Is there anything that cures the doldrums of a New England winter better than the shining beacon that is the start of the MLS season?
No more games being broken up into three periods. No more faulty live streams from Arizona. No more following a match via Twitter. No more trying to figure out who #50 is (it was Cameron Brown). Or #51, for that matter (Nerman Crnkic?). And sayonara to mispronouncing the surnames of potential signees (see: Marko “it’s YESS-ick” Jesic).
Most importantly, points are finally on the line. Real points. Not Desert Diamond Cup points. Rather, bonafide, tested-and-true MLS regular season points. The ones that matter.
Remember those MLS spots that concluded by some dude saying “Football. Futbol. Soccer. MLS.”? This time of the year, it’s “Football. Futbol. Soccer. MLS. Hell, yes.”
Soccer’s back, my friends. The weather’s making a comeback (trust me on this). The soccer lines are back on the Gillette Stadium field. The Rev Girls are readying their t-shirt launchers. And soon, things will be back to the way they should be.
Yes, the MLS season is already here. It kicked off last week with the Revs, coincidentally (or not coincidentally, depending upon your opinion of Don Garber) given a first week bye. This week, though, nothing – not even a late-winter snowstorm – can stop the Revs from getting their 2013 campaign underway.
Similarly, nothing could stop the season premiere of Five Questions.
1. Who gets the start between the sticks? Jay Heaps gushed about Matt Reis following the DDC Consolation Game. Gushed. Said he looked sharp, and compared his footwork to that of Nick Rimando. It seemed like the kind of comments a head coach makes when he’s made up his mind about a positional battle. Yet, when the projected Revs starting XI was released to the media, Bobby Shuttleworth was listed as the starting goalkeeper. Um, OK. It could be gamesmanship on the part of the powers that be. Or maybe it’s to set up one of those classic ”gotcha” moments for the media. The smart money, though, says its going to be Reis.
2. Can Jerry Bengtson get the season started on the right foot? It doesn’t matter what foot the Honduran gets started on, to be fair. Right or left, it doesn’t matter. So long as it isn’t the wrong foot. All kidding aside, Bengtson success this season rests on a quick start. Without Saer Sene to partner with for the first few weeks, the club’s Designated Player must reassert himself as the poacher, just as he has for Honduras. He has to like his chances this weekend: Chicago’s defense comes into Saturday’s clash reeling from last week’s 4-0 thumping in L.A.
3. How will Andrew Farrell fare in his MLS debut? Stop me if you’ve heard this before: The Revs’ first round pick had an impressive camp. See Kelyn Rowe, A.J. Soares, Zack Schilawski, Wells Thompson, and so on and so on. What may separate Farrell from that conversation, though, is his innate ability to strengthen the defense, then spark the offense at a moment’s notice. Farrell hasn’t wasted any opportunity to remind us why the Revs traded up to select him first overall so far. Like any rookie, he’ll go through his share of growing pains this year. At this juncture, though, it looks like he’s poised to continue his torrid preseason form at Toyota Park.
4. What can we expect from the Kalifa Cisse-Clyde Simms partnership? For Revs fans, it better be a lot more than what we saw this winter. Yes, it was tough to judge how this tandem would fare in the first four preseason tilts, with fitness being the name of the game(s). Yet, even in the final two DDC matches, the midfield failed to set any kind of rhythm or tempo. Simms wasn’t terrible, but Cisse looked like a shadow of himself against second-string players. If the Revs are going to take another step forward, it’ll be necessary for Cisse to step up when the games actually count.
5. Will we see a different Jay Heaps on the bench for Year Two? It was like clockwork: when the Revs searched for the lead late, Heaps tabbed an attacking sub nearly every time. And why not? The Revs were going to be hard pressed to contend in 2012, and thus, Heaps remained true to his “We’re going to attack” credo. But in Season Two, the expectations have been raised. The playoffs are no longer some exotic island in the south Pacific. Ambition often yields to pragmatism, and it’ll be interesting to see if Heaps’ in-game adjustments follow suit this season.