New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: #NEvLA

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Footballers are not machines. Like the rest of us, they eat, sleep, breathe and worry about the future. They are also keenly aware of what’s happened to them in the past, especially when it comes to moments of disappointment.

Earlier in the week, Jay Heaps told the media that his team wouldn’t be talking about last year’s MLS Cup final ahead of Sunday’s rematch against the LA Galaxy. Not one word. We’re going to hashtag that one #coachspeak. Because let’s be honest here: pro athletes do no forget past setbacks. And many do not want to forget, either.

The reason why many players hold on to painful memories comes down to one simple idea: motivation. A player who’s been denied of the ultimate prize, especially when it’s within reach, thinks about that moment. He uses that moment to fuel him. And when he is pitted against the party responsible for that moment, well, that moment only becomes more vivid. It’s human nature.

Granted, there won’t be a trophy presentation after Sunday’s rematch. The stakes for this one aren’t nearly as high as they were last December. But rest assured, this is not just another regular season game. This a chance to ease some of the pain felt at the end of last year’s final. An opportunity lift their heads up a little higher.

The Revolution won’t have their minds set to Dec. 7, 2014 when they walk out on the Gillette Stadium pitch. But you can bet they won’t be lacking for motivation when the opening whistle chirps.

With Sunday’s nationally-televised affair about to go down for real, let’s talk about the questions surrounding it.

1. Can Kelyn Rowe fill Lee Nguyen’s boots? Heaps is certainly hoping so. With last year’s MVP candidate banned for Sunday, Rowe will likely be called to serve as Nguyen’s replacement. Whether he can bring the same dynamic to the attack remains to be seen. Rowe’s struggled with consistency all year, and has looked flat off the bench in recent weeks. In order to find better form, the fact of the matter is that he’ll have to count on others to drag away defenders to give him space. Unlike Nguyen, who regularly takes on clusters of defenders, Rowe needs room to operate to do his best work.  That means Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies will both have to be at their best to grab LA’s attention. If they can, the rest is up to Rowe, who’ll need to do well with the opportunity afforded to him if he wants his starting spot back.

2. What must Kevin Alston do to avoid a repeat of his performance at Sporting Park? Let’s get one thing straight: Kevin Alston is not a bad defender. He’s fast, his defensive instincts are sound, and on his best day, he enhances the attack. In many respects, what we saw when we last saw him in the lineup (at Kansas City) was the exact opposite of the player we just described. Clearly, he’ll need to be better on Sunday, especially with Stefan Ishizaki manning the right midfielder’s spot. In order to contain the dangerous winger, Alston, above all else, must remain committed to his defensive duties. The Revoltuion will still get width from London Woodberry and Teal Bunbury out on the opposite flank, so Alston doesn’t need to be a hero on Sunday. All he has to do is be the same player who helped a nine-man Revolution pocket a point against DC last week.

3. What will the Revolution need from Jermaine Jones? The short answer is pretty much everything we saw from him during the final 32 minutes against DC. Without Nguyen and Tierney for a full 90, the veteran midfielder is going to have to go above and beyond again for the second straight week. He’ll need to be a presence all over the park, especially defensively, where the Revolution will have their hands full with Keane and Alan Gordon. They’ll also need him to get forward in order to pierce an LA defense that enters Sunday’s game brimming with confidence following back-to-back shutouts. Last week, we saw Jones essentially carry the torch for his teammates en route to an unlikely result. This week, he’ll need to do the same in the hopes of grabbing maximum points.

4. Who else besides Rowe could we expect to see on set pieces? This could get awkward. With Tierney and Nguyen – two of the team’s primary set piece takers banned – the Revolution don’t have anyone comparable to their talents to take over on dead ball duties. Nevertheless, the locals will soldier on with Rowe likely to take the bulk of the corners and free kicks. But he won’t be the only one who’ll get a crack at those attacking set pieces. Last week, we saw Scott Caldwell take a corner kick late, so he appears to be game for more opportunities. In the latter stages, we could see Daigo Kobayashi and Diego Fagundez all get chances as well. It’ll be impossible to replicate the precision of Tierney’s left foot, of course. But all it takes is one good hit to change a game.

5. Can the Revolution contain Keane? You can bet on one thing – they’re going to do their best to do so, that’s for sure. On Wednesday, Davies dropped a hint that a key point of the gameplan will is keeping Keane at bay. This, of course, is a wise decision, especially when you consider how quickly – and easily – he can change a game. To that end, the communication and understanding in the rear must be virtually telepathic. The entire back four, plus Caldwell and Jones, won’t have to keep their eyes on Keane the entire time, to be sure. However, they must stay committed to their assignments, especially when tracking back. Additionally, Bobby Shuttleworth must do his part to keep his defenders on the same page.  In short, nothing short of a sensational performance will do the trick against Keane, a player who’s made MLS backlines pay for even the slightest of lapses.

What other questions surround the Revs heading into Sunday’s clash? Tell us in the comments section!

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