Questions to answer in MLS preseason camp: New England Revolution

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No one will begrudge Jay Heaps a learning curve. Being a first-year head coach is challenging enough – and doing so last year at rebuilding New England was always going to be a tough climb.

But it’s fair to ask for progress this year following a deflated 2012 campaign, one where playoff aspirations were drifting from view by August.

The attacking elements are all there. But Heaps, a former defender, and his staff have some ground to make up in that wobbly defense if they want to avoid missing the playoffs a fourth consecutive season.

Considering that this time last year Heaps (right, with Saer Sene) was running his first professional practices – Ever! – he’s presumably better equipped to answer the burning questions heading into preseason camp in 2013:

  • Where is the defensive leadership?

A lot of that depends on an important sub-set of that question: who is in goal?

Matt Reis remains the longtime incumbent, and he seemed to kick the game up a notch after a mid-season benching in 2012. On the other hand, Bobby Shuttleworth has always been a bright understudy, so the position may not be exactly “up for grabs,” but it’s no lead pipe lock for Reis, either.

Some of the Revs’ defensive frailty in 2012 could be pinned on lack of communication and leadership in the back. No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Farrell has the physical tools to be a central defensive force at Gillette Stadium, but is he ready mentally?

Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston (and perhaps even third-year man A.J. Soares) are getting to places in their careers where they can’t just be “players,” where they need to reliably be voices, instructors on the field.

Someone has to take command back there.

  • Where do all the fascinating midfield parts fit it?

Andy Dorman is back for his second Revolution “go round,” and there are lots of ways Heaps can use the midfield veteran, coming off a moderately productive five-year stay in Scotland and England.

What of Lee Nguyen, who was so effective after being claimed on the cheap 11 months ago from Vancouver that U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was deemed surplus at Gillette? (Yes, it was surely more complicated than that with Feilhaber, but same difference as it relates to Nguyen and the bigger personnel puzzle going into 2013.)

And then there’s lefty specialist Juan Toja, one of the truly intriguing figures in MLS going into this 18th season. We know the guy can play. The questions with Toja have always been along the lines of “Where’s his head at?”

Dorman and Nguyen are fairly versatile, willing and able to play centrally or out wide. Toja tends to drift inside, even when stationed ostensibly on the left, so perhaps a little less so on his end. With all that, there are talented, younger men to factor in, too.

Of course, it’s not all about attacking. Somebody’s got to screen and support that iffy back line – and Clyde Simms or Stephen McCarthy can’t do it all themselves.

  • What does the forward depth chart look like?

If you can’t find a quality forward around the Revs’ ongoing training camp in Casa Grande, Ariz., you aren’t looking very hard. It’s on Heaps and staff to make some order within the stack-up of striking ability.

Saer Sene is coming off knee surgery, but team officials say it’s “so far, so good” on his rehab. The club’s first double-digit goal scorer since Taylor Twellman (Sene had 11 last year) probably won’t be at top speed by the club’s March 9 opener, but he seems on pace to be there soon after.

He and Honduran international Jerry Bengtson, who had his moments after last year’s late-summer signing, seem like options Nos. 1 and 2.

But Diego Fagundez is a bright young prospect, and Dimitry Imbongo might be as well. Plus, the team’s first two draft picks, Donnie Smith and Luke Spencer, may have something to say about it.

And let’s not forget that Heaps could use Dorman, Nguyen or Toja somewhere along a front line, depending on the formation.

MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:

Up Next: New York Red Bulls

Saudi Arabia vs Mexico: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Mexico needs a win to have hope of reaching the World Cup knockout rounds, while Saudi Arabia’s hopes of the final 16 may require the same at Stadium 974 in Doha on Wednesday.

The Saudis stunned Argentina 2-1 In Lusail to open the tournament but could not repeat the feat against Poland at Education City in Al Rayyan on Saturday to leave themselves with three points through two matches.

STREAM LIVE SAUDI ARABIA vs MEXICO

Mexico remains without a win after their scoreless draw versus Poland led to a Lionel Messi-inspired loss to Argentina In Lusail.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Saudi Arabia vs Mexico.


How to watch Saudi Arabia vs Mexico live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday Nov. 30
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The Saudis have arguably been the most fun team at the tournament amongst non-powers, always running and getting exceptional goalkeeping. Salem Al-Dawsari was very good in both games but his missed penalty before halftime against Poland looms large of a match that could’ve been 1-1 going to the break and instead ended 2-0.

Mexico has not scored at the tournament so far, and Raul Jimenez has only been used as a super sub. Hirving Lozano and Alexis Vega combined for just three shot attempts before being subbed out of the Poland loss, while Lozano and Henry Martin combined for two versus Poland (Vega attempted five). They need better up top to keep up their streak of making Round of 16 appearances at the World Cup.


Saudi Arabia quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 51
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 5
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from AFC (Won Group B)
Coach: Herve Renard
Key players: Salem Al-Dawsari, Fahad Al-Muwallad, Mohammed Al-Owais

Mexico quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 13
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 16
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONCACAF (2nd place)
Coach: Gerardo ‘Tata’ Martino
Key players: Guillermo Ochoa, Hector Herrera, Raul Jimenez

Poland vs Argentina: How to watch live, stream link, team news

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Poland and Argentina surely didn’t plan to reach the marquee match of World Cup Group C with their knockout round status in doubt, but it’s been that kind of tournament in Qatar.

