FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Sometimes, you just need a little bit of luck to break out of a scoring slump.
After knocking on the door for the first 290 minutes of the season, the New England Revolution finally broke through in the 21st minute -- albeit with the help of a fortuitous deflection -- during Saturday's 2-1 win over the San Jose Earthquakes.
The play that put the Revolution on the board for the first time in 2015 originated on a ball that Daigo Kobayashi won in the midfield. The central midfielder then sent it forward to Lee Nguyen, who cut it inside for Kelyn Rowe. With an opening he couldn't say no to, Rowe blasted a shot from the top of the 18 that deflected off the forehead of San Jose defender Shaun Francis before it fell through.
"I saw it hit the guy and then go in, but I wasn't planning on it hitting the guy in the head," Rowe said, with a laugh. "If I did, that'd be pretty great."
It may not have been the way Rowe drew it up, but all that mattered was that the Revolution had a lead for the first time all season. And it was a lead they would build upon, without the help of a lucky bounce.
The Revolution spent much of the first half on the gas pedal, relentlessly pressing their guests. Rowe was a central figure in that effort, and not only because of his goal-scoring heroics.
"I thought Kelyn was excellent," Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. "Not just scoring the goals, but also the way he pressured and the way he played (with) the connection with Charlie (Davies) up top, and also the midfielders."
With the first half winding down, the hosts capitalized on another opportunity. Chris Tierney sent a free kick from the left flank that found Darrius Barnes, who glanced it forward. A split-second later, Rowe pounced on it and pushed it through in the 37th minute to secure a two-goal lead going into halftime.
"You just have to be aware," Rowe said. "You're inside the box on a free kick, and anything could happen. Darrius is a guy who's always going to get his head on the ball and, for me, I was going to the near post and I turned around, and it was there. It was one of those you just have to put in the back of the net."
As good as they looked in the first half, the opportunities weren't as easy to come by for the Revolution in the second half. San Jose coach Dominic Kinnear made two substitutions at the break, and changed his formation to close the gap.
"Give them credit: they came out ready, and we came out a little bit sleepy, and that's why we were down 2-0 at the half," Kinnear said. "We fought hard to get back into the game."
While the first Revolution goal may have come from a lucky break, San Jose also received a measure of good fortune in the 61st minute.
New England's Scott Caldwell was called for a foul on San Jose's Clarence Goodson that appeared to take place just outside of the box. But referee Jose Carlos Rivero pointed to the spot to indicate that the foul took place inside the box, and seconds later Chris Wondolowski converted the penalty.
With the Revolution defense withstanding heavy pressure, Matias Perez Garcia sent a corner kick near-post for Victor Bernardez, who forced Revolution goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth to react quickly in order to tip it over the bar in the 83rd minute. In stoppage time, Wondolowski and Jean-Baptise Pierazzi both found chances, but couldn't convert.
Despite the close calls at the end, the Revolution ultimately held on. And with their scoring drought over, the club's collective confidence was boosted as a result.
"I think it picks it up a little bit," Rowe said of that first goal. "It's not easy going three games without a goal, and only having one point. It's good to find those goals. It's good to play well, and create those chances. I think the confidence is going to be higher, and I think you'll find goals from other guys, as well."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- At some point this spring, the goal that's eluded the Revolution through their first three will come. It's just a matter of time. As such, Lee Nguyen isn't fretting about his club's scoring struggles.
Nguyen, who found the back of the net a team-best 18 times last year, believes that the chances created during the Revolution's last two matches are proof positive that goal No. 1 is just around the corner.
"We're really close," Nguyen said. "We should've had a couple in New York, and a couple in our last game (vs. Montreal). So we're very close -- it's just about the ball bouncing the right way for us."
While the club's inability to score could be partly due to some unfriendly bounces, there are other factors at play, as well. And they have nothing to do with bad luck.
In the Revs' previous two matches, their opponents have packed the central channel to prevent Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez from making dangerous, incisive runs. And so far, it's proven to be an effective strategy, even though Nguyen has managed to find a couple of opportunities.
To counter that defensive tactic, Nguyen believes that the use of the flanks will be the key to stretching opposing back lines, and opening up the passing lanes and pockets that he and Fagundez like to exploit.
