The Revs took a step back in 2015, crashing out of the playoffs in the knockout round against D.C. United after coming up just short of an MLS Cup final victory the year before. Failing to meet lofty expectations despite retaining their core group and adding a few exciting pieces means the organization is taking a hard look at itself heading into 2016. A few key names remain in limbo even at this late date in the preseason, contributing to a sense of uncertainty with the Revolution. Attempting to predict how their year might go is nearly impossible as long as the team remains incomplete in significant areas.
Despite the question marks, there’s plenty of reasons to again buy high on New England. A potent group of attackers made up of Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Teal Bunbury and Charlie Davies ensure that the Revs are handful in any circumstance. In light of 2015’s up-and-down rollercoaster of a season, however, it’s clear that the club needs a strong midfield presence to underpin that offensive talent.
The Big Question
Can Koffie fill Jones’s shoes? Everything this offseason in New England has revolved around the status of midfielder Jermaine Jones’s contentious contract negotiations with the club. The 34-year-old believes himself to have big value to the Revs that should merit him commensurate competition. New England doesn’t seem to agree, having made Jones an offer he called “a joke”.
If the midfielder is coming back, the path wasn’t obvious as recently as a few weeks ago – especially after the Revolution went and signed Ghanaian Xavier Kouassi for a summer arrival, presumably to replace Jones. The defensive midfielder was set to jump from FC Sion of Switzerland to MLS later in the year... except that he then tore both the MCL and ACL in his right knee and was ruled out for six to nine months. Leverage back to Jones – until the Revs traded for Vancouver Whitecaps midfielder Gershon Koffie, another talented Ghanaian. Koffie is good, as anyone who watched him play for Vancouver knows. But can he bring the same workrate and bite that Jones did?
Lee Nguyen morphed from one of the league’s best midfield goalscoring threats in 2014 to a well-rounded creative force in 2015. Despite a significant rise in assists from 2014 (up from five to 10, the first time a Revolution player reached the double-digit mark since 2008), Nguyen also managed to finish second on the team with seven goals. When things are going right, he can be the most imaginative player in all of MLS. When the Revolution is clicking as a team, no one stands out more.
Across MLS, the creative American who does his job with flair and style is rare. At 28, Nguyen figures to have at least a few more seasons at the top of his game in front of him – a good thing for the Revolution and a bad thing for the rest of the league. Look for him to serve again as the key distributor in New England’s attack in 2016, and if things break for him in front of goal, the dynamic midfielder is capable of scoring more than his expected share of goals as well. The Revs watched the rest of the Eastern Conference get better last year while they mostly stood still; Nguyen’s influence can help them make up the lost ground.
From The Dugout
With or without DP star Jermaine Jones, the Revs have been tipped as potential dark horses for the Supporters’ Shield and MLS Cup – but coach Jay Heaps knows that to win either, they’ll have to avoid the sort of late-season slump they suffered in 2015, winning only one of their last six games.
“There's enough guys around, having been through three years in a row of the playoffs, [that] I think they understand that we can be better when it comes to crunch time – and that we have to be better going into the season,” said Heaps. “If it comes together with the chemistry and we put together the group that we want to, we're as talented as any team in the league.
Heaps may tweak, rather than radically redesign, the Revs’ dynamic attacking approach. “I think we maintain what we want to do as a club, our identity, how we want to play in terms of approaching the game,” he confirmed. “But there will be wrinkles. Every year we evolve within the group that we have. Whether we play a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1, we can adapt very quickly with the personnel that we have.”
Heaps acknowledged the growing influence of Lee Nguyen: “He's as sharp as ever. He's a guy that, for my entire career as a coach, is someone that we've leaned on to build our approach and be aggressive in how we attack, and for me, each year he gets better and better. His approach in the January [US national team] camp was to be one the best players there. He did that, and now he's also coming into MLS in 2016 with the right mindset to be one of the best players in the league.”
From the Locker Room
The wide-open nature of the league has New England Revolution attacking midfielder Diego Fagundez looking forward to the 2016 MLS season. “Teams that no one is expecting to win MLS Cup, win it,” said Fagundez.
The Revs only lasted a single round of the playoffs in 2015, but the year before, the team made it all the way to the climax. Finalists numerous times, the Revs have never yet won. “The only thing we’re lacking is a trophy,” Fagundez explained. “Once we get that trophy, everything will change.”
Trying to guide the team to that elusive MLS championship, coach Heaps is relying on a young corps of players, especially if the Revolution organization is unable to come to terms with veteran midfielder Jones. “We’re a young group – our average age is 24,” said Fagundez. “Our attack is very strong. We can win any game. When it’s up high, anything can happen.”
That may depend on how effectively the Revs can combine the talents in an attack featuring the likes of Charlie Davies, Juan Agudelo and Nguyen. “There are times when it’s hard to play well and other times it comes together,” admitted Fagundez.
This Is Home
- GILLETTE STADIUM
- CAPACITY: 20,000
- OPENED: September 9, 2002
- LOCATION: Foxborough, MA
Fan’s Insider Tip
Steve Stoehr (@Stoehrst): Foxborough, MA is really in the middle of nowhere. People often associate it with Boston, and while you can glimpse the skyline of the Hub in the distance from Route 1 near the home of the Revolution, it’s a solid 40-minute drive away in the best traffic conditions. There really isn’t much to do in town.
That doesn’t mean there’s a lack of things to do on match day. The Rebellion and the Midnight Riders supporters’ groups put on large-scale tailgate parties, sharing beer and a variety of grilled food with members and non-members alike. They bring yard games like ladder golf and Kan Jam, and occasionally hold contests or host special guests.
Gillette Stadium itself is surrounded by what is essentially a massive outdoor mall known as Patriot Place. CBS Scene, Toby Keith’s and Bar Louie usually feature active crowds before and especially after matches, with the latter doubling up as a favorite post-game spot for Revolution players. Anyone trying to make a full evening out of a match day could also go bowling at Splitsville, or grab dinner at any of the dozen or so other restaurants in the complex, ranging from quick and cheap (Capriotti’s Sandwich Shop, Red Robin) to a higher class of eatery (Davio’s, Skipjack).
The best game day experience is in the tailgate, though. If you’re going to a Revs game, grab a good beer and talk to a friendly Rebel or Rider. The party starts hours before kickoff and only ends when they kick you out of Bar Louie, win or lose.