SBI MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

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Photo by Andrew Katsampes/ISIphotos.com

Change is in the air in New England. 

A new coach, a new system and a boatload of new players have been put in place to turn around the once-proud franchise that has fallen on hard times. The Revolution have missed the playoffs in each of the last two years and finished dead last in the Eastern Conference while tying for the second-worst goal differential in all of MLS last season.

Jay Heaps, the club's former standout fullback, has taken over for longtime manager Steve Nicol, being handed the reins for his first managerial position. Based on the club's preseason showing, the transition has been a pretty smooth one so far, but more work is to be done before the Revs can reclaim their place among the contenders in the East. 

"We have to believe in what we're doing," Heaps said. "It's those small steps forward, those victories in training, and you take that onto the field. You can't expect to win MLS Cup in Week 1, but you can start to build your identity and your core group of guys."

Here is a closer look at the Revs ahead of the 2012 MLS season:

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION SEASON PREVIEW

2011 FINISH: 5-16-13, 28 points (last in Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: M Kelyn Rowe, D John Lozano, F Fernando Cardenas, F Saer Sene, D Tyler Polak, M Clyde Simms, F Jose "Pepe" Moreno

KEY LOSSES: F Milton Caraglio, F Rajko Lekic, M Monsef Zerka, F Kheli Dube, D Ryan Cochrane, M Pat Phelan, D Franco Coria

The most noticeable change for the Revs under Heaps is the shift to a more possession-oriented, ball-on-the-ground style of play as opposed to the more direct style the Revs played under Nicol.

"For me, it's great the way Jay wants to play," midfielder Benny Feilhaber said. "It allows me to get involved more and get the ball at my feet. I think we have been able to understand the system and implement it on the field."

As such, the club's strength lies in its midfield. With Feilhaber and captain Shalrie Joseph pulling the strings, Rowe looking like a true gem of a draft pick thus far and newcomer Clyde Simms sitting behind them, that group will dictate whether the Revolution can get the results they couldn't a year ago.

"There's not a soul in that four guys that doesn't have a very high work rate," Heaps said. "When you see midfielders like that working as a unit, that's where we want to see things going."  

So far that unit has helped turn in victorious preseason results, which count for little but definitely give a morale boost and build momentum for a younger, still-impressionable team like New England.

In those few matches, Feilhaber and Rowe have both shown to be effective while stationed as outside midfielders in a 4-4-2 even though they are central, playmaking midfielders by trade. If they tend to pinch centrally, the onus will fall on fullbacks Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston to get forward and create width.

The biggest question facing the club — aside from the health of Alston and second-year centerback A.J. Soares, who both began training in full this week after extended injury layoffs — is who will be putting the ball in the back of the net?

New England completely revamped its front line, ushering out Lekic, Caraglio, Zerka and Dube and brining in Sene, a former Bayern Munich reserve; and Colombians Cardenas and Moreno.

"Saer's a good player," Feilhaber said. "When he comes onto the field he give us that extra composure on the ball and allows the midfield to really open up."

The saga surrounding Moreno, meanwhile, has been awkward. Shortly after the club announced his signing, there were eye-opening reports from Colombia saying that the Once Caldas player was not joining the club on loan despite him communicating with the Revs front office and signing all of the necessary paperwork.

Heaps said that he fully expects Moreno to join the club, with the standard process involving his visa and international transfer certificate getting underway on Thursday.

"We're excited to have Jose Moreno," Heaps said. "We spoke with him before this all transpired, met with him face-to-face. He signed the documents when all those things started to happen. It was a little bit harder to substantiate, to find out exactly what was coming out."

Heaps does not expect Moreno, who is nursing a muscle injury, to be match fit upon joining the team, meaning that Sene and someone from the group of Cardenas, Zack Schilawski, Kenny Mansally, Ryan Kinne, Zak Boggs and 17-year-old Homegrown Player Diego Fagundez will be relied on for production.

The additions to the front line and other reinforcements brought in around the field have been aplenty, but the Revs aren't done building their roster just yet. Ten trialists remain in camp, and only 23 players are currently on the senior roster (which will grow to 24 upon Moreno's arrival), meaning even more change is in the cards. 

Aside from Heaps, the one charged with tying everything together is the 33-year-old Joseph, the team's fulcrum and unquestioned leader. He is back after signing a new deal, becoming a Designated Player in the process. 

"It's been hard in some aspects," Joseph said. "It's a lot of new players, new faces on the team and trying to get everybody involved takes its toll.

"With such a young team, we need a positive start, and the results in the preseason have been great for our confidence. We're definitely headed in the right direction in terms of where we're going."

