While most of the talk around the New England Revolution this offseason centered around Jermaine Jones, head coach Jay Heaps wasn't letting it affect him too much.
"There's a lot of things we can control and there's a lot of things we can't control, and the situation with Jermaine – whether we signed him or didn't sign him – that was a little bit out of our control," Heaps told GoalUSA.
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The U.S. national team midfielder was out of contract at the end of 2015 and decided to engage in a very public contract squabble with the Revs during the offseason. Jones lamented the Revs' low contact offer on Twitter and played up his importance to the team in a quickly deleted Instagram post.
After an injury-plagued season and facing a six-game suspension for bumping referee Mark Geiger in last year's playoffs, Jones has very clearly played his last game for New England. Finding a replacement for the midfielder was the main priority in a mostly quiet offseason for New England.
It appeared that goal had been achieved when the club signed defensive midfielder Xavier Kouassi as a designated player from Swiss club FC Sion. Just days after the signing was announced, however, Kouassi tore his right ACL. He'll miss six to nine months and Heaps says, "hopefully we'll have him at some point this season."
As far as a Plan B goes, though, it could be much worse than Gershon Koffie.
Days after Kouassi's injury, the Revs acquired the 24-year-old midfielder from Vancouver, where he'd spent his entire career since joining in 2011. In Koffie's short time with the club, Heaps has been encouraged by the potential of his new-look central midfield pairing.
"Scottie [Caldwell] and Gershon are starting to create a good chemistry," Heaps said. "I think the dynamic we're able to have in midfield with having a powerful player like Gershon who can win balls, win tackles, has a good passing range, also with Scottie, who's a really smart player that opens the game up for others, that gives us a lot of flexibility in how we want to play in the midfield."
In attacking spots, Heaps will be presented with the same "problem" he had in 2015: too many good options in too few starting positions.
New England usually rotates six starting-caliber attacking players through four spots in the lineup: Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe.
"I think it's good because in builds a competitive atmosphere in practice on to the games," Agudelo told GoalUSA. "You have to perform day in and day out if you want to play."
Though it's never easy to put together a lineup and keep everyone happy, Heaps is thankful for the tactical flexibility his glut of attacking options provides.
"I think all those players add a different element of the game," Heaps explained. "Juan plays very differently than Charlie. Juan can play on the wing and he plays differently than Teal. Kelyn and Diego play the other wing position very differently. so for me it's great to have that depth.
"No one is ever going to be satisfied coming off the bench, but at the same time I feel like we have different waves of players. Every game we go in to, we may start differently based on the matchups and based upon what we're trying to do tactically."
Heaps and New England have admirable depth in attack and even without Jones, appear to have the quality all over the pitch to be a real contender in the East once again.
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION SEASON PREVIEW
2015 FINISH: Fifth in Eastern Conference (14-12-8), eliminated in wild card round
NOTABLE ADDITIONS: D Sambinha, D Jordan McCrary, M Xavier Kouassi, M Gershon Koffie
NOTABLE LOSSES: D Kevin Alston, D Jeremy Hall, M Jermaine Jones, M Andy Dorman
TOP NEWCOMER:Gershon Koffie. Caught in a numbers game in a stacked Vancouver midfield, the Ghanaian will be a key piece of New England's squad after the departure of Jones and Kouassi's injury. Koffie is known for his athleticism and his ability to cover plenty of ground in midfield, and he should slot into the lineup seamlessly next to Caldwell.
"We've added a player in Gershon Koffie that we're excited about and excited about the possibilities in what he brings to his midfield," Heaps said.
PLAYER TO WATCH: Lee Nguyen. The 29-year-old has developed into one of the league's top playmakers since joining the Revs in 2012. Nguyen appears ready to take the next step with club and country in 2016, as an impressive January camp with the U.S. has firmly placed him into the discussion for a major role with the national team. The Revs hope his strong offseason carries over into MLS play right off the bat in 2016.
"He looks confident, he looks fit, even speaking with Jurgen [Klinsmann] during that camp, Lee clearly had a point to prove," Heaps said. "I think that was shown and that resonated in the camp. Now i think the thing that I ask of Lee and what Jurgen asks of Lee is that he continues that growth and continues that sharpness through our regular season."
The Revs have made the playoffs three seasons in a row and clearly have the pieces in place to make it four straight in 2016. But the club has experienced back-to-back summer swoons, going 3-13-1 combined in June and July of 2014 and 2015. With Sambinha, a healthy Darrius Barnes and rookie Jordan McCrary in the fold, the Revs appear to have the defensive depth they've long needed to go along with their preponderance of attacking options. Even if the Revs lose players like Nguyen and Agudelo to international duty in the summer, their depth should help them avoid another summer slump.
Even without Jones, this is a team that should be among the favorites to win the Eastern Conference.
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