Usually, teams do not need to make major adjustments after finishing with the fourth-best record in team history. But there was barely anything that could be considered normal about the Revolution this season, as they went from title contender under Bruce Arena’s coaching to a team in turmoil after he resigned.
Along the way, the roster barely changed as the Revolution concluded the season with three wins in their last 13 games, eliminated in the first round of the playoffs — confirming that alterations need to be made in management. Interim coaches Richie Williams and Clint Peay were placed in a difficult situation, following Arena — the country’s most successful soccer coach — and also because the reason for Arena’s demise was never clearly explained.
The team’s first order of offseason business will be to name a sporting director (or general manager), who will be involved in selecting a coach. The process should happen quickly, since the Revolution have had since early September to consider a successor. The team also will need to make a decision while candidates are available, rather than wait while the best go elsewhere.
Then the Revolution can proceed with roster decisions. The deadline for exercising contract options is Dec. 1, but some teams have already made those determinations.
The roster includes 35 players: 21 under contract for next season; three out of contract (Gustavo Bou, Omar Gonzalez, Lucas Maciel); 10 with club options; and one on loan (Tomas Chancalay).
Deciding on Bou and Chancalay, the team’s Argentinians, will be a priority. The Revolution made Bou their most costly acquisition in 2019, and the deal mostly paid off as he became the team’s No. 5 all-time leading scorer with 51 goals in 115 games. But Bou, who turns 34 in February, has been limited by injuries and last season totaled 17 starts in 40 games in all competitions.
The team could offer Bou a new contract at a reduced salary, which could open the way to acquire another Designated Player, should MLS increase the team maximum to four DPs. The Revolution have failed to optimize the DP option, using all three in the starting lineup only 32 times (20-5-7) since 2020. Bou, Carles Gil, and Giacomo Vrioni started together in only five games (3-0-2) in a season and a half.
Chancalay, 24, converted six goals in 13 games, joining the team late in the season. Bringing him back would be a no-brainer, but the new coach will have to convince him that the situation will improve.
Chancalay, who could have become disillusioned as the Revolution went 3-7-3 during his stay, could attract outside offers. Since he would replace Bou as a DP, the Revolution must be sure he is committed to the team, or risk continuing the trend of underperforming DPs.
As the Revolution are in transition, players in option years should be allowed to make deals elsewhere, even once a coach is named. This is not a housecleaning operation, as most of the players on the roster contributed to the team’s strong start. But the next coach should be allowed to start with as clean a slate as possible. Exceptions in their option year include defender Andrew Farrell, who has been with the team since 2013, and midfielder Ian Harkes, who performed well until being injured.
There are questions at goalkeeper, though the position seems strong with Tomas Vaclik, 34, a veteran of top-level European competition; Earl Edwards Jr., 31, a capable backup; and Jacob Jackson, 23, a future prospect.
But after Vaclik was acquired to replace Djordje Petrovic ($17.5 million transfer to Chelsea), he never played, apparently conflicting with goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock. Edwards and Jackson alternated in net late season, the Revolution going 1-5-0 in the last six matches.
The trick for any coach will be to understand that Arena built the Revolution as an all-out attacking team, making it is especially difficult to obtain a balance between going forward and defending, especially without a difference-making goalkeeper.
Arena also placed faith in US-born players (22 on the roster, among the most in the league), which contributed to stability, since few are courted outside MLS. Curt Onalfo, who fills the role of technical director/interim sporting director, has attempted to supplement the team with academy players, though only Noel Buck established himself as a regular.
Buck, who is playing for England’s U-19 team, should be in for a salary increase after making 27 starts in all competitions. But renegotiation could involve a contract extension, which could work against Buck’s chances of a possible transfer. His deal ($67,000 annually) runs through 2025, when he will be 20.
The Revolution can afford to allow Buck freedom to gauge outside interest, since they are overloaded in holding midfield with Josh Bolma, Mark-Anthony Kaye, Tommy McNamara, and Matt Polster, plus Buck, Harkes, and possibly Maciel.
Few MLS teams are set up to prioritize creativity, and few coaches can pull off what Arena tried to do with the Revolution. Atlanta United’s 2018 MLS Cup titlists were an exception, presenting a go-for-goal team, though everything fell apart after Tata Martino left.
Arena’s tactics meant maximizing the number of players going forward, accompanied by an offense-first mind-set. The result became a fine line between spectacular success (league-best 22-5-7 season in 2021; 12-4-7 start to last season) and failure (Arena’s first losing pro season in 2022; the collapse this year).
Many coaching candidates likely will be thinking defense-first, which would mean a change in Revolution philosophy. Players such as Gil are capable of adjusting, but sacrificing his offensive freedom might not be best for the team.
To illustrate how effective Arena’s tactical setup can be, the Revolution’s record over the last three seasons (47-26-29, 170 points) is better than any three-year period in team history, despite the losing record in 2022 and this season’s collapse.
To alter the way the Revolution play would be to risk what happened to Atlanta, which took five years to return to a semblance of the high-scoring team Martino constructed.
Frank Dell'Apa can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.