Revolution ramp up the retooling of their roster
A year ago, the Revolution were in inertia mode. Leading scorer Kei Kamara had been dealt to the Vancouver Whitecaps in exchange for draft picks and team captain Lee Nguyen had requested a trade. Coach Brad Friedel had been on the job for nearly two months, but had added no new players.
Now, spurred on by a third successive non-playoff season, the Revolution have ramped up. Friedel filled two problem positions last week, adding Colombian center forward Juan Fernando Caicedo and left back Edgar Castillo. The deal for Castillo involved a three-way trade, Revolution veteran Kelyn Rowe moving to Sporting Kansas City.
Caicedo should provide a point of reference up front, the “No. 9” the Revolution were missing since losing Kamara. Caicedo has shown he can finish — he led Independiente de Medellin in scoring under the direction of former Revolution midfielder Leonel Alvarez in 2015-16. And Caicedo can perform as a setup man — he played alongside Argentinian German Ezequiel Cano, the Colombia Liga Aguila leading scorer, last season.
Caicedo’s arrival should free Teal Bunbury to either pair as a striker or play on the right wing. Last year, Bunbury scored 11 goals as a lone forward for the Revolution, but converted only once after June 30.
Friedel signaled left back as a priority last season, but the signing of Gabriel Somi to a guaranteed contact did not work out. Somi made 12 starts but was benched in July, after it became apparent he was better suited at left wing than at left back. Chris Tierney regained the starting position, but sustained a career-ending, non-contact knee injury on the Gillette Stadium turf in late May.
The Revoluton ended up using six players at left back last season. Castillo, 32, a US national teamer from 2009-16 (he played three times for Mexico in 2007), should provide consistency at the position.
Meanwhile, Rowe, 27, did not seem to fit into Friedel’s plans. Rowe will be in the final year of his contract and likely would have been a candidate to either have his salary renegotiated — he earned $258,000, 11th on the team last season — or be assured of playing in an attacking role. Rowe, the Revolution’s eighth all-time scorer with 36 goals in all competitions, had gained a place on the US national team as a winger last year, but ended up performing in several positions, including outside back, for the Revolution.
Berhalter begins duty with US men
Gregg Berhalter begins his stint as US national team coach against Panama in Glendale, Ariz., on Jan. 27. Training camp opens in Chula Vista, Calif., on Jan. 6.
Berhalter probably should have started things a year ago, since he was apparently the top candidate for the position. If so, Berhalter would not have to rush through prospective roster candidates in preparation for the Gold Cup, which begins in June.
There are plenty of options on the back line and midfield – 24 of the 27-player roster are listed as defenders, midfielder or goalkeepers. But it will be difficult for Berhalter to get a fair assessment of attackers such as Real Salt Lake’s Corey Baird (listed as a midfielder), Portland’s Jeremy Ebobisse , and Los Angeles FC’s Christian Ramirez, none of whom have played for the US senior team. Baird, 22, scored eight goals last season and was the youngest of the top five US-born scorers in MLS. Ebobisse, 21, was the youngest starter in the MLS Cup.
Toronto FC’s Jozy Altidore, Werder Bremen’s Josh Sargent and Hannover 96’s Bobby Wood figure to contend for starting striker roles when the games count.
But there is a need to develop depth at the forward positions.
Four years ago, the US roster included several forwards who were in their 20s: Juan Agudelo, Terrence Boyd , Will Bruin , Aron Johannsson , Eddie Johnson , Jack McInerney , Jordan Morris, plus Altidore and Wood.
Trouble ahead for Atlanta United?
Atlanta United raised questions by hiring Frank de Boer to replace Tata Martino, who guided the team to the MLS Cup title in its second year.
Martino built Atlanta United through the middle of the field with South American players, and he was on the same page, both in mentality and tactically, with his recruits. Martino is a follower of Marcelo “El Loco” Bielsa. Both coaches are from Rosario, Argentina, and are known for combining an obsession with tactics, and an emphasis on offense, and a fatherly relationship with players to get the best out of teams. Tottenham’s Mauricio Pochettino , a Martino teammate under Bielsa with Newell’s Old Boys, and several others are considered Bielsa disciples.
De Boer experienced success playing for Ajax and Barcelona and coaching Ajax. But de Boer had major difficulties in his last two coaching positions with Inter and Crystal Palace.
De Boer will likely begin altering Atlanta’s look, moving away from the Argentinian influence, going with methods that functioned well with Ajax. The change could be disruptive. Dutch defender Anwar El Ghazi, who played for both de Boer and Bielsa, noted their training methods were “very different” in a recent BBC interview.
Going with de Boer could work out for Atlanta United, but it seems strange to change direction from a model that worked so well.