Five Questions: Revolution vs. Galaxy

Revolution striker Jerry Bengtson needs to find a way to score in league action. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

Revolution striker Jerry Bengtson needs to find a way to score in league action. (Photo: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz)

On Sunday, the U.S. Soccer Federation will conduct the latest, and perhaps most extravagant celebration of its centennial year in the nation’s capital by hosting Germany for a high-profile friendly. Three hundred miles north, the Revolution will host the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy. And the tie between the two is none other than a player who’s known to most simply as “Joe-Max.”

Two months ago, former Revolution goalscorer and U.S. National Team stalwart Joe-Max Moore, was inducted into the National Soccer Hall of Fame on his penultimate year on the player’s ballot. The fact that it took seven years to get him enshrined is almost as sad as the fact that the federation has done little to honor Joe-Max during this weekend’s festivities.

Simply put: Joe-Max was a designated player before the term came into existence. After Giuseppe Galderisi flamed out in Foxborough, MLS allocated the Oklahoma-born goalscorer to New England. The rest, they say, is history.

Despite playing only 14 games during the league’s inaugural season, he scored 11 times, and continued putting the ball in the back of the net at a rate of more than half a goal per game. All told, he raked to the tune of 49 goals in 90 games in MLS, all spent with the Revolution.

He was sent to Everton after an All-Star 1999 campaign, and tasted success in England. But it was with the National Team where his star elevated to new heights.

In October 2001, with the backdrop of the 9/11 attacks still fresh in the minds of so many, Joe-Max scored twice against Jamaica to punch the U.S.’s ticket to the 2002 World Cup. And the fact that he did it in Foxborough only made it that much more memorable.

During the 2002 World Cup, he helped lead the U.S. to a quarterfinal finish, their best since 1930. And although he didn’t escape the tournament without injury, Joe-Max had cemented his spot in American soccer history.

Perhaps the most fitting testimony to Joe-Max came from a recent conversation with former teammate and current Revolution head coach Jay Heaps. Looking back at his first years with the Revolution, Heaps noted the energy and class Joe-Max brought to the squad during his second stint with the Revolution after his spell with Everton expired. Heaps saw not only a player who delivered under pressure, but someone who never quit, someone who never folded when the chips were down. It’s fair to say that Heaps, known for his intensity both on the pitch and behind the touchline, likely looks at Joe-Max as the model when searching for new players.

The mid-1990s/early-2000s were a critical point in time during this nation’s soccer history. Yet, there was Joe-Max, ready to take the weight of country and club on his shoulders and steer both to new heights.

New heights are where the Revolution would like to ascend to, and Sunday’s match against the defending champs could be an important rung on that climb. But before the two clubs kickoff in moments following U.S.-Germany, lets look at what questions surround the interconference clash.

1. Can Jerry Bengtson just pretend it’s the preseason, international competition, or the U.S. Open Cup and score a goal? For some reason, the goals seem to come easier to Bengtson when it’s not a league game. At the international level, scoring is a cinch for the Honduran striker. Same goes for the preseason (two goals in five preseason games), and most recently, Open Cup competition. But at some point, Bengtson is going to have to find the back of the net in league action. In his  23 total MLS games, the Honduran only has three goals, and before that, only two in 18 games for Motagua. Clearly, those numbers are far from Designated Player material. In light of that, the Revolution coaching staff are going to have to figure out a way to get Bengston back into his scoring groove at the league level – even if it takes a slightly “doctored” fixture list. We kid, of course. Mostly.

2. Will someone other than Diego Fagundez or Juan Agudelo score? In the last three weeks, it’s been either Fagundez or Agudelo getting the ball into the back of the net. Sure, others have tried. Lee Nguyen hit the post two weeks ago, then the bar last week. Chris Tierney made a couple of forays into the final third in the last two weeks. Heck, even Andrew Farrell gave it a go in Houston. There’s no doubt that Agudelo and Fagundez have injected new life into the attack, and the results have followed as of late. But even though either – or both – of the talented duo may strike again against the Galaxy, the Revolution need the likes of Nguyen, Bengtson, Sene and Imbongo to scribble their names on the scoresheet, as well.

3. Who gets the start alongside Jose Goncalves? At this juncture, it looks like Stephen McCarthy will play next to the skipper on Sunday. Then again, if there’s anything head coach Jay Heaps enjoys, it’s the ongoing competition for spots that takes place every day at training. Yes, McCarthy has done well to re-prove himself as a legitimate MLS center back after spending the bulk of his playing days in the midfield. Yet, there always seems to be one momentary lapse in which a teammate – most often Bobby Shuttleworth – has to rescue the third-year veteran from. Even so, McCarthy gives the Revolution a more technically sound center back pairing than the one that features A.J. Soares, and against a Galaxy squad that won’t hesitate to drop back and counterattack, McCarthy’s probably the best option right next to Goncalves in the rear guard.

4. Is Kalifa Cisse ready to return to the midfield? For all the chatter about the technical skills and intangibles that the former European pro was supposed to bring to the table, we haven’t seen much of him as of late in league action. In Tuesday’s Open Cup tilt, Cisse went the full 90 and seemed to play the kind of game – strong in the middle, sound passing and ball-winning abilities – that the Revolution have missed in certain situations. With a club as talented as the Galaxy in town, the Revolution need to have a player of Cisse’s caliber not only feature in the starting XI, but assert himself against a central midfield pairing comprised of Marcelo Sarvas and Juninho. In essence, the Revolution cannot let those two dictate the tempo and exert control over Sunday’s proceedings without recourse. A healthy Cisse would do well to ensure that Sarvas and Juninho don’t make it a walk in the park for the defending champions.

5. What would a win over the Galaxy mean? It would mean that the Revolution are, perhaps, ready to finally emerge as a potential contender in the eastern table. Beating the Galaxy wouldn’t be something new for the local XI, of course. They beat them in Los Angeles last season, and claimed a home  victory against them in 2010. In a sense, a win wouldn’t signify anything more than three points earned. But this time around, with the Revolution reclaiming some recently-discovered success, a victory over the defending champs might just show that, this time around, winning is contagious. At Saturday’s training session, Chris Tierney mentioned that the club is playing with newfound confidence, and that the team’s recent belief in itself is something that they hope to carry into Sunday’s contest. If they do, and convert into three more points, we may be witnessing the dawn of a new era on Foxborough. Or, at very least, a summer that won’t be filled with complete and utter hopelessness.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com