MONTREAL – Bruce Arena isn’t much of a “silver linings” guy. He’s typically much more interested in the final score than perceived positives, and he lamented the New England Revolution’s passing struggles and inability to win tackles in Saturday afternoon’s season-opening, 2-1 loss to the Montreal Impact.
But there were two players Arena singled out for praise postgame: Diego Fagundez, who began his 10th professional season with a strong showing in central midfield, and rookie Henry Kessler, who made his professional debut partnering Andrew Farrell in central defense.
“I think Henry was one of our better players,” Arena said postgame. “Henry and I think Fagundez had a good game, as well. Those are two players that I think won their matchups on the day.”
Kessler, drafted sixth overall in this year’s MLS SuperDraft after a standout three-year career at the University of Virginia, parlayed an impressive preseason into a start on opening day, working his way up the depth chart as fellow center backs Antonio Delamea and Michael Mancienne recovered from injury.
The 21-year-old defender said he had a feeling he might be in the opening day XI after starting the final preseason match against the Portland Timbers last weekend, but didn’t find out for sure until shortly before the Revs boarded a plane for Montreal on Thursday evening.
Kessler said he fought a few pregame jitters, but those washed away moments after kickoff.
“Very proud that I made my debut, but obviously I wasn’t happy with the result,” Kessler said. “A little nervous beforehand, but once you make that first pass, you know you’re in the game, you’re locked in. After that, I was cruising from there.”
Kessler cruised through most of the match, looking calm in possession and strong in the tackle while exhibiting a standard of decision-making belying a much more veteran player. He even transitioned smoothly into a three-center-back system when Mancienne came on in the 66th minute.
“He’s a great player,” said DeJuan Jones, who began his sophomore season with a start at left back. “He’s been doing it all preseason, and then another great performance tonight, so I’m really happy for him and I hope he continues to perform like that.”
There will be bumps in the road, of course – there are for every rookie adjusting to the professional game – but Saturday’s opener was a promising start for Kessler, who’ll now hope to experience his first professional win next weekend when the Revs host the Chicago Fire in their home opener at Gillette Stadium.
“Very much so looking forward to playing in Gillette,” said Kessler. “Haven’t played a full game there yet – only a couple training sessions – so very much looking forward to it and playing in front of the home fans.”