[MLS] The revamp of the Revs takes another step Wednesday when they play Columbus at the Atlanta Pro Soccer Challenge in Kennesaw, Ga., a few days after beating the Crew, 2-1, in Chattanooga, Tenn. Coach Steve Nicol has yet to see one of his new French players, defender Ousmane Dabo, in a preseason game, but his latest addition, Nigerian teenager Michael Augustine, played the second half Saturday shortly after arriving in the U.S. Another recent acquisition, Argentine centerback Franco Coria, played the first half.
New England has played only four matches to date and just two of those have been against MLS opposition. (The Revs beat FC Dallas, 1-0, two weeks ago.) A tighter defense is one of Nicol’s preseason priorities after a league-worst 50 goals conceded last year and the first postseason miss since he took over in 2002.
“I think we all knew going into this year, having given up the most goals last year, that we were going to try to eradicate that,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis in a conference call Monday. “So, I think that’s been on everybody’s mind. I think that as a group we’ve all made an effort to make defending our top priority, and I think it’s clearly shown.”
Nicol changed his 11 players at halftime on Saturday, but says he’ll give the starters more time in the rematch Wednesday. Asked to give his impressions of the victory secured with goals from Sainey Nyassi and Zach Schilawski, Nicol said, “The game yesterday was really good in patches, and not quite as good in patches. Both [Revs] teams played 45 [minutes]. Both were pretty similar in the fact that they both did good things, but they both did some basic things at the wrong time. But, again, that’s part of preseason. You just try to work together to get to a complete 90 minutes.
“We have to keep on working on the basics so that we are consistent all the time - getting up and edging up and just defending as a group. Columbus had a couple of guys with pace, so that’s something you’re always wary of as a defender. A couple times we had some one-on-ones with some of the quicker guys, and we dealt with it well. So, that bodes well for the season.”
Nicol is also testing midfielder Zach Boggs at right back and working rookie defender A.J. Soares, taken with the No. 6 overall pick in the SuperDraft last January, into his system of play. Soares played the first half last weekend. “Yeah, basically everything is up a level from the college game,” said the Cal product. “It’s faster, it’s better passing, faster mentally. I think I am doing fine with it. I’m still adjusting to it. I don’t think it’s a problem. I just try to get better every day and that’s all I can do.”
Kevin Alston suffered through a difficult second pro season in 2010 and missed the first Crew match with a strained hamstring. He and midfielder Shalrie Joseph were sent home from the team's camp in Florida for disciplinary reasons, but both players are with the team in Georgia. Alston is battling Boggs and others to keep the right-back spot, and Nicol is counting on the experience of Frenchmen Didier Domi (32) and Dabo (34) to eliminate many of the positional and mental errors that cost the Revs goals last year.
“They’re clearly good players,” said Nicol. “They’ve had good careers. And I think the good thing is that we’re getting them before their time is up. You’re going to get quality from them and a high professionalism level, as well. So, it’s a great combination to have on your team.”