The Revolution’s decline began soon after they reached the MLS Cup final for the fifth time, in 2014. They then lost in the first round of the 2015 playoffs, then failed to advance to the postseason three successive seasons, and now find themselves in last place in the Eastern Conference after 10 games.
And though other MLS teams are also faring poorly this season, few have displayed more glaring inconsistencies than the Revolution.
A 4-4 tie with Sporting Kansas City Saturday highlighted the Revolution’s unevenness. For the first time this year, the attack clicked as they took a three-goal lead — a week after failing to produce a shot on goal in a 3-0 loss to the Montreal Impact. But the defense appeared as vulnerable as ever, as defenders Jalil Anibaba and Brandon Bye were red-carded during a second-half collapse.
Some reasons for the team’s failings can be traced to tactical maneuvers. The Revolution got off to a strong start last year in Brad Friedel’s first season as coach, but they have struggled to find a winning combination since. Friedel made several right moves as the Revolution compiled a 7-4-6 record halfway through last season. But they fell out of playoff contention on the way to a 10-13-11 mark. The slump has continued this season, as the Revolution (2-6-2, 8 points) are on pace for their lowest point total since 2001.
The downturn originated with problems in central defense. The team’s fumbling attempts to replace A.J. Soares after the 2014 MLS Cup caused a domino effect, contributing to the losing records from 2016-18. Friedel took steps to patch holes late last season, but questions remain about the effectiveness of the current back line.
In midfield, the Revolution acted slowly to compensate for the loss of playmaker Lee Nguyen, who was sent to Los Angeles FC after requesting a trade last season. This year, the team added Spaniard Carles Gil on a $2 million transfer from Deportivo La Coruna, but the attack remained sluggish until breaking out against SKC.
Part of the offensive difficulties relate to ineffectiveness of the forwards. Cristian Penilla, the Revolution’s leading scorer last year, has scored one goal and has made only four starts, his lack of playing time due mainly to a perceived lack of defensive effort.
Teal Bunbury, second on the team in scoring last year, is in a 20-game goalless slump dating to Aug. 4. Diego Fagundez has yet to convert this year. And former national teamer Juan Agudelo and newcomer Juan Fernando Caicedo broke through for the first time against SKC.
Friedel’s paucity of coaching experience also could be factoring in. Friedel has pointed to the Revolution’s lack of inspiration, blaming himself after the Montreal defeat, other times pointing to lack of promotion/relegation and similar factors that encourage complacency in MLS players.
The Revolution’s personnel management also can be questioned. Former captain Claude Dielna and left back Gabriel Somi — key figures in Friedel’s plans — were benched for much of last season.
Yet, the Revolution appear to remain spirited, despite the late collapse against Sporting KC. If they can hold on until a Designated Player arrives, there is a chance of salvaging the season.
As for the team’s support, recent attendance has not been encouraging. The loss to the Impact marked the lowest announced Revolution home crowd (9,422) since 9,165 arrived for a 4-2 loss to the Impact on Sept. 8, 2013.
A home date against the San Jose Earthquakes is expected to draw 30,000-plus to Gillette Stadium on May 11, though many made their ticket purchase before the Revolution were mired at the bottom of the standings.
The Revolution have mostly failed to capitalize on a home-heavy early schedule. They will have chances to compensate with visits to the Philadelphia Union Saturday and Chicago Fire next week, but with only one victory in the last 19 road games (1-10-8), signs are not encouraging.
They meet again
The Revolution could be facing the Union’s Matt Freese, a former Harvard goalkeeper, on Saturday. Freese, 20, who joined the Union after two seasons with the Crimson, replaced former Connecticut star Andre Blake (groin) in making his pro debut during a 1-1 draw with the Vancouver Whitecaps Saturday.
Freese performed for the US U-19s when Friedel was coaching the team.
“He was a huge inspiration for me even before meeting him, when I was growing up,” Freese said of Friedel. “So having him as a coach was just crazy. He inspired me and pushed me to pursue a professional career. But I’m not going to think about it too much. I’m focusing on being the best I can be and not worrying about the other team.”
Down to the wire
Manchester City (30-4-2, 92 points) has the inside track on Liverpool (28-1-7, 91) for the Premier League title with two matches remaining. Meanwhile, fourth-place Chelsea (20-8-8, 68 points) has the edge over Arsenal (20-10-6, 66) for the final Champions League qualification spot in the league.
The Blues have four crucial matches upcoming: against Eintracht Frankfurt in the Europa League semifinals on May 2 and 9; at home against Watford on May 5; and a Premier season-ending visit to Leicester City on May 12. Chelsea’s roster for a charity match against the Revolution at Gillette Stadium on May 15 includes all the team’s regulars, except for Callum Hudson-Odoi, who sustained an Achilles’ tendon rupture in a 1-1 draw with Manchester United Sunday.