New England Soccer Today

Fall Failure Follows Summer Silence

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

It was a given that the Revolution needed to get better during the offseason if they were going to make another run at an MLS Cup title. But it didn’t take long for them to realize that task would be easier said than done.

Days after their 2-1 defeat to the LA Galaxy in the 2014 Cup final, the club lost promising striker Patrick Mullins in the expansion draft. A week later, starting center back A.J. Soares bolted for Europe, initially intent to sign with Serie A side Verona before eventually landing in Norway with Viking.

While the loss of Mullins didn’t make things any easier for the defending conference champions, it appeared that that replacing Soares was priority no. 1 going into the 2015 season.

“We’ve also really opened up an active search for center backs that can also come in and help us,” head coach Jay Heaps said back in January upon learning of Soares expected departure.

Ten months later, that search remains ongoing.

The offseason departures were hardly unusual. Every winter, there’s a revolving door of bench and depth players coming and going thanks to the salary cap and the single-entity structure of MLS. This is especially true during an expansion year, and for the Revolution to only lose one starter from the squad they fielded for the MLS Cup Final was a minor miracle in itself.

But the loss of Soares – and the club’s failure to adequately address it – had a lasting ripple effect on the Revolution this year.

A Quiet Winter

While Soares’ sudden departure was one of the biggest storylines of the winter, the Revolution remained intent to shore up their roster in other areas.

They added a depth piece in versatile veteran Jeremy Hall, then made a sweeping move to bring back striker Juan Agudelo at the end of January. But after that, it was mostly silence.

Additions of inexperienced players such as Sean Okoli, London Woodberry, Tyler Rudy, Timi Mulgrew and Trevor Spangenberg looked like projects for the future, or at best, depth pieces. But none of these additions were the kind of pieces needed to put the Revolution over the edge to win now. To his credit, Woodberry exceeded expectations by holding down the right back spot for part of the season, but the rest failed to make a measurable impact on the squad’s fortunes.

Further, the team had previously traded away their first, second, and fourth round SuperDraft Picks. Third round pick Marc Fenelus was never signed. In sum, the Revolution’s use of the draft to get a contributor or two didn’t even produce a Rochester loanee in 2015.

Outside of an untested Woodberry, the Revolution’s offseason moves failed to net a single center back. In addition to losing Soares, the team let backup center back Stephen McCarthy leave. The loss of the veteran duo left the Revolution with two only players who had seen significant MLS minutes at the position: Jose Goncalves and Darrius Barnes, who most recently saw the majority of his time at fullback. It was clear the Revolution had depth issues heading into the season.

Limited Options

With Soares gone, Heaps opted to move starting right back Andrew Farrell to center back. It was a move that weakened the team at right back, but it proved necessary given the lack of options and the team’s inability to replace Soares with a new signing.

After some early struggles, Farrell and Goncalves formed a solid partnership in the center. The club went on a nine-game unbeaten run from March into May, the longest such run in the league this season.

Still, there were signs that trouble was lurking around the corner. Injuries and suspension forced midfielder Jermaine Jones into emergency duty at center back, taking him out of a role where wielded the most influence. In April, Barnes, who performed well at center back when called upon, went down with a long-term injury.

It was clear the Revolution were paper thin at center back, and yet, with the season stretching into the summer months, the team still hadn’t adequately addressed the issue.

Meanwhile, with Farrell now in the middle, the Revolution lost a significant measure of stability at right back. Woodberry, Hall and Kevin Alston all saw time on the right, though none of them were able to find the consistency needed to hold the spot for long. It was clear the defense was weaker than in 2015.

The bottom fell out in June when the Revolution went on a five-game losing streak in the midst of some extremely poor play. For some, it was easy to write off as just another summer slump, similar to the ones seen in 2012 and 2014.

What it should’ve been was a clear indicator the team was in dire need of help.

Falling Behind

With the homestretch approaching, a number of teams in the conference restocked and reloaded for a playoff run. Surprisingly, the Revolution were not one of those teams.

Meanwhile, many other postseason contenders made significant improvements. Columbus added Harrison Afful, a Ghanaian Internationl who has locked down the right back spot for the Crew, in addition to depth up top in Jack McInerney and at center back in Gastón Sauro. D.C. added Alvaro Saborio to reunite with his old strike partner Fabian Espindola at striker.

