SBI MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

By MICHAEL KLINE

The New England Revolution will attempt to push last year’s rocky season to the back of their memory, as the second year of their rebuilding phase begins.

Manager Jay Heaps’ first season with New England saw few tangible improvements, as the Revs started 2012 promisingly, but finished with only three wins in their last 17 matches to close out the season.

The season did have some positives, however, especially with the breakout of midfielder Lee Nguyen, who emerged as one of the best acquisitions in the league in 2012. Nguyen became one of the Revolution’s key players last year, being the only New England player to appear in the first 30 matches of the season and adding five goals and two assists to his short Major League Soccer resume.

Ultimately, 2012 was the beginning of the Jay Heaps era, and laying a foundation for the future was always going to be more important than immediate success, especially since the playoffs were never really within reach. The fans will feel last season was wasted, but if the 2013 season shows the team take a significant step forward, then 2012 will have been a valuable stepping stone for Heaps and his players.

Here is a closer look at the New England Revolution heading into the 2013 MLS season:

2012 FINISH: (9-17-8, ninth in the Eastern Conference)

KEY ACQUISITIONS: D Jose Goncalves, D Andrew Farrell, D Bilal Ducket, M Andy Dorman, M Kalifa Cisse, M Scott Caldwell, F Chad Barrett, F Matt Horth

KEY LOSSES: GK Tim Murray, D Flo Lechner, M Alec Purdie, M Michael Roach, M Fernando Cardenas, M Blair Gavin, M Benny Feilhaber, F Blake Brettschneider

NEWCOMER TO WATCH: D Andrew Farrell – The number one pick of the 2013 MLS SuperDraft will naturally carry the heavy expectations that the top pick comes with, something Farrell will have to deal with for the duration of his domestic career. Farrell will feature in a revamped New England defense, which was clearly a focal point of the Revolution’s offseason. A physical defender, capable of playing right back or center back, with good speed and passing skills, Farrell has the potential to make a big impact for the Revolution this season.

THE PRESSURE IS ON: F Jerry Bengtson – New England fans will be hoping Bengtson’s second season in a Revolution shirt will be the one where he discovers the form he has had for club and country in Honduras. Bengtson’s debut season in the league was not a pretty one, with the striker only finding the net two times in 13 appearances. Even more troubling, the Honduran was only able to put eight total shots on target during those matches. Some of that can be chalked up to poor service, but a shot on goal every 117 minutes is a very disturbing statistic for an out-and-out striker.

OUTLOOK: Jay Heaps and the New England organization have done a good job bringing in new faces to the squad this offseason, but the moment of truth is upon them, and the beginning of the season could be make or break for the Revolution. Within the first six matches of the season, the Revolution have to play four playoff teams, three of them away. If the Revolution hit the ground running, find a good bit of cohesion and survive their initial handful of matches, they will look primed to make their case for playoff contention, but if they get off to a slow start and struggle to score goals like they have the past couple of seasons, it will be another long year for Rev fans.

One clear priority in the offseason for the Revolution was defensive personnel. Not that New England had a terrible defense in 2012 (tied for fifth in the East), but Heaps clearly fancied upgrading the back-line with the additions of Andrew Farrell and José Gonçalves. Gonçalves immediately became the most experienced defender when he joined the Revolution on loan from Swiss club FC Sion, and New England will hope his European experience will bring stability to the back-line. A concern for Heaps will be the overall inexperience his defenders have, with the average age of the starting lineup destined to be in the early 20s.

Jay Heaps favors a 4-4-2 formation, but the arrival of defensive midfielder Kalifa Cissé will likely morph that into more of a 4-1-3-2 with a diamond in the midfield. With Cissé and Nguyen likely guaranteed starters, Heaps will be faced with the difficult task of choosing who will occupy the other two midfield positions. With little natural width or creative options, the manager will likely opt for more experienced players like Clyde Simms or Andy Dorman.

The big question mark on this New England side is where the goals will come from. With a lack of quality options in attack, fans will wonder why there is a massive imbalance on the squad between the midfield and the forwards. Last season the Revolution went out and acquired Saer Sène and Jerry Bengtson in an attempt to fix the goalscoring woes. The French striker had good production with 11 goals in 25 appearances on the season, but a torn ACL cut his season short and the partnership between Sène and Bengtson hasn’t taken off like the Revolution thought it would.

