FOXBOROUGH — Since taking over as Revolution sporting director/head coach, Bruce Arena has slanted toward offense in building the roster. The go-for-goal mindset fared well in Arena’s first three seasons but fizzled last year as the team failed to advance to the playoffs.
This year, Arena has upped the attacking ante, adding former US national team striker Bobby Wood and bringing back Jozy Altidore to join leading scorer Gustavo Bou (eight goals), Justin Rennicks, and Giacomo Vrioni up front.
The Revolution might not regain the form of two years ago, when they set a league record with 73 points (2.17 per game), but they should be able to regain their reputation for taking the game to foes.
“It’ll be better than last year, I don’t doubt that,” Arena said after practice Thursday. “I think we’re going to position ourselves to have a good team this year.”
Asked if the Revolution can match their record-setting season, Arena replied: “Well, since that is the most points ever earned by a team in MLS history I’d be pretty stupid to say we could do the same thing again. The goal is make the playoffs. That’s it in most sports. And then let’s see what we can do. But certainly that’s the immediate goal for the year.”
Four Revolution forwards were among the league’s highest-paid players last year: Altidore ($4.264 million); Bou ($2.675 million); Vrioni ($1.747 million); and Wood ($1.01 million).
“We’re going to have a bunch of guys fighting for playing time,” Arena said. “We’re going to do everything that’s right for team. I’m not putting a team on the field based on their salaries. Whoever the best 11 are for us are going to play.”
Last year, Arena did not have many choices, having to often go with whoever was available.
Altidore totaled one goal in 17 games before departing on loan to Puebla FC in Mexico. Injuries held back Bou (17 starts), Vrioni (one goal in seven appearances), and Wood (three goals in 14 games for Real Salt Lake). Rennicks ended up making 11 starts and converting twice.
“It’s important we’re healthy this year,” Arena said. “We weren’t last year. Some of the players we brought in last year, we still don’t know what they’re like. They didn’t play play enough for us to get a handle on them. We’re hopeful they have a good preseason, and the new additions are going to help us.
“Unfortunately, injuries are a part of the game. We lost guys for long periods of time. They weren’t all major injuries, hamstrings and — but our sport’s a little different — some of the injuries we had you can play other sports. In soccer you can’t. It just added up and it was just very challenging.”
Other newcomers include midfielder Latif Blessing and defender Dave Romney, acquired in trades. Dylan Borrero showed promise as a late-season acquisition, but was limited by injury. Winger Nacho Gil joined his brother, Carles, the team captain in attack, but arrived too late to make a difference. Blessing, Borrero, and Nacho Gil bring creativity and dynamism to the midfield, in front of Tommy McNamara and Matt Polster, plus first-round draft choice Joshua Bolma. Romney, who played for Nashville SC last season, is expected to challenge starting central defenders Andrew Farrell and Henry Kessler. Romney can also fill in at outside back, as a reserve behind Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones.
“That remains to be seen, how new or different we are,” Arena said. “Obviously, Carles is still going to be a key player on our team and I think we’re going to continue to have outstanding goalkeeping [Djordje Petrovic]. And then we just have to get the other nine players right.”
Wood, 30, played for Arena on the national team, starting alongside Altidore as the US fell to Trinidad & Tobago in the final 2018 World Cup qualifier.
“What happened in 2018 was obviously a big disappointment,” Wood said. “We were all at fault there and you learn from it.”
Wood, who joined MLS in 2021 after spending 13 years playing in Germany, welcomes the competition for playing time.
“We’re all competitive, everyone wants to play,” Wood said. “We’re all fighting for whatever spot there is open. It’s all healthy. We all get along. Everyone knows we’re all quality players and it’s a battle right now.
“The Supporters’ Shield two years ago shows what kind of team this is. And it’s a very similar group to that, so I don’t see why we can’t get to that point again, as long as we work hard as a team. Everyone working together everything’s possible. That’s the goal, play as great a season as possible and go as far as possible in the playoffs. It’s going to be exciting and I’m looking forward to it. It looks like it’s going to be fun.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.