Creating offensive chances and capitalizing on those chances was not a problem for the MLS Cup runners-up in 2014 and it has not been a problem this season. The Revolution have a stacked forward line (Agudelo, Davies, Bunbury, Fagundez on occasion) and embarrassment of riches in the midfield with Rowe, Caldwell, Dorman, Kobayashi, Nguyen, Jones, and occasionally, Fagundez and Tierney. The goalkeeping is as good as it needs to be was well provided that Bobby Shuttleworth- who is now on of the top handful of keepers in MLS) does not get hurt. The defense is another matter.
It’s not that there is a lack of talent. Gonçalves is a former MLS Defender of the Year, Farrell has USMNT caps in his near future, Woodberry has been a revelation (including his crossing in the offensive half of the field), and…and this is where the problems begin. Darrius Barnes is out for the season after knee surgery, Kevin Alston is a great player to have coming off the bench (or spot starting if tactics require it), Jeremy Hall joined the club last December, but has only played in one match, and while Chris Tierney is an effective defender, he is much more valuable to the club playing out of the midfield.
Oh, and did I mention that Jermaine Jones, who has played both in the back line and as a defensive midfielder this season, is out until…well, we don’t know, do we? Even if he were to come back tomorrow, there are really only three “first choice” defenders on the roster at present- Woodberry, Farrell, and Gonçalves and that’s not going to be enough if the Revolution want to get back to MLS Cup this year, much less win it. Luckily, I have the answer. Or at least several potential answers.
Yesterday clubs in England’s Premier League were required to release the names of the players who would not be returning to their clubs next season and there were some interesting names on that list, defenders who could slot quite nicely into the Revolution back line. With one exception, all of the players on my list are 32 years old or younger, have top flight experience, and have extensive international experience as well. Here is the list:
It’s not all unicorns and rainbows with these players, however. All would probably require Designated Player contracts or something close to it and each is also looking to “bounce back” from a less than optimal 2014-2015. Hangeland is the oldest of the bunch and is coming off of a season in which he was not a regular starter at Crystal Palace, but you can’t teach height (he’s almost 6′ 6″) and he has all of the experience one could hope for in a player. Vlaar will probably have other options in England or other top European leagues, but MLS is probably the best guarantee of first team matches and that might be enough to keep him in the international picture for the Netherlands. Johnson may have lost a step- he’s been at it for a long time- but that would likely not be an issue in MLS, where he would probably be a star defender and chip in with a few goals as well…or he could stay in England and slog through a few more seasons with a club like West Brom or Sunderland. The same can probably be said of Richards. He fell pray to a coaching change while on loan at Fiorentina last season and is young enough and good enough to find a place at and English club outside of the top group- Swansea, Everton, Southampton, etc.- or, as with Johnson, come to MLS and be a star. Full disclosure- he’s the player I’d least like the Revs to pursue. I feel like he’s more prone than most to a brain cramp at the wrong time an the wrong place- an own goal always seems to be in the offing with him. Which brings us to Gutiérrez, who has missed a lot of football in the last year, but is still young enough to be a contributor, would be a lot closer to home, and would have plenty of his fellow countrymen to help him adjust to MLS.
All of this is pure speculation, and there’s no reason that Jay Heaps and Mike Burns should limit themselves to looking at the Premier League, but you have to start somewhere, right?