Different coach, different attitude, improved roster. Same mediocre results. Late in the season, the Revolution find themselves in a position similar to a year ago, fading from playoff contention and facing a difficult visit to Atlanta United, where they sustained a team-record 7-0 loss last September.
So, how did the Revolution retreat into this situation after a promising start to coach Brad Friedel’s first season?
Most of the problems stem from inconsistency on the back line. Yes, the same difficulties that caused them to struggle in 2015 and cost them postseason berths the last two years.
Friedel has tried 11 back four combinations, the latest including Kelyn Rowe starting at left back last Saturday for the first time this season. The 4-1 loss at Toronto should not be blamed on Rowe, but it also is unrealistic to expect him to solve the team’s defensive difficulties, since he essentially is the fifth-string left back. And left back is not even Rowe’s true position.
Rowe gained experience at outside back under Jay Heaps’s coaching, but clearly was reluctant to make the move to defense. Though Heaps believed Rowe was among the team’s best tacklers, the position proved a difficult adjustment.
This season, Friedel made left back a priority, and his first foreign signing was Gabriel Somi, who had experience in Sweden and the Europa League. Somi had been selected to replace Chris Tierney, the Revolution’s longest-tenured player, but he committed costly positioning errors and has been out of the lineup since July.
Meanwhile, Tierney sustained a season-ending knee injury after playing six games. Next up was Claude Dielna, converted from central defense. But Dielna, the team’s highest-paid player until the arrival of Michael Mancienne, has fallen so far out of consideration that he spent the weekend participating in a photo shoot in New York while the Revolution were playing in Toronto.
The No. 4 choice at left back, Brandon Bye, has been effective at times in 12 starts, but also displayed inexperience.
Against Toronto, Rowe battled well against Sebastian Giovinco but ended up out of position on crucial sequences. That was not the Revolution’s only problem, but it did affirm that the team will continue to falter until the back line is straightened out.
Friedel has taken steps to remedy the situation, bringing in Mancienne, at $1.3 million the league’s most expensive defender, in August. But the move was made far too late to salvage this season.
The fate of the Revolution (8-11-11, 35 points), in eighth place in the Eastern Conference, could be virtually decided by this Saturday. A loss combined with a Montreal win over Columbus would leave the Revolution a point away from elimination with three games remaining.
The recent struggles of the Revolution can be traced to the 2014 MLS Cup final. After falling to the Los Angeles Galaxy, 2-1, in extra time on Dec. 7, 2014, the Revolution offered a contract renewal to central defender A.J. Soares, who had developed into an excellent complement for Jose Goncalves, the 2013 MLS Defender of the Year. But the offer came too late, and Soares moved to Europe, the Revolution unable to find an effective central defensive combination since.
The ’14 MLS Cup also marked the peak of Jermaine Jones’s stay with the Revolution, as he was hampered by injuries and departed after the 2015 season. The Revolution failed to replace Jones, but still could have remained a playoff contender had the defense remained consistent.
But the team’s troubles might have actually originated a few years earlier, when it lost players such as Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst, both still going strong with league-leading Atlanta.
Like Soares, both Larentowicz and Parkhurst refused contract renewal offers from the Revolution. Parkhurst departed on a free transfer to Denmark in 2008 and Larentowicz was traded to Colorado in 2010, but the Revolution did not get the better of the deal.
It is also telling that neither Larentowicz (Brown University) nor Parkhurst (Cranston, R.I.) expressed interest in returning to essentially their hometown team.
The pattern continued this season, with No. 2 all-time leading scorer Lee Nguyen leaving for Los Angeles FC on acrimonious terms. The Revolution do not appear to have found an adequate replacement for Nguyen, though they’ve had plenty of time to do so.
Both Toronto FC, the reigning MLS champion, and Atlanta have achieved success by making bold investments in coaches and players. The Revolution might have to make similar commitments in order to compete.
One got away
The Galaxy made an effective signing by adding Ghanaian winger Emmanuel Boateng in 2016. But MLS appears to have missed out on another Emmanuel Boateng, who is 22 (two years younger than the Galaxy’s Boateng) and had been offered to the league before moving from Moreirense in Portugal to Levante on a 2 million euro transfer last year. The younger Boateng made his Ghana national team debut after last season, when he scored six goals in La Liga, including a hat trick in a 5-4 win over Barcelona.