By Kevin Koczwara
The New England Revolution could not have found a worst time to have an exhibition game against Portuguese side S.L. Benfica. Nevermind that the game has no bearing towards the outcome of the season, and that it is against one of the top clubs in Europe.
Let’s look at the timing of the game.
The Revolution have played two games a week in May, many of those were played shorthanded because of injuries and suspensions.
A midweek rest for their core players would’ve been nice, but they won’t get it because the injury list is still pretty long and they need to field a team against Benfica. The Revs have been forced to go into games with a short bench, not being able to dress the allotted 18 players the MLS allows per game. They only had 16 available players in a game against Columbus earlier this month because of injuries and suspensions, and then later that same week they brought along only 14 players to New York to face off against the Red Bulls in a U.S. Open Cup game (two of those 14 were goalkeepers).
The Revolution have had a bumpy month so far, not winning a single game and only getting one league point, but the match against Benfica will provide them another chance to feel out their squad, see their youngsters grow, and give three players a chance to make the open spot on the Revs roster.
The Revolution released injury plagued defender Maurice Castro earlier this month and are waiting to fill his spot on the roster. The Revs have called in left footed Serbian defender/midfielder Ivan Gvozdenovic, 2010 MLS SuperDraft selection Jason Griffiths and Haiti National Team forward Jean-Baptiste Fritzson to all tryout for Castro’s vacated slot on the roster. Each player will get a chance tomorrow night to impress manager Steve Nicol against one of the top side’s in Europe.
And the Revolution will need all the help they can get because they look to have another short bench despite the return of both Cory Gibbs and Kevin Alston.
Gibbs and Alston played last weekend in the 0-0 with the San Jose Earthquakes despite being listed on the injury report and missing the team’s previous game against the Red Bulls.
As for Benfica, they are scheduled for a short tour of North America after a fairly successful year in Europe. They won Portugal’s top-flight division crown for the 33rd time in the club’s history, and advanced to a respectable place in the UEFA Cup Tournament before being eliminated by Nicol’s former club, Liverpool. And because of their success this season the club is now amidst transfer rumors for their best players.
Promising young right back David Luiz is being touted by the top club’s in Europe as a prize asset this summer. The 24-year-old is being sought after by the likes of Real Madrid, Chelsea and Barcelona, as well as Manchester City’s deep pockets. Luiz is making the trip to Foxborough to play; he is on the roster, but his stay may not be very long as rumors are surfacing that City want a deal done as soon as possible.
Benfica’s other major emerging star, Angel di Maria, won’t be making the trip because he was called to national team by Diego Maradona for Argentina. Maria, who is preparing for the World Cup, will surely make Maradona’s 23-man final roster come June – a good sign for the weakened Revolution defense. The young winger is a force to be reckoned with and the comparisons to his compatriot, Lionel Messi have already begun. It is believed that Manchester United are sniffing in the waters around the Benfica winger, and have been for some time, as the potential long-term replacement for Cristiano Ronaldo, who left for Real Madrid last summer for a record transfer fee.
Despite this exhibition coming at a difficult time in the schedule for the Revolution, the game is a chance for the team to test their personnel and their guile against one of the world’s best. It is a chance for new players to get an opportunity to show what they’re made of, and maybe make the roster. But mostly, this game is about giving the fans something new, a different look rather than a league opponent. This is a chance for fans of soccer to see their local team face off against a world power at a time when even the simplest play could bring a ray of hope for supporters.
Let’s hope it doesn’t disappoint.
Kevin Koczwara is a contributing writer and editor for The Soccer Guys. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.