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20 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

  1. Puffer says:

    Very nice preview Ari. I think you captured their offseason very well

  2. 99 says:

    i’ve not been excited to see the revs play for a while. this year is different. wait… they still play at gillette on a pigskin field… my excitement is tempered.

  3. Robert Kraft says:

    Season preview for a team that plays at Foxboro? A soccer team? Wait, you’re saying I own the team?

    How long has this been going on for exactly?

  4. Hisco says:

    Think Brettschneider might have a shot with this team? Or Purdie? I’m thinking Schilawski, Boggs, and Kinne’s days are numbered.

  5. DingDong says:

    “Abound” is a verb.

  6. fischy says:

    I like BlakeBrett, but edging out Schilawski? One’s an over-achiever and the other maybe a slight under-achiever, but they’re not at the same level.

    Patience is the virtue here — for both players. BB wasn’t in a big-time program in college, and had to move around positions. He needs time to develop — unfortunately, it seems he wasn’t really ready for the preseason this year and got his walking papers. If he’s allowed to grow, he could be decent — he has pretty good instincts, and he has real skills. I wish it hadn’t gone the way it did for him last month, because I though he had a good future with United. Having said that, I’m sure Schilawski is light years ahead of him — and he will keep getting better, too.

  7. fischy says:

    Heaps has done a nice job of bottom-feeding. Definitely, they’ve come in under the radar this winter, taking the scraps other teams left on the table — but I think it would be a mistake to overlook this squad. They’ve made some big changes and they could pay off handsomely.

  8. Second City says:

    Your optimism is noble.

    I’d love to see that for their fan base but I have far too many doubts that will be the reality.

  9. TomG says:

    Yes, I’ve heard, “Change abounds,” but not, “Change is abound.” Are you makin’ stuff up, Avi, or is this a usage I’m unaware of? I can’t believe I’m talking grammar on this blog. Never mind. Just ignore me.

  10. sam says:

    change could be afoot.

  11. chuck says:

    MLS season previews are worthless. To sum up: a bunch of guys you never heard of left, a bunch of guys you never heard of were signed, and none of those new guys will be with the team in two seasons.

    Following MLS is very frustrating.

    A bottom of the table team needs dramatic overhaul. And bringing on a first-year coach, though dramatic, is not what I had in mind.

    I love Shalri, like Fielhaber, sorta’ liked Heaps as a player. Blend it all together and you get a bottom of the table team for 2012.

  12. CJ in OC says:

    Right. I was sure he meant “Changes abound.”

  13. abc says:

    I know people like to bash New England at every level from their team to coaching to ownership to their stadium situation, but they have drafted well in the last few years.
    Soares should turn into a decent CB if he is over his injury, and most people didn’t have Rowe going third in the draft yet so far it’s looking like a great pick. Their second rounder Polak could be useful, too.
    Yeah they’re probably going to finish last or second to last in the east this year, but at least amid all their problems they’re doing one thing right.

  14. Ted says:

    you must not follow the revs too closely then, or at all…

  15. CJ in OC says:

    Being from the LA area, I am excited to see how Rowe does. I honestly thought he would be something of an understudy to Benny, as they kinda play similar roles. It’ll be interesting to see how this works out.

    Also, I felt throughout last season that the Revs style of play didn’t use Benny all that well. Maybe this new possession style will involve him more.

  16. Puffer says:

    Worst case scenario they will be more entertaining to watch than last season. Last season looked like little league soccer—kick the ball upfield and see if anyone can chase it down. Skipping the midfield didn’t really seem like a great scheme considering they had no forwards and their two best players are midfielders. Saer Sene has also looked pretty composed on the ball in preseason so that’s a point of optimism right there. Apparently the Colombians are playing well and they are certainly in positions of need so things might turnaround.

  17. Eric K says:

    I’m trying not to expect too much too soon with this team. I like how they didn’t feel too attached to a lot of the guys from last year’s team – it wasn’t the right mix of people, not the right style. On paper they should’ve been much better. Rowe sounds like the real deal; Alston and Tierney are good at getting up the wings; we know Shalrie can control the middle, Simms and McCarthy should give them some good minutes. I like the idea of having the play go through Benny and let him direct the offense – that’s what he does. I share the concerns about who’s going to finish all this by the net – that’s been a concern for years, ever since TT got hurt and they had to change their tactics. They stunk at defense and at scoring last year, so I hope that at least both of those get better and they’re moving in the right direction this season.

    I had to get this in before all the Rev-haters entered their typical comments.

  18. Mario says:

    He is too good to be an understudy….This kid needs to start. I’m surprised the Galaxy didn’t go after him.

  19. Wil says:

    Moreno is the x-factor here. There is no reason why they cant improve and compete in 2012. They really do need a stadium tho

  20. chuck says:

    They don’t give me any reason to.