DENVER – It’s finally time for the real thing.
Six weeks of preseason preparation and a four-month offseason will officially come to an end on Saturday, when the New England Revolution will begin their 2017 regular-season campaign against the Colorado Rapids.
Kickoff from Dick’s Sporting Goods Park is set for 6 p.m. ET, with live coverage on both CSN and 98.5 The Sports Hub HD2. Play-by-play man Brad Feldman and analyst Paul Mariner will have the call, and they’ll be joined by host Kevin Walsh and Revolution legend Shalrie Joseph on CSN’s postgame show.
Portuguese radio listeners can once again catch the action on WMVX 1570 AM.
Current Form: New season offers a clean slate for revamped Revolution
While the Rapids will be hoping to replicate the form that carried them to a surprise second-place finish in the Western Conference last year, the Revs are looking to turn the tables after a disappointing 2016 campaign.
The offseason additions of center backs Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea have solidified a backline that conceded too many “soft” goals last year, according to head coach Jay Heaps, while New England’s attack continues to be spearheaded by Lee Nguyen, Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara, among others.
Angoua and Delamea have settled comfortably in recent weeks, and after potting 14 goals in seven preseason matches – including five in one half against Sporting Kansas City – there are signs that New England’s offense has already rekindled the chemistry that made them so dangerous late last year.
“The interchange is critical,” Heaps said about the Revolution’s front five, which also included Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez throughout preseason. “We want to play fast, we want to play fluid and we want to play forward. Those are our three keys in how we attack.”
New England’s task on Saturday will be breaking down a Colorado side that conceded a league-low 32 goals last season, including an MLS-record seven goals in 17 home games. That defensive form helped the Rapids to the league’s only unbeaten home record (11-0-6), despite having the second-lowest scoring attack in MLS.
“(Head coach) Pablo (Mastroeni) does a great job of organizing, so they’re a hard team to break down,” said Heaps. “If you overexpose or try to do too much, they can counter and hurt you. The reality is that we have to go in there with a mindset of understanding what we’re all about.”
“They definitely didn’t lose a lot of pieces and they were the best defensive team last year,” said Agudelo, who has scored in his last three appearances against the Rapids, including preseason. “We understand that we just have to be patient.”
Past Meetings: Revs have won four of five meetings with Rapids under Heaps
New England endured an eight-game winless run (0-3-5) against Colorado from 2008 through 2011, but the tides have turned since Heaps took the helm prior to the 2012 season.
The Revs have won four of their five meetings with Colorado under Heaps, including three straight multi-goal victories, all by shutout. Last year the Revs got goals from Agudelo and Chris Tierney en route to a 2-0 win at Gillette Stadium, a result that started New England’s 5-2-0 run to finish the year.
Agudelo was also on the board when the Revs last visited Dick’s Sporting Goods Park in April 2015, scoring the game winner in the first half before Nguyen tacked on a second-half penalty in another 2-0 victory. It was the Revolution’s first win in Colorado since 2002, snapping an 11-game winless run in the Centennial State.
Injury Report: Tierney back in the mix ahead of opener, Kouassi working on fitness
Chris Tierney sat out the final two games of the Revolution’s preseason schedule while recovering from a minor knock, but the move was mostly precautionary and the veteran left back will be available for selection on Saturday.
Xavier Kouassi, meanwhile, continues to work towards full fitness after the 27-year-old midfielder played 45 minutes in New England’s preseason meeting with Sporting KC one week ago. While fully healthy, Kouassi requires more time to continue his progression towards a full 90 minutes.
“I thought he had a really good preseason in getting up to speed and getting his fitness back, but also getting his playing strength back,” said Heaps. “He’s coming along. We’ll see over the next four or five weeks to see really when he takes his full shape.”
The only player listed on New England’s official injury report is Zach Herivaux, who remains sidelined by the ankle injury that he suffered in the Revolution’s preseason game against the Houston Dynamo in mid-February.
For the Rapids, only backup goalkeeper John Berner (wrist) is listed as out, although projected starter Tim Howard (adductor) is also expected to be unavailable this weekend. Midfielder Dillon Serna (knee), meanwhile, is listed as questionable.
Final Thoughts: Agudelo optimistic that “this is the year” Revs’ chemistry pays dividends
“There’s a lot of chemistry there,” Agudelo said of New England’s locker room. “Hopefully this is the year that everybody gets to be rewarded – the players, the coaches for their hard work, and also the office.”