The calendar may not read “2013” yet, but for the Revolution, next year is already here.
Yes, there may be five games remaining on the schedule. But with the postseason a mourned fantasy, the coaching staff is undoubtedly peering into the future.
Decisions? There may be quite a few of them. For all the improvements the team may have made since last season, there’s still a collection of questions marks on this roster.
While pride may be at the forefront, the cold truth is that players’ jobs, more than anything else, are at stake between now and Oct. 27. And not just their jobs in Foxboro.
Look at the list of players shorn from the roster last winter. How many of them are on an MLS roster right now? The answer: zero. So the focus isn’t only staying with the organization. It’s about staying in the league. Period.
Anyway, on to the questions. We’ve got five of them, hot and ready for you below:
1. Is Jerry Bengtson among those fighting for a spot next year? At first glance, it may not seem like it. Eight games into his Revolution career, the Honduran has shown obvious skill and class. He’s comfortable on the ball, gets into good spots and has sharpened the attack more often than not. But it’s obvious the national team call-ups have taken a toll on the 25-year-old striker. Last week, he recorded only one of the team’s franchise-record 28 shots. One. OK, so it may have only one game. And, yeah, Saer Sene’s absence probably isn’t going to make Bengtson a more effective poacher. These are all factors that have definitely hindered is strike rate. At the same time, it wasn’t that long ago that the Revolution declined its option on a Designated Player who’d only scored two goals in his first eight games in New England.
2. Will Saturday mark the return of A.J. Soares? Last week, a healthy Soares was kept on the bench while Darrius Barnes manned the spot opposite Stephen McCarthy for the third straight game. It was not an unexpected move, of course. Barnes’ recent form helped deliver the defense to consecutive clean sheets, and very much deserved to stay in the starting XI last week. But after the backline’s performance in D.C., changes may be afoot – again. Although Soares has struggled with consistency this season, these last five games should be a used as a gauge on where certain players fit in next season. We know what Barnes is. But the picture is not as clear on Soares. In that vein, it may be time to hand the spot back to Soares with player evaluations underway.
3. What mistake do the Revolution have to avoid? Last week, the local XI barely finished celebrating Kelyn Rowe’s 29th minute goal before Chris Pontius ripped the advantage right out of their hands. So much for protecting a lead. And that’s exactly what the Revolution have to be better at. They cannot let their guard down, especially after they fire the opening salvo. And it’s easy to see why. Of the 29 games its played, 24 have been decided by a goal or less. There’s simply no room for error. Not this season, at least. Any team can grab a lead, but a mature team knows how to protect it. It won’t happen overnight, but there’s certainly time to start working on staying disciplined in the moments following a goal.
4. Is Juan Toja ready to make the starting XI? For a guy who hadn’t played a competitive game since February, Toja gave a pretty good impression of a player in midseason form. His passes were accurate, his confidence was there (even if we didn’t see it singing like in those cars.com commercials) and played a crucial role in the comeback that nearly took place at RFK Stadium. In other words, he was precisely what the Revolution have lacked since a certain Grenadian was traded last month. While it may be tempting to throw Toja right into the lineup on Saturday, Jay Heaps may want wait another week, especially with Ryan Guy slated to miss the Sept. 29 game in Philadelphia.
5. What has to improve in these final five games? One word: accuracy. Altogether now: ACCURACY. Thank you. Say what you will about the defense, the midfield, the inexplicable losses of form, or the set piece problems, the thing that’s haunted the Revolution this year is their shooting. The stat that tells the story? Here you go: the Revolution lead the league in shots on goal percentage (40%), but are ranked 15th in shooting percentage (9%). Unlucky? Perhaps. But luck – whether good or bad – doesn’t often extend itself over the bulk of an entire season. The cold truth is this: the Revolution need to start putting some balls through. They cannot continue to walk away with so many looks, and so little to show for it.