Can some key newcomers lead the Revolution back to the MLS playoffs?
The Revolution have endured some lengthy slumps during their 23-year history, none longer than the latest — a three-year absence from the MLS playoffs. But they have taken bold steps to reestablish themselves among the league’s contenders as they prepare for the season opener Saturday at FC Dallas.
In the past, the Revolution successfully reinforced the roster primarily with low-cost domestic players. But second-year coach Brad Friedel has convinced management to invest in low-profile but quality foreigners.
The Revolution’s spending, frugal compared with the last two MLS Cup champions (Atlanta United and Toronto FC), began late last year when they made Michael Mancienne the league’s highest-paid defender at $1.37 million. Friedel upped the ante last month, making Spanish midfield playmaker Carles Gil the Revolution’s most expensive player yet — $2 million in salary, plus a $2 million transfer fee paid to Deportivo La Coruna.
“There is pressure and respect that go with it,” Gil said. “It’s a big responsibility, but the truth is I’m proud to take it on.”
Friedel’s other foreign recruits cost more than $2 million in total salary: midfielder Luis Caicedo (Colombia), winger Cristian Penilla (Ecuador), left back/wing Gabriel Somi (Sweden), midfielder Wilfried Zahibo (France), and striker Juan Fernando Caicedo (Colombia).
The newcomers have gobbled up most of the Revolution’s salary-cap budget and will be expected to transform the team. But questions remain about their ability to adjust to MLS’s often unsophisticated tactics, plus the challenge of performing on Gillette Stadium’s artificial turf, as well as meshing with their new teammates.
“I think they’ve been fitting in great,” Revolution forward Teal Bunbury said. “It shows in training and even off the field. I think everyone gets along. There’s a little bit of a language barrier, but everyone’s trying to understand each other.”
The Revolution have maintained some of their past policies, as well. Domestic players continue to make up the team’s foundation; eight were among the top 11 in playing time and five were among the top seven scorers last season.
Former US national team forwards Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury will be counted on to provide attacking threats. Hamilton’s Justin Rennicks, a US U20 national team starter, provided a threat off the bench during the preseason, and former University of Vermont striker Brian Wright is considered the team’s best finisher.
New England-raised performers should contribute in midfield. Leominster’s Diego Fagundez, 24, is among the team’s youngest players but has seniority in terms of service; he is the only player remaining from 2012, the first Revolution squad to complete three successive non-playoff seasons.
Braintree’s Scott Caldwell, 27, has been among the Revolution’s most consistent performers in midfield since 2013.
Providence’s Isaac Angking, 19, and Brookline’s Zachary Herivaux, 23, could be on the verge of breaking through as regulars.
Luis Caicedo, 22, and Zahibo, 25, are projected starters, filling midfield roles in support of Gil and left wing Penilla, the Revolution’s leading scorer with 12 goals last season. Draftees Tajon Buchanan, 20, and DeJuan Jones, 21, performed well during the preseason and could contribute as attacking midfielders.
The Revolution’s failure to find an effective central defensive pairing has coincided with their demise since the 2014 MLS Cup final. Mancienne and Slovenian national teamer Antonio Delamea are being counted on to solidify the back line, with Jalil Anibaba in reserve. Right back Andrew Farrell, whose status for the opener has not been determined after he sustained an eye injury in training, and former US national team left back Edgar Castillo are projected to start.
“Of course, it always takes time to build relationships and a rapport with the back four,” Mancienne said. “With preseason, and I was here at the tail end of last season, and that helped. I feel like we’re on the right path at the moment and it’s only going to get better.”
The goalkeeping position is the only spot the Revolution have not taken steps to upgrade. But Friedel’s stamp of approval for Cody Cropper, Brad Knighton, and Matt Turner goes far, considering he was among Europe’s top keepers during a 20-year playing career.
When Friedel was hired before last season, he said the Revolution needed some “tweaks” to improve. And they got off to a strong start, compiling a winning record (7-6-7) through July 18.
But Friedel evaluated the situation as the team faded dramatically late in the season, finishing with its worst record (10-13-11, 41 points) since 2012.
Besides pumping funds into personnel, Friedel has concentrated on physical conditioning and instilling a “winning mentality” during preseason.
“We’ve been ready for a little while,” Friedel said. “As preseasons roll on, they do get a little bit stale and everyone gets to that point where they just want the matches to start. We’re there, and we’re ready.”