FOXBOROUGH, Mass. — Shockwaves went through the New England soccer community when, just a few hours before Sunday’s regular season finale, Revolution midfielder Diego Fagundez’s father, Washington, tweeted that this might be his son’s final game in a Revs uniform.
First-year coach Brad Friedel has previously teased big changes over the offseason, following the team’s worst finish since 2012 — and the Revs have already brought in 11 new players during his tenure — but it sounds like that shakeup could potentially run right down to the team’s longtime core.
“I haven’t grabbed my phone at all. I don’t have social media anymore, so I don’t know exactly what was the tweet or what,” Fagundez said during exit interviews, which the team held directly after a 1-0 win over the Montreal Impact. “I’ve heard about it, but I can’t really answer anything because I was playing and I was focusing on trying to win the game, so once the chance comes and whatever happens with me, then we can start talking about it.”
Fagundez had one of the most productive seasons of his career in 2018, putting up 9 goals and 10 assists in his first season switching inside from left wing to the No. 10 role. On Sunday, Fagundez, who made just $190,000 in total compensation in 2018, became the youngest player in MLS history to reach 50 career goals at 23 years, 10 months and 14 days old.
“I think the most important part of the learning is what we learn about our own players,” Friedel said when asked what he took away from his first year as coach. “That’s most important. Not what we know about somebody else’s team. What we learn about our own players and how we can go forward and make us stronger. Because, at the end of the day, all we want to do is win for the New England Revolution. I don’t care what anybody else thinks.”
After jettisoning former MVP finalist Lee Nguyen to LAFC back in May, the Revolution had seven players remaining from their 2014 MLS Cup finalist squad. Another, Juan Agudelo, joined the Revs in 2013, but he spent a season playing for FC Utrecht in the Dutch Eredivisie before returning to New England in 2015. After 128 appearances with the team, Agudelo is out of contract, while several other of the longtime Revolution players confirmed they are entering option years, but don’t know their fate yet.
“I’m sure there will be changes. (Friedel) said that. I think there’s a couple guys that have guaranteed contracts and everyone is kind of just going to be sitting around waiting,” said right back and Revolution Defender of the Year Andrew Farrell, who has started 188 of a possible 204 regular season games since being drafted No. 1 overall in the 2013 SuperDraft. “At least myself, I don’t know who will be coming back. I guess we’ll find out next week.”
“When you get tired, how do you react?” Friedel queried on Sunday. “When you’re taking long trips, how do you react? When the coaching staff, someone on the staff says something to you that you don’t like, how do you react? Always with the notion that you have to win a game, no matter how you feel, how you want to act, what your true feelings are. Who are the players that can shut all that off and win? That’s what we’re looking for.”
Do the Revs’ players want to come back?
The Revolution are certainly in line for some sort of shakeup after finishing eighth in the Eastern Conference with a 10-13-11 record, but just as big of a question might be how many players want to return to play for Friedel after the coach frequently criticized his team’s mentality late in the season.
“I really feel that, of the eleven draws and couple of the losses that we had, eight of those draws we should have won,” Friedel said in his exit interview. “It comes down to killer instinct in the final third, not giving away some individual errors in the final third, mentality, things of that nature. So, we’re going to address that in the offseason and coming into the preseason.”
If Fagundez is disgruntled, it could be a combination of his salary, ambitions to play in Europe — which he said he would like to do if the right opportunity came around — or a bit of both. However, the Revs have a history of balking at renegotiating good-value contracts (see: Nguyen, Lee).
“I’m just here to do everything I can to make sure that I’m getting better and performing, just trying to give everything I can to this club, to this team. Whatever happens, happens,” Fagundez said. “It’s not up to me.”
Similarly, although seven-year veteran Kelyn Rowe had his least productive season offensively with just one goal and two assists — part of that was because Rowe has again shuttled over to play at left back — he is still a relative bargain at $258,000. However, at nearly 27 years old and having never gotten an extended look at his natural position of attacking central midfielder, a fresh start might be best for the Revs and the Seattle-area native (especially with Rowe’s U.S. Men’s National career beginning to wane).
