FOXBOROUGH — Bruce Arena has the Revolution playing an attacking style, investing salary and transfer fees in forwards since taking over as sporting director/head coach in 2019.
This season, Arena upped the ante up front, adding former US national teamer Bobby Wood to a strike force that includes Jozy Altidore, Gustavo Bou, Justin Rennicks, and Giacomo Vrioni. Wood has emerged as the most effective goal scorer, tied for the team lead with Carles Gil with five goals going into Saturday’s game against Inter Miami at Gillette Stadium.
But the Revolution (7-3-6, 27 points) have lacked consistency in attack, their total of 25 goals (1.56 per game) down from last year after 16 games (27 goals/1.75 per game).
Vrioni (three goals) has started only four games, partly because of injury. Bou (two goals) has been limited by passport problems and injuries. Altidore has scored twice — once this year — since joining the Revolution last season. Rennicks has one goal in a US Open Cup match.
So far, the forwards have not filled their part of the bargain, though it should be noted some contributions — aerial threat, defending, hold-up and link play, runs that draw defenders — are difficult to measure.
Arena has invested nearly $8 million of the team’s $20 million roster budget in the forward five: Altidore ($2.9 million), Bou ($2.6 million), Vrioni ($1.8 million), Wood ($421,000), Rennicks ($136,000). He is hoping for a better return as the season progresses.
Asked if the strikers have met expectations, Arena replied: “No. I think we can be better. We can be more dangerous in that position.”
Last season, the loss of Altidore (loan to Puebla FC) and Adam Buksa (transfer to RC Lens), plus injuries, helped keep the Revolution scoring down. Bou led the team with eight goals in 19 games.
“I think we experienced it last year, and I felt in the offseason we had to get a little stronger there,” Arena said.
The Revolution also were counting on the wing play of Dylan Borrero, who converted twice in eight games before going down with a season-ending knee injury.
“We never anticipated we’d lose Borrero, which has hurt us,” Arena said. “Ema [Boateng] has stepped into his spot, [but] Borrero, I think and thought, was a player with great potential and hopefully he’s going to come back healthy in 2024.”
Wood is used to fighting for playing time. He moved to Germany when he was 14 years old, teaming with several German national team forwards on five professional clubs, before joining Real Salt Lake in 2021.
“There’s always going to be competition, no matter where you are, however high level you’re at,” said Wood, 30. “That’s just how it is. There’s what makes you grow as a player, that’s what keeps the hunger there.
“And we have a good amount of that. We have a lot of quality up front. I think it’s a healthy competition. We all get along, we’re all hungry, everybody wants to play, and I think it pushes everybody in a good way to help this team be competitive.”
Like many strikers with European experience, Wood makes runs that are not always rewarded in MLS.
“Everybody puts their quality into the team, somehow,” Wood said. “Guys who are very good on the ball — Carles, Gustavo. Strong guys — Jozy, Giacomo. I think my strength is running into space, so I try to put that into the team whenever I’m on the field.
“One of my [strengths] is kind of staying active and moving a lot. Obviously, you’re not going to always get the ball, but I still think that helps the whole game plan of how we play. That’s part of the game, sacrificing runs. As long as we win, I’m good.”
The Revolution have dropped from first place after 11 games to fourth place in the Eastern Conference. Their downfall started with the loss of Borrero to injury in a 1-1 tie with Cincinnati, which overtook them the next week.
“I think looking at how the first half of the season’s gone, we can look back at some ups and downs,” Wood said. “We started very well and then, I don’t want to say slump, but you could see we had a lot of injuries. That midseason kind of wear and tear was kind of coming down on us.
“But even though we didn’t get the result, we showed mentally the past games how much quality we have on the ball and mentally, as a team, I think a lot of positives. We have to take it game at a time keep it going to the end of the season.”
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.