New England Soccer Today

Kouassi, Smith Make Home Debuts in Shutout

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The expectations for Xavier Kouassi and Josh Smith were worlds apart coming into the 2017 season, but on Saturday the pair both played large roles in the New England Revolution’s first shutout of the season, a 2-0 win against the Houston Dynamo, while each player made their Gillette Stadium debut.

Kouassi, the Revolution’s highly touted designated player, who the team brought in to replace Jermaine Jones last season, saw his home debut delayed the better part of a year after suffering an ACL tear prior to his arrival with the team. Along with the designated player tag comes high expectations and the defensive midfielder delivered against the Dynamo in just his third start since arriving at the Revolution. The 27-year-old lasted the entire match and was third on the team with 63 touches, while leading the team with five interceptions, contributing four tackles and completing 82.6% of his passes.

“He’s like one wall in front of us,” said defend Antonio Delamea. “He’s taking all the second balls. I really like the way he’s playing right now and I just hope he will continue like that.”

The Ivory Coast native has fit right into the Revolution line-up after his long layoff due to injury and made an immediate impact.

“I don’t think he took a wrong step out there,” said head coach Jay Heaps. I thought he was excellent defensively breaking up plays and it’s just a role up your sleeves type attitude from him. He gets in on tackles and is excellent on the ball.”

Smith, meanwhile was the Revolution’s 4th round pick (75th overall) in the 2017 MLS SuperDraft. Heading into preseason it was far from certain the team would even sign the rookie and highly unlikely that he would make much of an impact on the first team this season. That changed after newcomer Benjamin Angoua failed to impress in his first three games for the Revolution, opening the door for Heaps to give Smith his debut at center back in New England’s 1-1 draw at Portland last Sunday.

“I think he’s been great,” said Revolution midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who started at left back on Saturday. “He plays like he does every game, whether he’s a rookie or he’s 30 years old and a veteran – he’s a guy that’s going to play the same way. He’s very vocal and he’s a strong player.”

Smith’s good play in his debut earned him another start on Saturday and the 25-year-old didn’t disappoint. Going the full 90 minutes, Smith recorded three tackles, two interceptions and three aerial duels won. He also managed two shots getting forward on set pieces.

“It was awesome [to make my home debut],” said Smith. “It was a great feeling. Playing at home meant a lot more to me than playing on the road. I think our fans, you could hear them 90 minutes long, and it was great. It pushed us.”

But while the veteran Kouassi may be the finished product, Smith’s teammates see a lot of potential for continued improvements.

“Last time [Smith] showed us great potential and of course he needs to build on these performances,” said Delamea. “He needs to improve everyday in training, in matches. I think he’s capable of much more.”

Smith will get his chance to continue to improve and Kouassi will get his chance to continue to show what makes him a valuable designated player as the Revolution return to the road to face the Chicago Fire next weekend.

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