A long, long wait for Xavier Kouassi ended Wednesday when he started and played 17 minutes for New England in its Desert Diamond Cup opener against Houston.
Not since suffering a torn ACL in his right knee during his final game for SC Sion more than a year ago had he suited up for the Revs. He returned to training late in the 2016 season and his brief stint topped off a rigorous preseason schedule as he and the squad prepare for the season opener against Colorado March 4.
“He’s still, from a fitness standpoint, a little bit further away,” said head coach Jay Heaps, who last year had to revamp his plans without Kouassi in the defensive midfield slot. “But at the same time, I think it was a good stepping stone to get a game in, live action, prepare for a game and get in there and compete at the highest level.”
Kouassi, 27, and the Revs will play three more preseason games before they take on the Rapids. Kouassi was signed as a Designated Player and Heaps was counting on his presence to compensate somewhat for the loss of Jermaine Jones, who balked at a sharp cut in salary and eventually signed with Colorado.
Last year, the Revs acquired Gerson Koffie from Vancouver a few days after learning Kouassi would most likely miss the entire season. Heaps used Koffie in various central roles -- including as the base of a midfield diamond in a 4-4-2, and paired with Scott Caldwell in a 4-2-3-1 -- as the Revs labored to seventh-place finish. They conceded 54 goals, seven more than they did in 2016 and the biggest figure since they allowed 58 goals while finishing last in 2011. New England gave up 44 goals in 2014 when it last played in the MLS Cup final.
Koffie’s contract expired at the end of the season and he signed with Hammarby in Sweden. It’s clear the Revs are counting on Kouassi to help stabilize the middle and provide enough crisp passing to facilitate possession and set the attack in motion. “I think it was a good first test for him,” Heaps said to revolutionsoccer.net. “Now hopefully that continues to kind of spark even more minutes coming up.”
New England lost the game to Houston, 2-0. Erick ‘Cubo’ Torres and Alberth Elis scored for the Dynamo. Revs’ midfielder Zach Herivaux left the match in the 60th minute. He hobbled off after being felled by heavy challenge. New England gets a preview of its season opener Saturday when it plays Colorado.