The Revolution are off to a slow start in the MLS Cup playoffs, down a game to the Philadelphia Union in a best-of-three series going into Wednesday’s second match. No matter how the Revolution fare, though, their prospects appear bright for the future.
How the Revolution do next season will depend on stabilizing the coaching staff. Clint Peay might need to pull off a playoff upset to lose the “interim coach” designation. Otherwise, the Revolution could be in the market for a sporting director and head coach to replace Bruce Arena, who resigned in September. And the team will have to act quickly to prepare for preseason.
The Revolution were built to set an attacking pace. They can be spectacular if things click, as they did in a record-setting 2021 season and for most of this year. If not, the Revolution can struggle, as they did last year and in Arena’s absence this season. After going 12-4-7 and standing in second place in the Eastern Conference, the Revolution have compiled only three victories, falling to fifth place (15-9-10, 55 points), and opening the playoffs with a 3-1 loss to the Union.
The roster is tilted toward offense, and that is not likely to change. Whoever is in charge will have plenty of attacking weapons, but matching Arena’s mastery of finding a balance might be difficult.
The most important offseason decisions will involve Argentinians Gustavo Bou, whose contract expires, and Tomas Chancalay, on loan from Racing. Bou, 33, is among the top scorers (51 goals) in Revolution history but has been limited by injury. Extending the loan or purchasing Chancalay, who converted six goals in 11 games, is a no-brainer, but he could have prospects to depart and might have to be convinced to stay.
Complicating the situation are Designated Player rules. Bou could be re-signed but would likely lose his DP status and take a severe pay cut from his current $2.6 million salary. Chancalay’s contract calls for him to be elevated to DP status, so he could replace Bou. Or, should the league increase the number of DPs per team, both Bou and Chancalay could be accommodated.
The DP setup has long been a dilemma for the Revolution, who were reluctant to invest until Arena’s arrival in 2019. And since going for the maximum three DPs, the Revolution have failed to optimize their use. In four years, the Revolution have had all three DPs in the starting lineup 32 times, either because of injury or tactical reasons. Current DPs Bou, Carles Gil, and Giacomo Vrioni have started only five games together in two seasons (3-0-2).
Whatever happens, the Revolution will base tactics around Gil, the team’s captain, leading scorer (11 goals), and playmaker. Gil should have plenty of targets for setups, as the Revolution have invested most of their payroll in attackers.
The Revolution had several candidates at striker, but none have matched the effectiveness of Adam Buksa, who left for Europe last year. Jozy Altidore was waived during the season; Justin Rennicks is out of contract; Bobby Wood is in an option situation. Vrioni (six goals) remains under contract for next year, and there will be room for at least one addition at the position.
Wing play should be a strength via Chancalay and Colombia Dylan Borrero, who is recovering from knee surgery. Other wide players include Gil’s brother Nacho; Emmanuel Boateng, who failed to find takers as a free agent before the season; plus Esmir Bajraktarevic, Jack Panayotou, Tico Rivera, and recently signed youngsters Malcolm Fry and Payton Miller.
There is depth at holding midfield via Noel Buck, Ian Harkes, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Tommy McNamara, and Matt Polster. Buck, 18, who is playing for England’s U-19 team, could attract offers from Europe, but the Revolution would have a right to a transfer fee.
At central defender, Henry Kessler and Dave Romney are under contract; all-time appearance leader Andrew Farrell is in an option situation; and Omar Gonzalez’s contract is up.
Left back became problematic after the retirement of Chris Tierney in 2018 and continues to haunt the team. DeJuan Jones solved things, despite being right-footed, launching himself on a path to the US national team. But the loss of right back Brandon Bye (injured during the Leagues Cup) exposed the Revolution’s lack of outside back depth, only recently solved by the return of Ryan Spaulding to the left side.
The team hoped to patch the left side with Christian Makoun, who has been at left back for Venezuela’s national team, and Ben Sweat, but both have been inconsistent.
As for goalkeepers, the Revolution have produced two for European export, but they have been unable to replace Matt Turner and Djordje Petrovic. The hope was for Tomas Vaclik to fill in, but he has yet to play, and the Revolution have surrendered three goals in three of the last four games.
There might be too many questions for the Revolution to resolve before next year. But they have been in a similar situation before. In 2002, the Revolution rallied to reach the MLS Cup final under interim coach Steve Nicol, who went on to become the team’s all-time leader in victories.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at email@example.com.