1.) How big of a blow was losing Revolution captain Jermaine Jones - especially in the manner that he left?
I was among the few that wanted the Revs to resign Jones since their playoff loss at DC ended their 2015 campaign. The real issue, and the reason why Jones never signed anywhere until he was traded to the Rapids, is how big of a loss is a player who might miss half the year with suspension and international duty? Personally, I still think Jones will be missed off the field, where he was the marketing face of the team and on the practice field where his presence made the Revs just a better team.
But despite the offseason saga, the Revs biggest chance to soften the blow of losing Jones will come next draft, where they hold Colorado's first round pick. If that ends up being a top five or top three pick, there's a very good chance New England will win that trade. The team went out and signed Xavier Kouassi to a pre-contract as a DP though he suffered an ACL injury while finishing his club season with FC Sion in Switzerland. Smaller trades for Gershon Koffie and Je-Vaughn Watson have helped stabilize the Revs defense as those two have stood out in the Revs two draws so far this season. The Revolution will miss Jermaine Jones but by the end of the season, he'll be an afterthought if the Revs make another playoff run.
2.) The Revolution were a club that had hit the skids around 2011-12, but have since rebounded to be one of the best in the East. What spurred that turnaround and what is being done to sustain it?
As far as I'm concerned, there isn't a team in MLS that uses league mechanisms to acquire players better than the Revs. In particular, New England has been a force in the MLS draft, with first round picks Kelyn Rowe, Andrew Farrell, Steve Neumann and Patrick Mullins (now with NYCFC), and Jordan McCrary all taken since Jay Heaps and the current front office started their rebuild process. The Revs also acquired Teal Bunbury from Sportin Kansas City in 2014 for the Revs first round pick in 2015 as well as other trades for players like Juan Agudelo, Daigo Kobayashi and Brad Knighton.
Perhaps the biggest coup of all was getting Lee Nguyen off waivers from Vancouver in 2012. Yes. the Jermaine Jones blind draw was a thing, but Nguyen was immediately put into the starting lineup and has been a mainstay in the attacking midfield role ever since. New England has built a solid core of young players through the draft and other MLS moves, and if you include homegrown players Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell, that core should be around for the next few years. The Revs should be able to sustain their place as a playoff team in the East, but like 2014 with Jones, the question is are they prepared to make the move(s) that get them over the top and to that elusive MLS Cup.
3.) How does the I-95 Cup gain legitimacy to become the Cascadia Cup of the east?
First, we need those New York jerks to even acknowledge the thing exists and is absolutely a real thing because as far as I'm concerned the blame lies somewhere near the Hudson River. You could start by adding the Revs to the Union's "Rivalry" page on Wikipedia, since the rest of the I-95 Cup is already there.
Sadly, I think the I-95 Cup will not gain legitimacy until their is a "Northeast" or "Metropolitan" Division when MLS has expanded to 30 teams and breaks everyone up into six 5-team divisions. Then the I-95 Cup basically becomes the divisional title, and it might even have a proper name and a physical trophy for the winner to hoist up in celebration. That day seems very far off, but at the rate MLS is expanding, you never know.
Projected lineup: Bobby Shuttleworth; Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves, Andrew Farrell, Je-Vaughn Watson; Gershon Koffie, Scott Caldwell; Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, Teal Bunbury; Juan Agudelo
Charlie Davies is likely going to miss this game with an injury, and the Revs don't have a lot of options that don't already play. Teal Bunbury had a great game as a lone striker in preseason, and finished the 0-0 draw with DC up top, but honestly he's better for the Revs when he's out wide. Juan Agudelo gets the nod up top for me but aside from those two the Revs lack any other true strikers. Rookie Michael Gamble could be an option off the bench but he hasn't been named to the game day squad in either of the first two Revs matches.
FINAL SCORE: 1-1 Draw
I'd like to think the Revs should win this game, but there's been something about the first two games where the Revs just haven't clicked for 90 minutes. They've played well in both games, but defensive lapses in Houston and a compact DC United team have kept the scores even. I think Andre Blake (of UConn fame) cements his status as the next great Revs killer in net with another outstanding performance.