New England Soccer Today

Final Tune-up On Tap

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/capturedimages.biz

It’s not that Saturday’s preseason finale against the Red Bulls is more important than any match the Revolution have played in the desert to date. Actually, that’s a total lie: it’s probably the most meaningful 90 minutes of the winter.

After five weeks of training, six preseason games, and no fewer than a dozen different lineup combinations, the Revolution will get one last opportunity to tie any loose ends before the regular season kicks off in Colorado on Mar. 4.

“We want to get on that week schedule,” Revolution coach Jay Heaps told the media after Wednesday’s preseason match against Sporting KC. “So we played (last) Saturday, (Wednesday) was more of an exercise, and then we get back at it again on Saturday.”

Of course, getting into the rhythm of the regular season schedule early on is the primary objective for all 22 MLS cubs right now. But it might be even more crucial for the Revolution, a team that’s slumped out of the gate in each of the last five seasons under Heaps.

One reason for the ongoing early season struggles: too many blanks and not enough bullets. Even after exploding for three goals in last year’s First Kick clash at Houston, the Revolution proceeded to score only three more over the course of the following five games. As a result, they had to wait until April to pick up their first win.

To ensure they avoid the same fate this year, New England must continue to strengthen the attacking chemistry seen in Wednesday’s 6-2 thrashing of SKC, which fielded a reserve-heavy look in the face of a ferocious effort from the Revolution’s first-team offense.

“We just have to go do our job,” Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez told the media on Wednesday, “make sure everyone gives 100 percent, make sure there [are] no injuries, and when we get our chances, keep finishing them.”

But putting the ball in the back of the net isn’t the only item on the agenda. Replicating the tension of a regular season is, perhaps, the biggest challenge every MLS team faces during the preseason. For all its charm, Kino Veterans Stadium will never be confused with CenturyLink Field or, closer to home, Red Bull Arena.

Even so, it appears the collective mindset is already in midseason mode when looking ahead to Saturday’s clash.

“We have to stay 100 percent positive, and keep moving forward and be ready for that opening game,” Fagundez said, “because it’s going to be fun. It’s going to be important, and we’re going to have to try to go and get three points.”

While points acquired during Desert Diamond Cup play are non-transferrable, the significance of New England’s final game in the desert carries plenty of meaning for everyone wearing the paint-streaked badge.

“Saturday will be important,” Heaps said. “I think it’ll be really important that we stretch minutes for certain guys, but also have a sound game plan going into it.”

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