Inside MLS 2015 Season Preview: New England Revolution
Last year in a sentence: Jermaine Jones' arrival during the summer amplified a revival already underway and inspired the Revs to yet another devastating MLS Cup defeat.
Offseason in a sentence: Several years of building the core of the side led to a quiet winter, but the departure of A.J. Soares and the return of Juan Agudelo provided at least a couple of talking points.
(as of March 2)
Incoming: Juan Agudelo (free transfer), Jeremy Hall (Toronto FC), Sean Okoli (Seattle Sounders), Tyler Rudy (Georgetown/SuperDraft), London Woodberry (free transfer)
Outgoing: Andre Akpan (option declined), Geoffrey Castillion (option declined), Dimitry Imbongo (option declined), Larry Jackson (option declined), Shalrie Joseph (option declined), Stephen McCarthy (option declined), Patrick Mullins (New York City FC), Jossimar Sanchez (option declined), Luis Soffner (option declined), A.J. Soares (Viking/Norway), Alec Sundly (option declined), Tony Taylor (New York City FC)
Jermaine Jones accelerated the Revolution's revival last season with his imposing and relentless work in midfield.
Key player: The tenor and the tone within the Revolution camp changed from the moment Jermaine Jones walked through the door last summer. Jones reinforced the burgeoning expectations within the group and steeled the side for the challenges ahead. His active and robust work in midfield links the play deftly and provides some steel to reinforce this group of technicians.
Philosophy: Revolution coach Jay Heaps relies on a 4-2-3-1 setup designed to break quickly, combine efficiently and exploit the opposition when possession is conceded. This group pushes high up the field to win the ball and unsettles the opposition more often than not. Those efforts provide operating room for Lee Nguyen to connect with the array of interchanging wide players and the center forward in the final third.
Strengths: This group boasts the camaraderie, familiarity and the skill to function seamlessly within its unique tactical approach. Jones and Nguyen offer the foundation in midfield with their tidy and uncompromising work. Their commitment -- plus the contributions of Teal Bunbury and Kelyn Rowe in the wide areas -- allows the Revs to drop when necessary, obtain possession and then transition quickly from back to front. Their incisiveness in the final third metes out punishment regularly with Chris Tierney always a precise threat from set pieces, while the defensive core -- led by captain José Gonçalves -- knows how to adjust appropriately. Bobby Shuttleworth offers a reliable last line for a team that occasionally needs a big save. Depth is also a boon in goal, on the flanks and up front.
Weaknesses: Heaps staved off changes through much of his side, but he must rebuild the entire right side of his defense after A.J. Soares left for Norway during the close season. Andrew Farrell projects as a center back over the long-term, but he needs to establish the right partnership with Gonçalves and watch his positioning carefully. Farrell's move inside leaves Kevin Alston and Jeremy Hall to tussle for the starting berth there. Alston holds the inside track, but his propensity to pick up hamstring injuries places his durability in question.
Juan Agudelo will atempt to make up for lost time after returning to the Revs during the close season.
* How will Soares' departure alter the defensive chemistry? Gonçalves and Farrell logged plenty of minutes together during preseason to foster the understanding required to function seamlessly. It is no easy task. If the Revs can't find firm footing and maintain their usual shape, then those days might arrive sooner than anticipated.
* Will a pecking order emerge in the wide areas? Heaps boasts plenty of choices on the flanks with Bunbury, Rowe and Diego Fagundez all pushing for a starting place. Bunbury and Rowe eventually emerged as the victors during the home stretch, but Fagundez supplies a potential change of pace with his ingenuity in possession. Look for the Revs to tweak their outlook from match to match as all three players try to find their form.
* Can Agudelo step straight back into his influential role? In his first spell with the club, the former Stoke City forward acted as a capable and willing hub in the final third. He dropped off the line intelligently and participated deftly enough to carve open the opposition with quick combinations. Most of the pieces from his initial spell two years ago remain in place. It is now down to Agudelo to make up for lost time and resume the sort of service capable of making him an influential figure once more.
Best-case scenario: Everything carries over from the second half of last season. All of the dips smooth out. Consistency reigns as this settled side churns out results and marches through the regular season. It is enough to challenge for the Supporters' Shield and place this group in position to win MLS Cup for the first time.
Worst-case scenario: Opposing teams figure out how to disrupt the balance and the rhythm cultivated after Jones' arrival. The fluidity only arrives in fits and starts. Inconsistency reigns once more with highs and lows pockmarking the season. The promising campaign ends with a playoff berth and an early exit.