Perhaps no team in the MLS has a bigger gap between its best- and worst-case scenarios this season than the Revolution.
New England has some of the best young talent in the league, the MLS Defender of the Year and several intriguing new additions. But the 2014 Revs need to replace their most creative option up front and one of the best goalkeepers in MLS history in the back.
Will the team’s youth movement build off of a third-place finish last season, or will they regress towards the 2012 squad that finished ninth? There are plenty of questions about the Revs. How quickly and in what fashion they are resolved will be the key to duplicating their first playoff appearance since 2009.
What’s the best way to sort through the team’s outlook? How about a good old-fashioned, position-by-position breakdown!
A large part of the Revs’ success last season was due to the play of the since-departed Juan Agudelo. The striker was not just a great scorer, but his creativity and ability to hold the ball gave the likes of Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe the time and space to make runs. The Revs are excited about Teal Bunbury, and his linkup play was excellent in the preseason, but he’s more of a typical #9 than Agudelo. How Bunbury meshes with Fagundez and co. will play a major role in the Revs’ outlook.
Most of the league’s attention will be centered on Fagundez, and rightly so. The diminutive forward scored 13 goals last season, the most ever by a teenager. Fagundez looks ready to be a superstar, but that’s a lot of pressure to put on the shoulders of somebody who turned 19 last month.
In the middle
Rowe has been a popular pick to be the team’s MVP this season, and with good reason. The 3rd-overall pick last season had a breakout season in 2013, finishing second on the team in goals (7) and first in assists (8). Rowe will be joined in the middle by the consistent Lee Nguyen. Newcomer Daigo Kobayashi figures to earn some playing time in the middle as well after making 30 appearances for Vancouver last season. Rookie Steve Neumann, the No. 4 pick in the 2014 draft, will likely apprentice behind a very deep line for the year.
Heaps has plenty of wing options at his disposal. Saer Sene, rookie Patrick Mullins and Charlie Davies, when healthy, all figure to see some looks opposite Fagundez. Bunbury or Dimitry Imbongo may get a look out wide as well.
Scott Caldwell appears to have won his job back in the holding midfield role… for now. Caldwell started for most of last season, but lost his job down the stretch to Andy Dorman.
The Revs have plenty of options in midfield, and Heaps has said that the 4-1-4-1 formation may change as the year goes on.
In the back
The Revs have their back four returning, and with Kevin Alston back in the mix, Heaps has spent the preseason experimenting with Andrew Farrell at center back and defensive midfield. With O’Brian Woodbrine playing significant minutes in the preseason, the Revs have plenty of options at the back.
The most noise coming from the team’s camp this offseason had to do with Jose Goncalves. The reigning defender of the year has been vocal about his unhappiness with his contract. The team needs its defensive rock to shield the new man in goal.
Who will be in net?
With Matt Reis retired, the competition comes down to Bobby Shuttleworth and the newly-acquired Brad Knighton. Both have shown flashes of #1 talent, but neither has put it together over a full season. Knighton’s looked better in the preseason, but Shuttleworth has more experience in Heaps’ system. This battle doesn’t look close to being resolved, no matter who starts on Saturday.
Amidst a strong Eastern Conference, this Revs team is a tough one to pin down. If Fagundez and Rowe make another leap, Bunbury fits in nicely, and one of the keepers step up, New England could be the team to beat in the playoffs. If a young squad struggles and the Goncalves contract dispute stretches through the summer, this could be a long year for the Revs.
In all likelihood, the answer will fall somewhere in between. Either way, this Revs team is shaping up to be one of their most entertaining in recent years. And the fun begins tomorrow night in Houston.