In a few minutes the New England Revolution’s 2016 MLS season kicks off in Houston and I don’t think I’ve ever had less of an idea what kind of team/season this is going to be.
To my mind the Revolution did not do enough in the off-season to improve the club. They let Jermaine Jones go (which, given his salary demands was probably the right thing to do), but that was really the only major personnel “loss” over the winter. In his place, however, they brought in a lot of “question marks.”
They signed Xavier Kouassi as, apparently, Jones’ replacement as a defensive midfielder and gave him Designated Player money. Was that a good move? We won’t know until at least next season as Kouassi blew out his knee in one of his last matches with FC Sion. They then moved to “Option C,” signing Gershon Koffie from Vancouver. Koffie appears to be well-regarded throughout the league and will supposedly make an immediate impact in the side. Yet, if I’m honest, I’d never heard of him before he signed for the Revs.
They signed Sambinha on loan (with an option to buy) form Sporting to shore up the back line, but while he was the captain of their reserve side, he hadn’t been able to break into the first team. They also signed- yesterday?- Je-Vaughn Watson, an experienced midfielder/defender who, it is said, can walk right into the starting line-up. The Jamaican international has plenty of MLS experience with Houston and Dallas, and he may “hit the ground running,” but I don’t know if that says more about the abilities of the player or the quality of the club’s starting eleven.
All in all, with several players brought into to compete for Jones’ vacant spot (and Scott Caldwell already on the roster), and some steps taken to address the problems in the defense (they drafted Jordan McCrary, who has looked good in the preseason), I think that the Revolution are probably as good as they were last year. And that’s the problem, they weren’t good enough last year. They made the playoffs- few teams don’t- but bowed out in the first round.
As I said above and as I’ve said since the end of the 2015 season, the Revolution are “one player away” from being an elite club within the league. More than that, I don’t think it really mattered who that player was or what position he played as long as he was a top quality player (and, if you’re wondering, I’m thinking somebody a level above Xavier Kousassi). If he was a forward or midfielder you suddenly have the option of bringing any two (at least!) of Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez, Charlie Davies, or Kelyn Rowe off the bench- how many MLS clubs would be that deep in the front two thirds of the field? Bring in a rock of a central defender to pair with Jose Goncalves and suddenly Chris Tierney and Andrew Farrell are free to maraud up and down the wings. Bring in any stalwart, “stay-at-home” defender and suddenly players like Fagundez and Lee Nguyen are free to be a little more creative and to take more risks.
But they didn’t.
So here we are.
The club appears to have drafted well again, Zachary Harivaux (HGP) appears to have cemented a place in the first team at the tender age of 20, and Bobby Shuttleworth’s goalkeeping will always be steady, and occasionally spectacular.
If injuries are avoided and everyone plays to their potential this club could go deep into the playoffs. If there are a few key injuries and a few key payers don’t live up to their reputations/expectations, coach Jay Heaps might have to will them into the playoffs.
This reminds me of that oft-heard curse, “May you live in interesting times…”