MLS First Kick: A closer look at the New England Revolution

A very fuzzy Ryan Cochrane looks on as Khari Stephenson gets work done against the New England Revolution the last time they visited Buck Shaw Stadium.

One of the more enjoyable activities associated with covering the San Jose Earthquakes is the interactions I have with fans and media members in the other MLS markets. In terms of tonight's home opener against Eastern Conference foe New England Revolution, my Gillette Stadium counterparts are few but far from silent. Just last night I spent a fun filled happy hour (and beyond!) with Revs beat writer extraordinaire Kyle McCarthy talking the latest behind-the-scenes MLS news and views, as well as a healthy sprinkling of football, college basketball, and even hockey. The Guinness was smooth and the sliders were meaty -- and both were a great complement to a fantastic conversation.

Meanwhile back in the land of clam chowder and baked beans, The Bent Musket's own Steven Stoehr provided his own brand of expert commentary via the wonders of the internet. Given that Steven couldn't (or maybe wouldn't) make the journey to the Bay Area for tonight's MLS First Kick season opener, we exchanged talking points over email and produced what must be the most comprehensive look into the opponents' teams that has been seen around these SB Nation parts so far this season.

For the complete look at what I had to say to Steven, check out the first half of our conversation over at The Bent Musket. And when you are done with that, come on back to QRG to see what Steven had to say about the Revolution. Two teams looking to start the 2012 season right -- two teams that arguably could be on the outside looking in come the MLS Cup playoffs. But before a ball is kicked, we'll both take the blue pill of optimism and believe that anything is possible for our local teams.

(Part two of the conversation after the break.)

1) Other than Shalrie Joseph and Benny Feilhaber, who should Earthquakes fans keep their eyes on as potential impact players for the Revolution?

With so many new faces all over the field, it’s difficult to nail down anyone the Quakes should watch out for. John Lozano will provide a new anchor for the defense, Clyde Simms may be manning the middle of the pitch, there’s a possibility Tyler Polak will get the nod in place of the suspended Chris Tierney at left back, and it’s anybody’s guess as to who is going to lead the line at striker tomorrow.

One player who definitely stands out – and should definitely be on the field – is Kelyn Rowe. The rookie out of UCLA was the Revs’ leading scorer in preseason with four goals and four assists in seven matches, including an outstanding two-goal performance against New York in the Desert Diamond Cup. Rowe has taken to professional soccer like a fish to water thus far, and in new coach Jay Heaps’ system he appears to be flourishing. While San Jose’s best are keying on Feilhaber and Joseph, Rowe could very easily cut the squad to ribbons and win the match all by himself.

2) Jay Heaps will need time to mature into a head coach both in terms of his role with his players and in executing a strategy against opposing teams. Are expectations in New England tempered by having a new coach, or has the opposite occurred and a rampant optimism for the 2012 season has permeated the Gillette Stadium faithful?

Expectations in New England are at record lows regardless of the coaching situation. As phenomenal and successful a coach Steve Nicol was, there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind that it was time for both parties to find a change of scenery. If anything, Heaps has been a breath of fresh air. He is committed to changing the style of play, has successfully lobbied for the Revs to have their own (read: not shared with the Patriots) fitness center and video analysis rooms, and really doesn’t look overwhelmed at all. So, to answer the question, expectations are tempered this season, but not by any fault of Jay Heaps.

3) What, if anything, has the team done to mitigate the significant disadvantages that exist for team's traveling such long distances for away matches. Have the Revolution made any changes to the way they prepare for games to account for the trip to San Jose?

Jay Heaps has changed the way the team prepares for every game, both physically and mentally. His conditioning approach is far different from that of his predecessor, and he made a commitment to making sure that the team is better prepared for their opponents this season than they were last season, where the attitude seemed to be that the Revolution would do what they do without any regard for what the other team is doing.

As far as mitigating distance is concerned, Heaps actually had the team fly out a day early to give them a chance to beat jet lag, get acclimated to their surroundings, get in some extra practice time on the left coast and hopefully avoid the many pitfalls that cross-country travel can present to an MLS team. There’s no evidence yet that Heaps’ new methods will make any difference, but they’re certainly a significant change from what’s been done in the past, and sometimes change is good.

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