Photos by USA TODAY Sports
By TIM FONTENAULT
When the New England Revolution snapped an eight-game losing streak with a 3-0 win over the Colorado Rapids on July 30, a special run began.
The Revolution went 9-2-2 in their final 13 games, earning the No. 2 seed in the Eastern Conference for the MLS Cup Playoffs. There was a sense that if anyone had a chance to win MLS Cup out of the East, it was the Revolution.
The emergence of Lee Nguyen and the arrival of Jermaine Jones helped get the Revolution over the hump and into the MLS Cup Final for the first time since 2007. Robbie Keane’s 111th-minute goal gave the Los Angeles Galaxy victory in the final, but there was reason for the Revolution to be positive.
Jay Heaps’ squad returns in 2015 with the expectation of winning MLS Cup, and they have every reason to believe they can do it. There was a little turnover in the offseason. A.J. Soares departed for Europe while Patrick Mullins and Tony Taylor were left unprotected in the expansion draft, where New York City FC picked them up. Meanwhile, the club brought in an old face, Juan Agudelo, as well Jeremy Hall and Sean Okoli to strengthen the roster.
With 10 starters returning and a deep bench, the Revolution are ready to make another run at the MLS Cup. Here is a closer look at the 2015 New England Revolution:
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION SEASON PREVIEW
2014 FINISH: 17-13-4, 55 points (second in Eastern Conference), lost in MLS Cup Final
KEY ACQUISITIONS: Juan Agudelo, Jeremy Hall, Sean Okoli
KEY LOSSES: A.J. Soares, Patrick Mullins, Tony Taylor
NEWCOMER TO WATCH: Juan Agudelo. The Revolution are deeper and more lethal in the attack than during Agudelo’s first stint in New England, and the 22-year-old striker makes them even more dangerous. He scored seven goals in 14 appearances for the Revolution in 2013, but if the midfield can play to the level it did in 2014 and Agudelo can rediscover that scoring touch, the output could be even greater.
PRESSURE IS ON: The right back. With A.J. Soares now jumping around Europe in search of a contract, Andrew Farrell will move into a center back position next to Jose Gonçalves. Moving Farrell into the center is a positive move in ways, but it comes at the cost of moving a reliable right back.
The good news is that there are options at the position. Kevin Alston was once the clear No. 1 choice at right back, but he has not played much the last two seasons after battling leukemia in 2013. Should he step in and return to the all-star form he once had, New England should be in good shape. Jeremy Hall has also put in quality minutes at the position in the preseason, according to Heaps.
The Revolution nearly snatched the MLS Cup away from the Los Angeles Galaxy last season, and there is every indication that this could be the year they actually do it.
Jay Heaps’ squad did not lose much in the offseason, but where there were departures, the Revolution may have improved.
With A.J. Soares gone, Andrew Farrell gets to move in from right back to center back, where he has been just as productive. When Farrell played center back in 2014, it was alongside Soares while Gonçalves was out injured. The preseason has given Farrell and Gonçalves a chance to develop their relationship in the center, and while it is early, the process is going in the right direction.
“They’re doing a good job,” Heaps said. “They’re communicating well. Jose has obviously played the position for a while. Farrell, for me, is a natural at that position. Both of them are really good. I think individually, both of them are excellent. Now, it’s a matter of that synergy and that relationship continuing to grow.”
The Revolution also lost a key role player in attack, but may have upgraded at the same time.
After a decent rookie season, Patrick Mullins is now with New York City FC. Mullins provided a spark in attack for the Revolution early in the season before Charlie Davies took over the starting role. Even off the bench, however, Mullins was a benefit. He provided the assist on Chris Tierney’s goal that forced extra time in the MLS Cup Final.
New England finally found Mullins’ replacement on Jan. 29, when Agudelo re-signed with the club. After his acquisition from Chivas USA in midseason, Agudelo was a spark for the Revolution en route to the playoffs in 2013. Back for a second stint, Heaps said it is like Agudelo never left.
In many ways, even after an unsuccessful run in Europe, Heaps thinks Agudelo may be better than when he left.
“He’s just as strong as he was, if not stronger,” Heaps said. “He holds the ball up really well. And he’s making really good runs. I think that’s another area of his maturity. Getting him in…has really been excellent. I think the group is excited to have him and I think he’s excited to push himself to that next level.”
Agudelo’s return does not mean the end of Charlie Davies in New England. The Revolution were successful in their 4-2-3-1 with Davies up top in their run to the final last season. With Agudelo, however, there could be a change up top.
The Revolution are multiple players deep at nearly every position, which gives them an advantage over many MLS clubs. That is a good problem to have, and it is one Heaps embraces.
“I think we’re further along than just having 11 players are going to play,” Heaps said. “We look at our team now, and I like the advantage we can gain on a premium basis. What strikers might be best against a certain defense? What player might be better in a certain environment or a certain matchup?
“I think there’s going to be some fluidity, in terms of how we approach teams. But at the same time it’s going to be based on where we think we can gain an advantage and where we think we’re at our best.”
Depth will also be important in the midfield, where the Revolution are running the risk of beginning the season without Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen. Jones and Nguyen were the driving force behind the Revolution’s run to the final in 2014, and Nguyen was rewarded with 21.43 percent of the MVP vote.
Nguyen’s absence could be softened by the return of Diego Fagundez, who has begun training with the Revolution after a stint with the Uruguay U-20 team. Heaps has been experimenting with Fagundez as a central attacking midfielder, where he trained with Uruguay. It is a position Fagundez appears to be comfortable in. The 20-year-old starlet likes to cut in to the middle when playing on the wing, so the move inside should come naturally to him.
“At those positions – kind of that center role or even on that left wing – there’s a lot of freedom,” Heaps said. “And I think when Diego has freedom and he’s playing with someone he can play off of – and the players around him can play off of him – he’s really good at any of those positions.”
All things considered, the only difference between the 2014 and 2015 Revolution squads is that this year’s squad has more experience playing with each other. The Revolution were not far away in 2014. They are even closer now.
The target will be on New England in the East, but Jay Heaps and the Revolution have the pieces to weather any attack. This is a team that has the tools to win its first MLS Cup. A run at the Supporters’ Shield is not out of the mix either.
It all comes back to depth, a seasoned coach and a core that has returned with one objective.
“We’re much further along from how we want to play…of how we want to attack teams, how we want to defend teams,” Heaps said. “I think the players that have been around for a couple years really get that. And I think the learning curve for the new players is quicker because they see every day from the players around them that the expectations are higher.”
PROJECTED STARTING LINEUP