New England Soccer Today

First Look: #SEAvNE

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

With the labor strife settled, it’s official: there will be MLS soccer this weekend. And not a moment too soon for the reigning Supporters’ Shield winners, as well as the Eastern Conference champions, who’ll meet each other on Sunday at CenturyLink Field.

It may be much too early to say whether the Sounders-Revolution tilt is a possible MLS Cup preview, but one thing’s for sure: it’s an intriguing matchup considering the strength of both sides.

In order to get a feel for what to expect, NEST‘s Brian O’Connell caught up with Prost Amerika’s Shayna Gosney to discuss the matchup.


Brian: How would you assess the way the Sounders preseason went, and based on what transpired, how do you feel about their chances of starting off the season with a win on Sunday?

Shayna: The Sounders’ preseason this year was all about getting a feel for new players, feeling out new positions and bringing the youth farther into the first-team fold.

The Sounders’ young players and league rookies look sharp, hungry, skillful and capable of quickly adjusting to first-team play, so there are plenty of positive indications to be found on that front. The stars up top in Obafemi Martins and Clint Dempsey have had a proper rest this year and are looking quick and deadly as well, so an offensive rhythm shouldn’t be difficult to find.

Sigi seems to be working out a lot of the first-team cohesion on the training pitch, which has translated to largely solid if not always dominating play in what we’ve seen through preseason, so the team shouldn’t be too shaky or unsure to start the season.

The largest questions will likely be in the center of the pitch – Ozzie Alonso is out to start the season while recovering from groin surgery and Brad Evans has been moved to center-back as a partner for Chad Marshall. Michael Azira looks to be Alonso’s replacement and there are still a few questions hanging about concerning his ability to fill such large boots, though his development has continued and he’s looking confident. Evans is intelligent and showed his defensive abilities last season when filling in for DeAndre Yedlin as needed, so the question there is how quickly a center-back partnership and understanding is built with Marshall.

Overall, however, I think the Sounders have a good chance at three points.

Brian: It’s a shame that neither Alonso nor Jermaine Jones will play in this match, thus depriving us a great matchup in the middle of the park. In addition to Michael Azira and Brad Evans, who else will need to step up for the Sounders with Alonso out?

Shayna: It’s going to make that center-back partnership between Brad Evans and Chad Marshall all the more important, that’s for sure. Both Evans and Marshall are great communicators on the field, so that will help. Veteran Englishman Tyrone Mears will be taking over for DeAndre Yedlin on the right side of defense, and his experience will be vital in ensuring that holes aren’t opening up without Alonso’s presence. It’s really yet to be seen how much quickness left-back Leo Gonzalez has got with another year behind him, as he was never the fastest to begin with, so he’ll have to play an even more intelligent game to ensure that the Sounders aren’t left vulnerable in the absence of Alonso’s reassuring, all-over-the-field presence.

Brian: Gotcha. Like the Sounders, the Revs also have made a change at center back, with right back Andrew Farrell sliding into the center after AJ Soares left.

Shayna: Right back at you, then – What have you made of NE’s new center-back partnership through the preseason? And with both Lee Nguyen and Jermaine Jones out for the start of the season, what do you see the impact being on the Revs’ play?

Brian: It’s been a process, as Jay Heaps would like to say. Individually, both are quality options at center back, especially Jose Goncalves, who won MLS defender of the year in 2013. Farrell played CB in college, and also saw some time at the spot last season when Goncalves was hurt. That said, the name of the game when it comes to any CB pairing is cohesion, and that’s something that’s still a work in progress at the moment. They’re still getting used to each other’s movements and tendencies, and as a result, there’s been more than a few nervy moments in the defending third during preseason action. It’s going to take time for that partnership to strengthen, so I think that’s an area of weakness right now for the Revs.

With Jones and possibly Nguyen both out – Nguyen’s status hasn’t yet been posted, but he’s unlikely to start – it’ll be up to Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Daigo Kobayashi to shoulder the load. The good news for the Revs is that Rowe and Fagundez both had strong preseasons, and are entering the regular season brimming with confidence. Kobayashi is an experienced two-way midfielder who reads the game well, and can dole out punishment if needed. If he can steer the Revs in the right direction, and combine with Rowe and Fagundez, I think the Revs will be in good shape on the attack.

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Shayna: Juan Agudelo rejoined the Revs in the offseason after a frustrating attempt at European play. He’s familiar with much of New England’s team still, but where do you see him fitting in on the attack? And is this affected by the Revs’ missing players at the start of the season?

Brian: I’d be shocked if Agudelo wasn’t starting up top as the Revs lone striker in their 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 formation. Despite the fact that he was gone last year, his transition back into the squad has been seamless. Much like he did during his time with the team in 2013, he combined and created with Fagundez regularly, and also collaborated with Rowe, as well. It’s almost as if he’d never left.

Because of his familiarity with the likes of Fagundez and Rowe, I don’t think the absences of Nguyen and Jones will affect him. Obviously, having both back on the pitch will benefit the Revs tremendously, but at this juncture, I don’t think their absences will inhibit Agudelo’s ability to make an impact up front.

Now that we’ve talked about areas of concern and transition, in thinking about the game itself, what’s the one thing the Sounders must absolutely do if they’re going to get max points from this match?

Shayna: If the Sounders want to see three points on the board come Monday morning, they’ll need to establish absolute control in defense and quick transitional play within the first fifteen minutes. It’s vital for the new back four to lock things down and inspire confidence right from the first touch of the ball and for the starting midfield to keep its shape and hold on to possession as much as possible, looking to feed the offense. Basically, they need to hit the ground running. Seattle has been guilty too often in the past of taking a bit of time to settle into early season matches, and while this is no outlying phenomena for MLS sides, it could be detrimental against a lively opposition attack like New England have in Agudelo, Fagundez, Rowe et al.

Moving forward in the match, the Sounders need to continue to hold their shape and avoid positional collapses if they want to maintain control over both possession and the rhythm of play, which is what they’ll need to do if they’re to win.
What will the Revs be looking to as key for success?

Brian: It won’t be easy to do without Jones and Nguyen, but I think the Revs absolutely have to be quick on the break. Their biggest strength last season was their ability to hit on the counter. The overall possession stat was utterly meaningless from their view, and the stats reflected that during their late-season streak of success. So capitalizing on turnovers will be the name of the game for them.

Another thing they’ll have to do is hit the Sounders with high pressure. Agudelo, Fagundez, Rowe and Teal Bunbury must stay faithful to their defensive duties. And if they don’t? Well, Heaps won’t be afraid to sub them off for someone who will, like a Charlie Davies, a Steven Neumann or an Andy Dorman.

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Lastly, I think it’d be fitting to end with a prediction. How do you think this game will shake out?

Shayna: These two sides are facing such similar challenges coming into the season that it’s shaping up to be an evenly-matched contest – it could be a nail-biter, that’s for sure. I’ll have to go with pure home-team optimism and say 2-1 win for the Sounders on the back of sharp play from Clint Dempsey, Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa. I just don’t have it in me to predict a hard-fought draw to start a season.

Brian: Hahaha! A hard-fought draw is exactly what I think we’ll see! I think it’ll be two teams looking to establish some form of dominance without having the players they’ve relied on to do that at their disposal. I think it ends 1-1, with both goals coming in the second half.

Leave a Reply