"We have to use our wide guys to try and spread (the defense) out," Nguyen said. "If we can get out wide, and then come through the middle, and then get out wide again, I think it'll make our team more dynamic, and harder to defend against."
Their ability to go north to south and east to west is exactly what made the Revolution attack work down the stretch last season. But with target forward Juan Agudelo now in the mix, striker Charlie Davies believes that the offense has had to adapt to Agudelo's skills and instincts.
"Everyone has to get on the same page," Davies said. "You have Kelyn, Diego, Juan, and myself (involved), and it's all about getting on the same page. That takes time, just getting into a rhythm and understanding just where someone wants the ball, and where we're most dangerous."
Granted, the Revolution haven't been starved for opportunities while they work on getting into that rhythm. According to OPTA, which collects data on a number of different statistics in MLS, the squad has collected 21 attacking chances through three games, good for seventh-best in the league.
"The good thing that we do have is that we're creating a lot of chances," Agudelo said. "And like coach (Jay) Heaps said, we're only inches away, not feet. One goal could go in and change the whole game, so it's not something we're stressing about."
Nguyen isn't about to press the panic button either. After all, the offense is still missing Jermaine Jones, who's recovering from sports hernia surgery, and Teal Bunbury, who suffered a shoulder sprain during the season opener.
Plus, with the back line in a state of transition due to the offseason departure of A.J. Soares, Nguyen mentioned that the offense hasn't taken as many risks as it did late last year.
Once things start to fall into place, the club's current scoring woes will likely be resolved, just as they were when the Revolution started last season scoreless in their first 304 minutes. By the end of the 2014 campaign, the club had scored 51 times, including a pair of back-to-back five-goal outbursts in May.
"I'm not too worried about (it)," Nguyen said. "Our team's playing really well right now, we're creating chances, and that's the important thing."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- After conceding five goals and failing to score in their first two matches of the season, the New England Revolution knew they'd have to step it up to get a result from Saturday's game against the Montreal Impact.
Although Revolution coach Jay Heaps was forced to revamp his back line, due to an injury and a suspension, his defense rose to the occasion to secure the team's first point of the season in a scoreless draw.
"We knew if we didn't give anything away, we'd have a chance," Revolution center back Darrius Barnes said. "We knew Montreal liked to counter, so we were just working on, as we had the ball, moving forward, making sure we were aware of their dangerous players."
Keeping tabs on Jack McInerney and Dominic Oduro -- both of whom have hurt the Revolution in the past -- would be no easy task going into Saturday's contest. With center back Jose Goncalves suspended and right back Kevin Alston unable to go due to a hamstring injury, Heaps had to call upon a pair of key reserves to plug the holes.
One of those players was Barnes, who entered the league six years ago as a center back from Duke but hadn't started in the middle since 2012. Nevertheless, Heaps wasn't at all concerned about his veteran defender getting the job done.
"Darrius is the kind of player who helps a coach sleep at night because you can put him anywhere and you know he's going to be up for the game," Heaps said. "He brings it every day in training, and he brought it today for the game."
Not surprisingly, Barnes was more than happy to return to the role he aptly filled during his first three years in MLS. And it showed. He intercepted a team-high five passes and collected six clearances in the heart of a Revolution defense that had to be on its guard with the counterattack-happy Impact ready to pounce on any mistake.
"It's a position I played all my life when I got to New England," Barnes said. "I love being in the middle and being the aggressor, and I felt very comfortable. [We've] been working all this week just trying get that tandem down and the partnership and familiarity with one another, and I think it showed today."
While a reliable veteran was getting reacquainted at his old post, a newcomer embarking on a different assignment was asked to take over on the right side of the defense. Jeremy Hall, a midfielder by trade, was moved to the back line during the preseason and hadn't yet seen action in the first two games.
But with Alston out, Hall had to hit the ground running. He leaned on the minutes he gathered during the preseason, as well as the additional reps with the first-team defense, to prepare him for the occasion.
"We knew what we wanted to do as far as defending with the shape and not giving up many chances," Hall said. "So I thought it was a good first step and something we can build on."
Although Barnes and Hall, along with regulars Chris Tierney and Andrew Farrell, were able to keep Montreal -- who came into the match brimming with confidence following Wednesday's CONCACAF Champions League win -- at bay, there were a few nerve-wracking moments.
