattle was so nearly New England’s opponent in MLS Cup 2014, falling to the LA Galaxy in the Western Conference Championship by virtue of away goals.
The disappointing loss left the Sounders just shy of an unprecedented treble after the Pacific Northwest club won both the Supporters’ Shield (with 20 wins and 64 points) and the U.S. Open Cup.
Seattle’s potent attack is led by the formidable duo of Obafemi Martins (17 goals, 13 assists) and Clint Dempsey (15 goals, 10 assists), but Jay Heaps has his Revolution side preparing for more than just the forward pair.
“Seattle’s an excellent team, so you’ve got to prepare yourself for that,” Heaps said. “We have a lot of respect for what they’re doing. When you look at Seattle as a group, you have to be mindful of what Clint Dempsey’s doing at all times, and what Obafemi Martins is doing at all times.
“When they have guys like Lamar Neagle, Marco Pappa and (Gonzalo) Pineda playing really well, it only makes Dempsey and Obafemi Martins that much better.”
Past Meetings: Last year’s comprehensive win put Revs back on track vs. Sounders
The Revs and Sounders met just once last season – a Mother’s Day matinee at Gillette Stadium – and New England’s 5-0 win that afternoon matched the biggest win in club history. Diego Fagundez scored twice to lead a rampant Revolution attack, which struck four times in the opening 41 minutes.
Now the Revs will hope to translate that success to CenturyLink Field, where they haven’t won since their first-ever meeting with the Sounders back in 2009. In their last three visits to the Emerald City the Revs have gone 0-2-1, although they did secure a 0-0 draw on their most recent trip in 2013.
These two sides did meet as recently as 11 days ago as part of the preseason Desert Diamond Cup, with the shorthanded Revs coming from behind to beat the Sounders, 2-1, thanks to a late Charlie Davies penalty.
Injury Report: Jones sidelined for opener, while Nguyen remains questionable
Jermaine Jones, whose arrival in Foxborough last August helped spark the Revolution’s late-season resurgence and run to MLS Cup, will miss Sunday’s season opener as he continues to recover from sports hernia surgery.
Jones played the full 90 minutes in a pair of friendlies with the U.S. National Team in late January and early February, but after camp it was revealed that he’d been battling through injury since last season and the decision was made to undergo surgery and get the veteran midfielder to full health.
Lee Nguyen was also part of that U.S. National Team camp and appeared in both games as a sub, and similarly it was revealed after camp that he’d been dealing with a groin injury since November. Nguyen received a PRP injection and has been training with the Revs throughout the week, but he remains questionable for the opener.
Seattle will also be missing a key piece in central midfield as the gritty Osvaldo Alonso – who started 33 of the Sounders’ 34 regular-season games last season – is currently sidelined following groin surgery.
Final Thoughts: Heaps says returning striker Juan Agudelo is “ahead of expectations”
“I think he’s pushed himself, not just from the physical side, but his sharpness is getting there,” Heaps said of the returning Juan Agudelo. “It’s the relationships with all of our players – not just the new players, but the relationships with the players that he knows.
“I think Juan is ahead of expectations and we’re excited about it.”