TUCSON, Ariz. – Saturday afternoon’s preseason finale against the New York Red Bulls presented the New England Revolution with an important challenge.
Frustrated by their lack of inventiveness and incisiveness in a scoreless first half New England was forced to adapt, making a series of tactical tweaks at halftime and pressing higher after the break in an attempt to force New York into turnovers in dangerous areas.
The tactic worked as the Revs created a series of clear-cut chances in the second half, scoring a pair of goals through Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen en route to a 2-0 victory.
“The first half wasn’t good from us,” said center back Antonio Mlinar Delamea. “We let them pressure us the whole time and we had problems, as you can see.
“But the second half, we stepped higher, we tried to press them and we pushed them into two mistakes that led to the goals.”
That ability to adapt mid-game will be critical for a Revolution side that, by their own admission, became predictable at times last season. The deeper every team gets into the regular season the more time opponents will have to figure them out, so being malleable is a vital characteristic.
“We’ve got to be able to make adjustments mid-game,” said Rowe. “I think we did that very well. That second half, we played a lot better than the first half, and that’s a talent that we need going forward.
“The fact that we can do it in preseason means we’re going to be able to do it in the middle of the season, as well.”
“We didn’t start the game really well in terms of (having) a positive way about us,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “It was good to have a conversation at halftime, and it was a good response from the team.”
Angoua and Delamea continue to form partnership with 56-minute runout
New central defensive pairing Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea saw their first game action alongside each other in the midweek win over Sporting Kansas City, spending 36 shutout minutes on the field together.
The duo took another important step in their partnership on Saturday, starting alongside each other and playing 56 minutes together as the Revs once again shut down their opponent with the pair on the field.
Although the duo only started training together this week – Angoua spent the first half of preseason battling a hamstring injury – there have been positive signs in their development, as communication and positioning have largely been spot on between the Revolution’s new center backs.
“We’re still getting to know each other,” said Delamea, who went 88 minutes against New York. “I think every game, he’s getting better. I think we look strong in the back, but of course we still made some mistakes, and we need to work on these things to minimize this in the competition.”
Saturday’s runout – just shy of an hour – was Angoua’s longest of preseason, but he’ll be hoping to be ready to go for next weekend’s visit to the Colorado Rapids to kick off the regular season.
“We’ll assess where he is,” said Heaps. “Hopefully he came through okay. But for the first 50, 60 minutes, he looked really good.”
Cropper’s critical double-save at key moment helps Revs keep clean sheet
One of the most intriguing positional battles this preseason has played out at the goalkeeper spot, with Cody Cropper and Brad Knighton fighting for the starting job as second-year netminder Matt Turner keeps the pressure on both to perform.
Cropper earned the start in the preseason finale and helped his credentials by making a massive double-save in the 64th minute, maintaining the Revolution’s 1-0 lead.
“It was an important save at an important time,” said Heaps. “When you’re on the road, or playing in a game where you’re up 1-0 or it’s 0-0, and that one save either keeps the lead or keeps the game level, it’s critical. That’s what we’re looking for from our keepers.”
Attention turns to Colorado as Revs wrap up their time in the desert
With five weeks of preseason preparation done and dusted the Revs will now briefly return home, before heading to Colorado on Thursday ahead of Saturday’s season opener.
While there are still some final tweaks to be made throughout the next week, most of New England’s focus will be on preparing specifically for the Rapids, who went 11-0-6 at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park last season, conceding just seven goals at their home ground.
“We’re ready,” said Kei Kamara, who’s beginning his first full season with New England. “It’s still early. It’s going to be the first game, adrenaline’s going to be pumping, but at the same time, we just want to kick the season off.”