New England Soccer Today

Kouassi Working His Way Back

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution signed Designated Player Xavier Kouassi over a year ago, but after suffering a torn right anterior cruciate ligament in the days following his signing, Kouassi has still yet to make his MLS debut.

The 27-year-old Ivory Coast holding midfielder has been training with the Revolution during preseason, and although he is reportedly still not at 100 percent, he’s expected to fill the sizable void left by the departure of Jermaine Jones in March 2016 after a brief but fruitful stint with the Revs.

“We’re happy to see him back on the field,” said Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe, the club’s 2016 Most Valuable Player, after a training session at Gillette Stadium on Sunday. “He’s still working back from his injury which is fair, it’s an ACL, it’s a tough one to get back from, but just for the little bit he’s been playing, he’s a very technical player, very smart on the ball and he always wants it.”

Although New England has had Designated Players that flopped before (see: Jerry Bengtson), Kouassi came into MLS with five years of European experience in the Swiss Super League, and has shown leadership qualities, wearing the captain’s armband for both Servette FC and FC Sion.

“It was great that he was here last year to be a part of the group and get to know everyone,” Revs coach Jay Heaps said. “His personality is coming out, but we’re making sure we’re mindful in how much we give him and when we give it to him.”

New England has often been at its best during the Heaps era when he has a second natural holding midfielder to pair with workhorse Scott Caldwell, providing cover behind a diamond of attacking options, and Kouassi could provide that, with Homegrown Player Zach Herivaux still adjusting to the speed of play in MLS.

“He’s one of those guys where we know he can be a positive for us, especially in that defensive, holding role,” Rowe said. “He’s got so much talent and he’s played in so many good places and he’s a very smart player.”

Last season, the Revolution finished with their worst total number of goals allowed (54) and goal differential (-10) since 2011 when the Revs finished with the fewest wins in MLS. So it makes sense that nearly all the team’s new additions – apart from 2017 SuperDraft first-rounder Brian Wright – were made with an eye toward fortifying the defense.

With no changes in the goalkeeping corps during the offseason, New England will rely on Kouassi and new center backs Tony Mlinar Delamea and Benjamin Angoua to anchor the rear.

“For anyone coming off a year-long injury, we’re bringing him up to speed with how we want him to play,” Heaps said of Kouassi on Sunday. “This preseason and the next couple weeks is going to be very important to see how he continues to get better and more comfortable in how we’re playing.”

Kouassi has not yet seen action in any of the Revolution’s three preseason games thus far, so it’s reasonable to assume Kouassi may not be able to play a full 90 minutes for several weeks until he fully returns his pre-injury fitness level.

Once Kouassi is fully fit, though, he might prove be the crucial piece that puts New England over the top and back into playoff contention.

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