Team: New England Revolution
Head Coach: Jay Heaps
2011 Record: 5-16-13 28 Points, 9th in the East, 17th Overall
Hashtag: #Revs (despite what people in Cardiff claim)
As a team that at one point was at the pinnacle of MLS, the New England Revolution has recently – to put it mildly – hit a rough patch. Each of the last three seasons has seen the team perform dramatically worse and worse. So while last year’s expectations for New England were relatively modest, the team somehow managed to perform even more horribly than anticipated. Finishing just above Vancouver in the league table (saved from last place by goal differential), the Revs had their most abysmal season ever.
The season was marred by everything from Shalrie Joseph tweeting that it would be his last year with the club, a drop off in the already low attendance, and an impending sense of doom and gloom for fans. Add in the fact that many supporters feel like the team is the ignored, red-headed stepchild of Bob Kraft. They still play on turf in an American football monstrosity, and a kerfuffle even occurred where stadium security removed – and allegedly had arrested – supporters in the Fort last year. Last season more than qualified as a flaming car wreck for this once proud franchise.
Yet, despite just barely finishing about Vancouver in the overall table, New England’s recent house-cleaning (both on the roster, in the coaching ranks, and in the front office) does give a glimmer – albeit a very small glimmer – of hope for the 2012 season.
Coaching and Front Office: Perhaps more importantly than any other move for the Revolution, both Steve Nicol and Sunil Gulati are out. Gulati, seemingly always more of a figure-head than an actual employee, had been given a lot of blame for not pulling the trigger on signings. Nicol, who was the longest tenured MLS coach, had seen his tactics, preparation, and his player selections come under fire.
The New England FO has had somewhat of a shake up as well. Brian Bilello and Mike Burns, who were both working for the team during last year’s horrendous season, now take on new titles of President and General Manager, respectively. While there are some questions as to how much power Burns had in player selection under Gulati, and some queries about his ability to complete the job, Brian Bilello is a welcome promotion for supporters. Bilello has long been the friendliest face to supporters of the Revolution, so with his ascendancy to President, his apparently more open approach to the fans is appreciated. Meanwhile, former New England defender Jay Heaps was named head coach of the team, despite having never previously coached soccer – at any level.
Key Additions: Amongst several new additions brought in by Burns, the Colombian duo of John Lozano (a big central defender) and Fernando Cardenas (a quick passing winger/forward) should provide both a stoic defender to help develop A.J. Soares, as well as a creative attacker.
A third Colombian, Jose “Pepe” Moreno, who has seemed to waffle on whether or not he is actually joining the team, and Frenchman Saer Sene are currently the team’s best options at forward.
Clyde Simms, formerly of DC United, could provide New England with a destroyer allowing Shalrie Joseph (who re-signed as a Designated Player) to be a bit more involved in the attack. Then there is SuperDraft pick Kelyn Rowe out of UCLA. Rowe could immediately start on either wing or in central midfield, and could see a lot of minutes – so long as the team doesn’t mind him graduating Generation Adidas this season.
Key Losses: Nearly half the roster from 2011 is gone, but most importantly are the attacking trio of Mosef Zerka, Rajko Lekic, and the team’s first Designated Player Milton Caraglio.
Towards the end of the 2011 season, these three provided a huge bright-spot for New England. When all three of their contracts were not renewed, an enormous hole opened within the New England attack.
Projected Starters: Simply stated, the one player that absolutely is starting would be goalkeeper Matt Reis. Reis is a veteran that, despite the woes of last season, kept the Revs in a lot of games where they were clearly outplayed.
The left back is a wide-open battle between trialist Tom Cruise, formerly of the Arsenal youth academy, Chris Tierney, who is really more of a wide midfielder, and rookie Tyler Polak. Most likely it will be Tierney who ends up starting the season in that position. The center of defense will probably be John Lozano, and A.J. Soares. There is a possibility, however, that Steven McCarthy sees some time there as well. Right back will be Kevin Alston, who despite being injured so far this preseason is pretty much a sure-fire lock in the system that Jay Heaps intends to incorporate.
During the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, Heaps seems to be looking towards using a double-pivot midfield. So most likely it will be Simms and Joseph in the defensive midfield roles. From there Rowe and Feilhaber will be on either wing, most likely Feilhaber on the left and Rowe on the right. Probably Cardenas will sit as a CAM.
Until help is brought in, New England is filled with unproven or under-performing players up top. Due to this, Saer Sene will probably be the sole forward. However, it could be Moreno – once that whole situation is fully sorted out.
Player to Watch: There are several players to watch for New England based on the fact that there are so many new players. A.J. Soares is a player who will be looking to build on a relatively successful 2011 campaign. He and John Lozano are probably the cogs to shoring up one of the many weaknesses the Revolutions had last season.
Kelyn Rowe will probably be the most fun to watch. So far he has a goal or an assist in every game he’s played in the preseason for the Revs. But with Rowe expected to be with the Olympic U23 team, New England could potentially lose him for a long time during qualifying this March.
Due to this, last year’s wunderkind and breath of fresh air Diego Fagundez may be the real player to watch. The youngster from Leominster may be required to step into an important role early in March. If the U23s qualify for London, then Fagundez could again be heavily relied upon during MLS’s dog-days.
Best Case Scenario: If Saer Sene can find the back of the net, if Pepe Moreno shows up and performs, if Fagundez develops as expected, if Fernando Cardanas is better than expected, then the Revolution could finish either in the last Eastern Conference playoff spot or just barely outside looking in.
Worst Case Scenario: Jay Heaps is overwhelmed, Benny Feilhaber is traded, Bob Kraft continues to ignore this franchise, Shalrie Joseph is transferred in the summer, and the team finishes 19th as opposed to the 17th they finished last year.
Prediction: It’s hard not getting excited over the Revs this preseason, but unfortunately they are preparing against teams that are using lots of reserves, are fourth division sides, or are college clubs. Being in the Eastern Conference should make things easier for New England. A finish in 7th or 8th place in the East should be looked at as a successful season for this rebuilding franchise.
Abram Chamberlain is editor and columnist for Soccer Newsday (http://www.soccernewsday.com) and also contributes to SBNation’s Revolution Blog, The Bent Musket (http://www.thebentmusket.com). You can interact with Abram on Twitter: @MindOfAbram .