Diego Fagúndez, the Revolution’s first-ever Homegrown player, looks poised to have a breakout season with the Revs, but an 18-year-old can only be asked to do so much, and Heaps may need to rely on the Uruguayan more than he should.

The 2013 season should see the Revolution take major strides for the future. At the peak of their potential, they can compete for a playoff spot. More realistically, however, New England just needs to focus on squad cohesion, giving valuable experience to a few younger players and growing as a team.

Missing the playoffs would be disappointing, but if the Revs show some real progress in year two of the Heaps era, they could be poised for a serious run at a playoff spot in 2014.

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14 Responses to SBI MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution

  1. bkupp says:

    My only nit is that you saw that if they have a slow start, with what you concede is a challenging opening stretch, they are in for a long season.

    I think they just need to weather that stretch, grabbing a few points where they can, and then focus on really getting results when the schedule shifts in their favor. I think the focus is going to be very defensive early on through the patchy, road-heavy early schedule.

  2. Reid says:

    Looking forward to the most important part of the season, hoping they still have the New England Beer stands. The Harpoon UFO white made the drive and bad season not as bad as it could be

    • Hogatroge says:

      Well, seems like the cogs are tuning (slowly) for a new NE stadium. That will at least help w/ the drive. In like 3 seasons.

      • Seriously? says:

        I’m not sure the cogs are turning any more than they have in the past, but I’m also afraid that if they go to the Wonderland site, I’d miss the easy drive to Foxboro

  3. GCScots says:

    Where are the goals going to come from? The obvious answer is Matty Horth. Dude lit up the NASL last year for Atlanta and will keep it rolling in MLS. This kid is the real deal. Great pick-up for the Revs.

  4. obxfly says:

    It would make me happy as well to see a Gordon Alumni succeed. Saw Matt play quite a few games last year and expect he’ll certainly add to the team. What’s going on with him? Did not see him in the last two pre season games.

  5. Imad Baba says:

    With Sene injured and a thin frontline, NE is going to be in trouble if Bengston doesn’t excel. But if he can score, the rest of the team is improved enough to take a small step up in the standings this year.

    Long term, good to see them acquiring some top young guys – Fagundez, Caldwell, and Farrell all have loads of potential.

    Will be interesting to see if Cisse and Goncalves can do better then some of the Revs’ Euro flops over the past few years (Sene was the exception).

  6. andrusaurus says:

    How pathetic is it that the conclusion of a 2013 season preview for this team is that they could be “poised for a serious run at a playoff spot in 2014″?

  7. Nick says:

    Bengston is a very good player, no doubt…but he is not the type of player to create something out of nothing, he is a poacher…he will need service. Curious to see how patient fans/staff will be. I suspect if goal scoring is lacking from Bengston that he will get blame…not lack of service.

  8. DanO says:

    What I would give for the good ole days… Think about it, the Revs started quite a few internationals (even if a few only had a cup of tea…): Reis, Parkhurst, Heaps, Larentowitcz, Joseph, Ralston, Dempsey, Noonan, Twellman.
    That said, until the Krafts either sell the team or move the team to a soccer specific stadium, mediocrity is the best we can hope for…

    • Seriously? says:

      well, I can obviously understand saying they won’t have a well supported team until they get a SSS, but there’s no reason why the team on the field can’t be better than mediocre in the current stadium, as the team showed a few years back

  9. Kevin says:

    No mention of Rookie Donnie Smith?…I promise he will get minutes and fight for starting time… he has a killer left foot, which is hard to come by nowadays…

    thats weak Mr. Kline… best step up your game…

    • imissclint says:

      Donnie Smith showed a lot of potential but he is competing with veteran and 2013 team MVP Lee who is being called one of the best left mids in the league. Unless Lee’s shoulder isn’t as healed as it sounds Smith (thank god his first name isn’t khano) will see limited first team minutes at least this year… best up your game Kevin.

  10. revsman says:

    Here’s hoping Jay Heaps can light a fire under Bengston, he looked lost last year. Maybe the improved midfield will help. I think they can make the playoffs if they stop giving up goals in the last 10 minutes of games. It was so frustrating to see them give up leads that they had against N. Y. in preseason, and in 3 games last year with minutes to go in the game.