In the 44th minute, Donny Toia sent a cross that fell to Oduro near the far post, and the speedy forward had a clear chance, but his shot drifted wide.
Granted, the job became easier after Montreal's Hassoun Camara was sent off in the 61st minute, leaving the guests shorthanded for the duration. But Heaps had nothing but praise for his team's defensive effort in a game in which the Revolution desperately needed their first result of the season.
"We had to make some adjustments," Heaps said. "I really thought Darrius and Jeremy came in and did a great job. I don't think we were under as much pressure [as in the previous two games], but I think we dealt well with the counter."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Typically, when it comes to preparing for early-season opponents, coaches often lean on information gathered from the previous year. However, New England Revolution coach Jay Heaps won't be relying on film archives with the Montreal Impact up next.
After the Impact added 14 new players during the offseason, the team that awaits the Revs in Saturday's home opener is much different than the one they faced five months ago. But that's only half the story.
Despite a last-place finish in 2014, the Impact exceeded expectations in CONCACAF Champions League play during the winter. They pulled a stunning upset of Mexican side Pachuca in the quarterfinals, and grabbed a 2-0 win over Costa Rican club Alajeulense in the first leg of the semifinals Wednesday.
"They're playing well," Heaps said. "They have a great playmaker in (Ignacio) Piatti, and they're moving well with him. They've added a lot of little pieces that made them a lot stronger."
Some of those pieces are well-known to Revolution supporters, although probably not remembered fondly. Among the new faces at Impact coach Frank Klopas' disposal: former Chicago Fire defender Bakary Soumare, who once confronted a Revs staff member during game action, and former Columbus Crew forward Dominic Oduro, a player whose speed has burned holes in the locals' back line over the years.
While some of the changes have made Montreal a fiercer opponent, some of the holdovers can inflict damage as well.
Piatti scored four goals in only six games of action last year following his mid-summer arrival from Argentina. The 30-year-old midfielder has the vision and technical ability to bring a back line to its knees, something he wasn't shy about during Wednesday's Champions League win.
The Impact also have longtime Revolution nemesis Jack McInerney, who has scored three game-winning goals against New England in the past three years.
"He plays similar to (Marco) Di Vaio," Revolution midfielder Andy Dorman said. "He plays on your shoulder looking to get in behind, and if you give him a chance, he'll score. He's got a pretty good record against us, as well, and always seems to be scoring, but so we know we have to keep it tight, and not give them chances."
That won't be easy given the state of the Revolution's back four. Center back Jose Goncalves is suspended for Saturday's match after he was red-carded last Sunday against NYCFC. Making matters worse, right back Kevin Alston picked up a hamstring injury before Goncalves' red card, forcing Heaps to employ a makeshift back line in the latter stages of that game.
With two question marks in the rear, and a foe that can kick-start a counterattack at a moment's notice, Heaps will be leaning on his club's defensive depth to get a result.
"We've talked about it all year," Heaps said. "When someone goes down, there'ss going to be an opportunity for someone else to step up. And so we've been preparing those guys for the game on Saturday."
Defense is only part of the equation though. After watching a number of tantalizing chances in front of the net go for naught at Yankee Stadium last weekend, both Dorman and Heaps believe the Revolution must do better with their opportunities Saturday.
"We know we have to be clinical," Dorman said. "We have to take some of the chances we created against New York and bring them to this game."
Of course, it'll take a complete performance -- something the Revolution haven't quite put together this early in the season -- to get the team's first win of the season Saturday.
"If we're ruthless in the two penalty areas, we'll be fine," Dorman said. "If we take our chances, and cut out the little mistakes -- the professional mistakes -- defensively, I think we'll be good."
David Villa scored his first goal in a baby blue kit in the 19th minute when he and Mix Diskerud combined for a give-and-go that finished with the captain cutting through the box and putting it in the back of the net.
Former Revolution striker Patrick Mullins, who came on late, scored against his former team seconds after stepping onto the pitch when he steered a Villa cross through at the far post in the 84th minute.
The Revolution attempted to respond, but chances at the far post for Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez both went to waste before the half. Juan Agudelo also had a chance to level it in the 42nd minute, but his point-blank header fell right to goalkeeper Josh Saunders.
