The Houston Dynamo and New England Revolution finished the 2013 MLS season with identical records and both made it to the playoffs.
Though it’ll be a new season when they meet Saturday night in Houston, neither team seems likely to experience much of a drop-off in 2014.
For New England, the season begins with four road dates in five matches, and opposing crowds are likely to remember Diego Fagundez. Then 18, the midfielder became the highest-scoring teenager in league history with 13 goals in 33 games last year. Five of those came on the road, the first of which came in a 2-0 win at Houston on May 18.
That match helped set the tone for a successful away presence, where the Revolution went 6-6-5, the second best road record in the league behind MLS Cup champions Sporting Kansas City.
"This first game especially, it’s going to be like the first day of school – it’s going to be crazy, it’s going to be exciting, everyone’s going to be 100 percent and obviously it’s a game against Houston, so it’s going to be physical," center midfielder Kelyn Rowe told the team’s official website.
The main change for the Revolution is likely to come in front of Rowe and Fagundez, where forward Teal Bunbury is expected to take over for the departed Juan Agudelo. While Agudelo made just 13 starts in his partial season with New England, he scored seven goals.
Coach Jay Heaps said the two have different strengths, but he sees Bunbury fitting in in similarly short order.
"He fits well with what we’re trying to do," Heaps said. "Away from scoring two goals in preseason – two great goals – for me, it was what he did for us tactically. It was what he did for our midfield and how he pressured, where he pressured and how he helped as an outlet ball for our attacking midfielders."
While New England’s 14-11-9 record earned the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference before its season ended in the conference semifinals, Houston, the fourth seed, reached the conference finals for a third straight year. Captain Brad Davis doesn’t see that changing this year.
"I without a doubt think we have a stronger squad this year," Davis told the team’s official website. "The core group of our guys is obviously coming back and the younger guys that got a lot of minutes for the first time last year really had a chance to grow."
Top scorer Will Bruin seemed to do the opposite in 2013 with 10 goals after breaking out in 2012 with 16.
"It wasn’t my best year and I think we all know that," Bruin said. "… I’m going to have to try and be the catalyst in the attack and bring plays and be more of a playmaker up front."
Houston starting center back Jermaine Taylor will be back from a foot injury that sidelined him for the 2013 playoffs, but there’s also some bad news for the Dynamo’s back line – and on the injury front.
Bobby Boswell, who anchored the Houston defense with 37 starts, is now with D.C. United. And Taylor’s fellow center back Eric Brunner, who made 14 starts a season ago, is fighting an ankle injury, while midfielder Warren Creavalle’s offseason knee surgeries have his status in question after he started 22 matches in 2013.
The Dynamo earned four points in two trips to New England last season after their home loss in May.