Montreal made the biggest splash by landing Didier Drogba, but they also added Costa Rican International midfielder Johan Venegas as well as Canadian International midfielder Kyle Bekker. The Red Bulls added a former English International in Shaun Wright-Phillips and a new designated player in Argentine winger Gonzalo Verón. Orlando City found several players who have stepped into starting roles, including defenders Corey Ashe and David Mateos and midfielders Adrian Winter and Servando Carrasco. Toronto added a former French Ligue 1 defender in Ahmed Kantari and found another starting defender in Josh Williams, in addition to adding former U.S. National Team striker Herculez Gomez.

Even those with slim hopes of playoffs made waves. New York City FC added superstars Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard, as well as a trio of defenders in Angelino, Andoni Iraola and Jefferson Mena. Chicago improved with designated player striker Gilberto, as well as and defenders Ty Harden and Daneil Cyrus. Philadelphia acquired Swiss international Tranquillo Barnetta, and added some defensive depth in Warren Creavalle.

While New England remained quiet on the transfer front, the team did show signs of a revival in August. In fact, the team went on a 2015 MLS best six-game winning streak without the help of a summer signing.

Stumbling down the stretch

But while that run temporarily quieted the questions of the Revolution’s failure to address their weaknesses, as fall came, so too did a turn in the Revolution’s fortunes.

In mid-September, the Revolution were sitting atop the East with five games left. Their remaining schedule seemed to point to more success, as they were pitted against four conference foes with losing records. It looked like a cakewalk to the postseason, and a likely first-round bye.

Instead, the Revolution found the going much rougher than expected. The competition, some with little more than pride to play for, relied on their new additions to take costly points from New England.

First it was a trip to Canada against a Montreal side desperate to make a playoff push. The Impact proceeded to shred the Revolution defense thanks to goals from summer signings Drogba and Venegas, and handed the locals a lopsided 3-0 loss.

The following week, the Revolution faced a hapless Philadelphia Union side at Gillette Stadium, where a victory could’ve sealed the Revolution’s playoff hopes. The Union had little to play for, and with a midweek U.S. Open Cup Final on tap, coach Jim Curtain fielded a reserve-heavy XI. Still, the record will show that Creavalle, one of the team’s summertime arrivals, assisted Philadelphia’s equalizing goal, and played a significant role in disrupting the Revolution attack from his defensive midfielder’s spot as the visitors escaped with a 1-1 draw.

From there, it was off to face a Chicago Fire team in the midst of a dreadful season. It was another opportunity for New England to clinch its postseason spot. Chicago’s new summer acquisition Gilberto sliced and diced through the Revolution defense, registering a goal and hitting the post twice, while fellow midseason signing Daneil Cyrus silenced the Revolution attack from his central defense spot. The result: Chicago crushed New England 3-1.

Most recently, it was Montreal again, this time in Foxborough. Though Drogba and Venegas didn’t find the back of the net this time around, they undoubtedly played important roles as the Impact won 1-0. The Impact win not only kept New England from getting the solitary point needed to clinch its playoff spot, but it also allowed them to leapfrog the hosts on the table.

Without a new signing at his disposal, Heaps has rotated around a few spots to try to find a spark, but with no help arriving in the summer his options have been limited. For a team that’s often relied on depth and competition for spots to keep players at their best, there is a distinct lack of both at a key positions this season, most notably at center back, where, when fit, one could put Farrell’s and Goncalves’ names down in permanent marker, regardless of form.

Now it’s off to New York City, where, if the script is anything like the one seen for the Revolution recent weeks, the likes of midseason additions Pirlo, Lampard, Angelino, Iraola and Mena will all play a huge role in the latest chapter of the locals’ current swoon.

Even with a loss, New England’s headed to the playoffs barring an epically-lopsided loss to New York City and a blowout win by Orlando. But it’s already abundantly clear the rest of the East used transfer window to catch up to and, in many cases, surpass the defending conference champions, which conversely, decided to stand pat.

Last season, New England proved themselves a strong contender for championship glory. This season, they failed to build upon that form, and as a result, effectively permitted their rivals to pass them by.


Leave a Reply