Poland remains unbeaten in Qatar after beating Saudi Arabia 2-0 in Al Rayyan, adding to the point it earned from a scoreless draw with Mexico In Doha to give it top billing in the group heading into Wednesday’s match.

STREAM LIVE POLAND vs ARGENTINA

Argentina, meanwhile, rebounded from a 2-1 tournament-opening loss to Saudi Arabia In Lusail to bear Mexico 2-0 behind a goal and an assist from Lionel Messi.

Saudi Arabia’s three points means it can still advance with a win over Mexico, who itself can add to its one point. So everyone’s alive in Group C.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Poland vs Argentina.


How to watch Poland vs Argentina live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Wednesday, Nov. 30
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha – 2pm
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

The storyline for every Argentina game this tournament from this point forward — and really since the lead-up to the Mexico match — is that any loss means the end of Lionel Messi’s World Cup career (at least according to the living legend). The Albiceleste would be thrilled to get something more out of Lautaro Martinez, while Paulo Dybala’s yet to make his tournament debut.

Robert Lewandowski finally has a World Cup goal on his resume, while Piotr Zielinski has been very good for Poland. Former Arsenal goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny was sensational in the win over Saudi Arabia.


Poland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 26
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs, Path B
Coach: Czeslaw Michniewicz
Key players: Robert Lewandowski, Wojciech Szczesny, Piotr Zielinski

Argentina quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 3
World Cup titles: 2 (1978, 1986)
World Cup appearances: 17
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (2nd place)
Coach: Lionel Scaloni
Key players: Lionel Messi, Angel de Maria, Lautaro Martinez

Portugal vs Uruguay: How to watch, live stream link, team news

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Portugal looks to seal its fate in the World Cup Round of 16 by piling pressure on Uruguay when two titans of the sport meet in Lusail on Monday.

Portugal outlasted Ghana 3-2 in Doha to open its tournament with a big win that featured a controversial penalty for Cristiano Ronaldo, while Uruguay staged a scoreless draw with South Korea.

STREAM LIVE PORTUGAL vs URUGUAY

It’s a group that never looked easy and is looking more and more like a “Group of Death” as the World Cup rolls through Qatar in its typically tense fashion this month and next.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Here is everything you need for Portugal vs Uruguay.


How to watch Portugal vs Uruguay live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 2pm ET, Monday Nov. 28
Stadium: Lusail Iconic Stadium, Lusail
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Everyone’s going to keep looking at Cristiano Ronaldo — it’s difficult not to turn your head with all the “Look at me” nonsense — but Bruno Fernandes is the real string-puller here. He’s playing well with Ruben Neves, while Ruben Dias and the back line will look to tighten things up after letting Ghana stay in the game.

Uruguay hero Luis Suarez has been here before, but his supporting cast is as good as ever. Rodrigo Betancur and Jose Maria Gimenez give La Celeste a chance at clean sheet every time they take the pitch.


Portugal quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 9
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 8
How they qualified: Qualified from UEFA via playoffs
Coach: Fernando Santos
Key players: Cristiano Ronaldo, Ruben Neves, Bruno Fernandes, Joao Cancelo

Uruguay quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 14
World Cup titles: 2 (1930, 1950)
World Cup appearances: 14
How they qualified: Qualified from CONMEBOL
Coach: Diego Alonso
Key players: Luis Suarez, Federico Valverde, Darwin Nunez, Rodrigo Betancur

Brazil vs Switzerland: How to watch, live stream link, team news

Brazil vs Switzerland live
Photo credit should read JEWEL SAMAD/AFP via Getty Images)
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Opening match winners Brazil and Switzerland meet Monday at Stadium 974 in Doha.

FIFA world No. 1 Brazil broke through pesky Serbia for a 2-0 win In Lusail to start the tournament as Richarlison scored two goals — one a ridiculous bit of technique — to get the Brazilians off on the right (and left) foot.

STREAM LIVE BRAZIL vs SWITZERLAND

Switzerland meanwhile used a 1-0 defeat of Cameroon to claim three points and set up Monday’s win-and-in match.

[ LIVE: World Cup 2022 schedule, how to watch, scores, hub ]

Can Neymar-less Brazil take the next step toward a sixth World Cup? Here is everything you need for Brazil vs Switzerland.


How to watch Brazil vs Switzerland live, stream link and start time

Kick off: 11am ET, Monday Nov. 28
Stadium: Stadium 974, Doha
TV channels en Español: Telemundo
Streaming en Español: Peacock (all 64 matches)


Key storylines, players to watch closely

Brazil will not have Neymar for this one and likely the rest of the group stage as the oft-fouled magician felt the sting of Serbian tackles in the opener. The Brazilians have had to play without their captain before and have a wealth of attacking options, but who will join Richarlison in providing the goals in a Ney-less attack.

The Swiss have all the tools to hang with Brazil, but how physical will they want to make it for the favorites? Granit Xhaka will be one to watch as the underdogs try to balance a desire to get forward with the danger of doing so against a potent Brazil.


Brazil quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 1
World Cup titles: 5 (1958, 1962, 1970, 1994, 2002)
World Cup appearances: 22
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from CONMEBOL (1st place)
Coach: Tite
Key players: Neymar, Thiago Silva, Casemiro, Alisson Becker

Switzerland quick facts

Current FIFA world ranking: 15
World Cup titles: 0
World Cup appearances: 12
How they qualified: Qualified automatically from UEFA (1st place)
Coach: Murat Yakin
Key players: Granit Xhaka, Xherdan Shaqiri, Yann Sommer, Remo Freuler