“I’ve said it many times in as many ways as you guys want to ask, I will be on the field and that’s happiness for me, whether it be right back, goalkeeper, left back or center mid,” Rowe said in what was at times a combative final interview of the season. “I’m playing a game that I love to play every day and, yes, I hope that it’s in the center of the midfield. I hope that it’s higher up, but if it’s not, I’ll do the best I can and I still get to play the game.”
Rowe did not respond when asked if he wanted to stay with the Revolution.
“Look, when you guys talk about contracts, it’s not up to me. You guys know it’s not in my hands. You know this league and you know I’m not hitting any free agency,” Rowe said later on. “It’s for (Revs GM) Mike Burns, it’s for my agent and it’s for other clubs to deal with. I’m just here to play games.”
Agudelo, who will turn 26 in November, has the most control of over his fate, but did not rule out returning to the Revs. He did say, after a season of mostly playing out wide, that he believes his best position is center forward.
“I’ve been in the league 7-8 years and I just got off the field. I know not to answer questions like that, but we’ll see,” Agudelo said about his future, but added that he thinks “everyone should have that ambition” to play in Europe.
Longtime left back Chris Tierney’s Revolution future might also be in flux. The 11th-year pro is a Massachusetts native and the longest-tenured player in team history, but is also nearly 33 years old and looked to have lost a step even before tearing his right ACL during May.
“It hasn’t been communicated to players, with regards to who’s staying and who’s not. That will be done over the course of next week,” Friedel said.
Other holdovers from the Revs’ glory days include forward Teal Bunbury, who scored a career-high 11 goals and started a career-high 30 games in 2018, but only tallied once in the final four months, Homegrown defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell and backup goalie Brad Knighton.
Who will the Revolution keep?
Although Friedel seems to hold more influence over personnel moves than his predecessor, Jay Heaps, and his preferred high-pressing style of play requires players with certain attributes, ultimately Burns is still in charge of the roster and working under the mandate of the Kraft family ownership.
If what’s past is prologue, the Revs will be reluctant to cut bait with proven players on affordable contracts, no matter what Friedel thinks of their mentality. For that reason, it seems likely that Fagundez, Bunbury, Caldwell and Knighton will be back, barring major developments. All are reasonably good system fits and Bunbury is the highest-paid of the group at $260,000.
Farrell ($267,600) is a bit pricey for a league average right back, but often wore the captain’s armband and was the most consistent starter on a turbulent back line. The team’s priority should probably be on fixing the left back situation, where the Revs have the rehabbing Tierney, high-priced flops Claude Dielna and Gabriel Somi and rookies Brandon Bye and Mark Segbers, both of whom Friedel ended up preferring Rowe over.
The Designated Player Dielna told the media on Sunday that he will not be back next season, but Somi ($425,000) confirmed that his contract is guaranteed for 2019 and said he will discuss his future with his agent.
Rowe is a bargain, and a versatile player, but he might have the most trade value of any of the team’s old core, apart from Fagundez. Friedel has already chosen Fagundez over Rowe once as the team’s No. 10, while trading Rowe would give the Revs the ability to acquire either a player or more assets to to address other deficiencies on the roster, such as another true winger to play opposite the team’s leading scorer for 2018, Cristian Penilla.
Moving on from Agudelo might be a mutual decision, as he was one of the team’s highest-paid players ($602,500) and Friedel did not rate him highly enough as a forward to take many minutes away from Bunbury, which in itself might be a position the team looks to invest in this offseason.
Friedel remained coy about which areas exactly that he wants to improve on the roster, saying “You’ll see as the signings are made. They’ll be very prominent. It won’t be difficult for you to detect where we want to improve.”
Although Friedel certainly has a flair for the dramatic, the Revolution have perennially had one of the lowest payrolls in MLS, so the coach’s high aspirations might come into conflict with Burns’ own constraints. Don’t be surprised if the roster turnover isn’t quite as “prominent” as promised.