TEAM NAME: New England Revolution
COACH: Jay Heaps
STADIUM: Gillette Stadium
2014 RECORD: 17-13-4 (Second East), 55 points, +5 goal differential
PLAYOFFS: Lost in MLS Cup, 2-1 to Los Angeles Galaxy
U.S. OPEN CUP: Lost in quarterfinals to Philadelphia Union (2-0), the team's second consecutive quarterfinal loss. The game was halted for an hour in the 64th minute due to severe thunderstorms that rolled through the area, though at that point, the Revs were already behind. The Revs fielded a mixed lineup of a few starters — Jose Goncalves and Lee Nguyen — coupled with reserves. The loss came in the middle of a low point for the team, on the heels of a 1-6-1 stretch in league play.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
As Jones goes, so does the Revolution. New England was a middling-at-best and underperforming-at-worst team last season until Jones joined in late August. His impact was drastic, as the club went on a 8-1-1 stretch to close the season in games he played and was 11-2-2 overall with Jones. There's the whole issue of correlation and causation, but when a club adds the top World Cup outfield performer for the USMNT and then rips of its hottest stretch of the year, causation seems like a fair bet.
In theory, a full season with Jones in the New England XI should make the club the favorite in the East. However, it's not quite that simple, as he certainly has a few question marks. Jones had sports hernia surgery in early February and is expected to miss 4-6 weeks, which will put him back in the lineup shortly after the start of the season. With any surgery, the question of whether he'll return to form is valid. Additionally, Jones might miss some time this summer when the U.S. competes in the Gold Cup. Those two issues combined means he'll likely miss somewhere between 5-10 games.
When Jones is in the lineup, he helps control the middle of the field and frees up Lee Nguyen to create, which creates a domino effect that allows the Revolution's strikers the chance to position themselves for Nguyen's passes. He also provides stability right in front of the backline, which will be invaluable with a reconfigured line this season.
All the Revolution players raved about Jones' leadership off the field, in setting examples of how to put in the work, and on the field, in his tactical expertise and acumen. The majority of the Revolution roster veers closer to 20 years old, with Jones the oldest and most experienced among them. During the run to the Finals, each Revolution player noted that Jones brought expertise and leadership that was missing.
Jones provides the box-to-box midfielder that Heaps' squad needs, but previously lacked. When he's in the lineup, the club has a better sense of offense and players don't need to stretch beyond their roles to cover for a weak No. 6.
The prodigal son returns to the Revs this season after a frustrating, and ultimately, failed odyssey in Europe. The former USMNT striker (like all young strikers, he was overhyped and saddled with "savior" expectations) left the Revs after the 2013 with the aim of playing for Stoke City. He never received a work permit though, leading to a loan in the Netherlands. He scored three goals in 14 appearances for FC Utrecht and then re-applied for a work permit in May 2014, which was again denied.
In his first stint with the Revs, he scored 7 goals in 14 appearances and he's totaled 18 goals in 73 appearances in his four-season MLS career. He joins the team and provides instant competition to incumbent striker, Charlie Davies. Most projections have Aguedelo starting in the lone striker position over Davies, but there's a chance he plays on the wing or Heaps switches to a two-striker formation and plays both Aguedelo and Davies.
Agudelo is generally seen as a more potent striker than Davies and he's claimed to have rollover chemistry from 2013 on the pitch with Nguyen, Kelwyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez. His familiarity with the system and team should help cut down some of time spent sorting out kinks that comes with a new player. He hasn't played a full season in one place sine 2011, when he netted 6 goals for the New York Red Bulls in 27 games. Signed through 2018 with New England, Aguedelo should be a prime candidate for a breakout season given that the newfound combination of stability, familiarity with the team and ability.
While the big name on the Revs is Jermaine Jones, Lee Nguyen is arguably the key to the team. The 28-year-old Texan enjoyed a breakout season in 2014 and was league MVP candidate. He potted 18 regular season goals and two more in the playoffs, leading all midfielders. Additionally, he created 78 chances with passes, including four assists.
Nguyen is one of the league's best playmakers and is lauded for his vision, ability to see the play unfold and his tireless work on and off the ball. Generally sitting between the opposition's holding midfield and the backline, Nguyen draws attention on offense that will create opportunities for strikes Charlie Davies and Juan Aguedelo.
A one-time USMNT prospect as a teenager, Nguyen tested himself in Europe in Holland and Denmark before falling out at both sides. He was then recruited by a team in the Vietnamese V-League, essentially taking himself off the map for a few years. He returned Stateside and entered MLS for the 2011 season. The Vancouver Whitecaps originally rostered him after claiming in in a weighted lottery, but the team cut him a week before the season opener. The Revolution immediately grabbed him; coach Jay Heaps was waiting for an opportunity to grab Nguyen and made him the first player the club signed off waivers. He's since played 91 games for the club over three seasons, which 27 goals and 14 assists.
