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Posted Mar 1, 2012, 6:52 am
The New England Revolution secured a spot in the Desert Diamond Cup final with a win against Real Salt Lake at Kino Veterans Stadium on Wednesday night, with 6,212 soccer fans watching the Revs notch their third win in the preseason tournament, 2-1.
It didn't take long for the Revolution to get their first goal. Diego Fagundez, who just celebrated his 17th birthday last week, scored off of a pass from fellow forward Zach Schilawski.
Real Salt Lake responded only a few minutes later when Nico Muñiz rocketed a ball from inside the penalty area past Revs keeper Bobby Shuttleworth.
Fagundez made another shot in the second half that beat RSL's keeper, but it hit the crossbar. The Revolution's Björn Runström, brought in at the halftime to replace Schilawski, was there to collect the rebound and score the winning goal for the New Englanders.
Real Salt Lake brought in a platoon of their starters, including U.S. national teamer Kyle Beckerman, but despite some good chances on goal, were unable to even the score.
The game ends the round-robin portion of the tournament. New England will play in the final scheduled for Saturday at 8 pm. Real Salt Lake will play in the consolation game at 6 p.m. Both games will be at Kino Veterans Memorial Stadium.
New England coach Jay Heaps chose to rest many of his starters for this game, which gave him a good look at some players who recently joined the team in camp.
"It's identification time," he said. "We're trying to fill out the roster. We're trying to make the team better one through 28," he said.
Although New England's season starts next Saturday, Heaps is still testing new players. Two of them, former D.C. United midfielder Austin da Luz and Swedish forward Björn Runström, played the second half Wednesday night.
Da Luz made 14 appearances for D.C. United last year after being traded by the Red Bulls in July, but this was his first time playing a match with the Revolution.
"That was his first action with the team, and I like what I saw," said Heaps.
Runström arrived last week and saw minutes in three Desert Diamond Cup matches, but will be returning to Sweden while the team considers its options.
"He leaves tomorrow. I think we got a nice, good, long look at him, a good guy in the locker room, played excellent tonight," said Heaps.
"When you're talking about international signings, you have to look deeper. You only have eight," Heaps said referring to league limits on non-U.S. based players. "At the end of this week, we are going to really start making those decisions and he will certainly part of that conversation."
As for who will be playing in the final, Heaps is looking at already getting the starters ready for a regular season schedule.
"We're trying to get everyone on a Saturday-Saturday schedule," he said. "We're preparing most of our starters as if it's a regular season game on Saturday."
This sort of preparation is a small part of his strength and conditioning program. A criticism of the team last year was that the they couldn't "close out" games, sometimes because players just seemed to run out of gas. One of Heaps' first moves was to bring in a strength and conditioning coach and put a bigger emphasis on that aspect of the game.
"You never know what it will look like in July, but in terms of where we are today it's where we want to be," he said.
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An honorary Cactus Prick
After the game, midfielder Kyle Beckerman admitted that conceding the early goal was a problem for the team.
"We tried to make them play a little too much and we ended up down a goal," he said after the match. "But good training, good game. It's coming along"
The U.S. national teamer had some high words of praise for fellow midfielder Sebastian Velasquez. Velasquez was picked up by the team in this year's SuperDraft, and played all 90 minutes against New England.
"He's got that lefty, whatever it is, I can't pinpoint it. (Lionel]) Messi has it, Arjen Robben has it, (RSL's]) Fabián (Espíndola) has it. They are able to skin players. He's coming along. He's got a lot of talent."
Beckerman made a trip to the Desert Museum and says he's "had a blast in Tucson." He also ended up with a local prize: a scarf for FC Tucson supporters' club Cactus Pricks, which he was spotted wearing after Wednesday's game with Los Angeles.
"I'm an honorary Prick, and those guys are honorary Real Salt Lake fans," he declared. "It's a good partnership."
"This tournament is unique because of the fan experience," he said. "Being at a small stadium, and it's a little bit lax because it's preseason. "It's a real neat tournament and I hope it continues."