The Revolution is one of the original MLS franchises, with the 90s era kits to prove it. Yet, much like Eastern Conference rival and fellow original club New York Red Bulls, they've yet to win a title. The club is kind of like the Buffalo Bills from the early 90s; the Revs have competed in the MLS Cup Final in 2002, 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2014, coming up short every time.
Though they're 0-5 in attempts to bring the MLS Cup to Foxboro, the club has won two trophies: the U.S. Open Cup in 2007 and the North American SuperLiga in 2008.
Many quality players have rolled through New England throughout club history, but the Revolution never waded into the world of flashy international DPs until Jermaine Jones. Perhaps the best player in club history was Taylor Twellman, who owns the Revolution record for goals with 101 in 174 games, nearly 60 more than the No. 2 on the list, Steve Ralston. Other standouts in franchise history include Joe-Max Moore, Shalrie Joseph, Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan, Ralston and Jay Heaps, now the bench boss.
Though they've been around for the entirety of the league and have played for the Cup five times, the Revolution has never really been seen as a signature MLS franchise. They've lacked the major stars, aside from Twellman, play in a cavernous stadium (one of the few leftovers from the football stadium era) and don't draw all that well. (Even in an MLS Cup season, the club ranked 10th in average attendance last season.)
Rumors about the Revolution building a soccer specific stadium in Boston have persisted for years (Foxboro is about 45 minutes south of the state capital) and the club was apparently very close to a deal in 2007. A city-adjacent stadium would do wonders for the club's standing among New Englanders since it would help draw the millennial, nouveau soccer crowd that's generally lives in and around the city.
Why they'll rock: The Revolution returns almost the entire team that make the MLS Cup Final. The lone changes to the starting lineup are the loss of AJ Soares and the addition of Juan Agudelo. Any time that a MLS Cup Finalist can add a quality striker like Agudelo, it should carry the Finals-or-bust expectations.
The striker position was a weak link on the Revolution for most of the season until Charlie Davies established himself in the second half of the year. However, he was goalless in the last seven games of the year and the team will benefit from a striker with a higher upside, like Agudelo.
The other major change from last year is a full season of Jermaine Jones. The Revs were a totally different team once Jones joined in late August. Pre-Jones, the club was an underwhelming 9-12-3 in the pre-Jones era, before ripping off an 8-1-1 stretch to close the season. Jones almost singlehandedly turned the Revolution into a different team, so it stands to reason that the club will benefit from a full season with the defensive midfielder.
The return of all the key parts from last season, plus full campaigns from Jones and Agudelo means 2015 should be a banner season in New England.
Why they'll suck: That supposed full season of Jermaine Jones? Well, there's a chance it couldn't happen. If Jones' recovery from sports hernia surgery takes longer than expected, he'll miss the opening of the season. If he gets pulled away mid-summer for the U.S.'s Gold Cup campaign, the team could never develop a real rhythm until it's too late . Additionally, the Revs could be victims of Agudelo and Nguyen's strong play if they both get called up by Jurgen Klinsmann and miss a major stretch of the summer during the Gold Cup.
The Revolution is also banking on a continued upward trajectory of Nguyen. There's a chance Nguyen falls back to earth after an otherworldly 2014 and the supposed chemistry with Agudelo doesn't carry over from 2013.
Agudelo's insertion into the starting lineup could mess with a good thing, since the club went on the run last year once Davies established himself. It's possible that the Revs can't get that magic back, Davies is ineffective in sporadic use and Agudelo doesn't regain form after not playing for about 9 months.
For all the continuity on the team, the backline has been reshuffled. They'll struggle if Kevin Alston is over-matched as a regular starter, Andrew Farrell never settles into the center back position and the club misses AJ Soares more than it expected.
Finally, the club will face surprisingly intense competition from the new Eastern Conference expansion teams. While perennial contenders Houston and Sporting Kansas City were shipped out of the conference, the star power of Kaka, Frank Lampard (eventually!) and David Villa could make Orlando City SC and NYC FC no cakewalk expansion clubs, providing the Revolution with unexpected competition.
Prediction: The Revolution are undoubtedly a favorite to return to the MLS Cup. The team will benefit from stability - it only lost one starter from 2014 - a full season of Jermaine Jones and the addition of Aguedelo. Last season, the club collected 55 points, the second-highest in team history, and the goal should be to improve upon that total. Whether they can top that mark will depend on how much time Jones misses, how well Agudelo adjusts and reconnects with his teammates and whether Nguyen and Davies' breakouts last year were the beginning of a prime stretch of their careers or flashes in the pan.
In reality, the club has the talent to run again to the MLS Cup Final, and with Agudelo, a strong chance to finally get over the hump and win the championship. They really just need to make the playoffs and have the full complement of players - Nguyen, Jones, Agudelo, Davies - together by the time the second season comes.
It's always difficult to repeat a season so successful, so the bet here is on the field rather than the Revs. A most likely scenario is that the Revs don't make the MLS Cup Finals and will lose in the Eastern Conference Finals following a second or third place finish in the regular season.In the first of a series of previews of selected opponents, Peter Axtman previews Sunday's opponent.