The situation for the Revs only worsened when Jose Goncalves was sent off in the 67th minute after taking down Khiry Shelton right before the box on a goal-scoring opportunity.
Nguyen missed the entire preseason and last week's season opener due to right groin irritation. He went 72 minutes before he was replaced by Scott Caldwell.
With the loss, the Revolution's record falls to 0-2-0 (0 points) while New York City upped its mark to 1-0-1 (4 points).
What it means: Well, at least the chances were there, which couldn't be said about the Revolution's situation in Seattle last week. Chris Tierney was a force on the left, and his crosses to the far post should have resulted in goals had Fagundez and Rowe done better with their opportunities. But the defensive lapses that plagued the Revolution in Seattle continued in the Bronx, as Bobby Shuttleworth was forced to bail out his back line on at least four occasions. Any hope of a comeback, though, took a significant hit in the 67th minute after Goncalves was ejected, and were effectively put to rest when Mullins padded the lead late. Although the attacking ideas were better, the Revolution will have to wait at least another week to get win number one (along with goal number one).
Rowe assigned to the right: With Teal Bunbury out due to a sprained right shoulder, Kelyn Rowe manned the right side of the Revolution midfield. He and Fagundez, the left-sided midfielder, switched sides at various points in an attempt to catch the New York City defense off balance.
Davies makes 2015 debut: Charlie Davies, last year's postseason hero for the Revolution, came on in the 65th minute for Juan Agudelo. Davies scored four goals in five postseason contests last season, but with the bulk of his action on Sunday coming with the Revolution shorthanded, he was unable to find the score sheet.
Headed home: After back-to-back road losses to start the season, the Revolution hope their fortunes will change in Saturday's home opener against the Montreal Impact. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m.
With the season-opening defeat shrinking in the rearview, the Revolution have firmly turned their attention to Sunday’s match against expansion side New York City FC at Yankee Stadium.
The challenge for any club preparing for a brand new opponent is the dearth of information available to prepare and game plan against them, especially this early in the season. But Heaps advised that the coaching staff has done their due diligence.
“We’ve gone further back to look at preseason games,” Heaps said prior to Wednesday’s training session. “We knew they were going to be one of our earlier opponents and (we have) an understanding of their roster."
That roster includes former Spanish international David Villa, who scored an impressive 59 goals in 97 appearances for his native country’s national team. His ability to single-handedly influence Spain’s attack was crucial to the country’s first World Cup championship in 2010.
U.S. International Mix Diskerud is another formidable player that New York City FC will trot out for Sunday’s match. Diskerud scored the club’s first -- and so far, only -- goal in last week’s 1-1 draw to fellow expansion side Orlando City SC.
The rest of the club is largely comprised of MLS veterans that were acquired through the expansion draft and trades. And while getting familiar with a brand new opponent isn’t groundbreaking to eight-year veteran Chris Tierney, he admits that expansion sides are never easy to prepare for.
“It’s always difficult,” Tierney said. “You don’t have a lot of tape to try to game plan for, but at the same time, they have a lot of players who’ve been in this league for a while, so we know their tendencies.”
But even though the Revolution haven’t yet faced the likes of Villa and Diskerud, Heaps says that the task of preparing for a new squad isn’t as challenging as it may appear.
“It’s like any other game early in the year, you’re not exactly sure what they’re going to do,” Heaps said.
“It’s something we have to prepare our guys for.”
Another thing they’ll have to work on during the week is bolstering their form at both ends of the pitch. After Sunday’s shutout loss, Revolution striker Charlie Davies said that he and his teammates have to be more dynamic in the attacking third.
“We have to be more dangerous, and we have to be able to switch fields when we have possession,” Davies said. “We have to be able to switch sides quickly and effectively, and then getting players in the box for crosses and creating chances.”
But making the offense more dangerous Sunday could be difficult to do with starting midfielder Teal Bunbury unlikely to see the field after suffering a right shoulder injury in Seattle. And with Lee Nguyen’s status still uncertain as he nurses a right groin injury, the burden of getting a result in New York may fall on the shoulders of the back four.
If so, Tierney believes he and his fellow defenders are ready to answer the call, despite what happened in Seattle. He said that making a defensive stand will be crucial to his club’s success, especially in what could be another match in a hostile environment after New York City announced earlier this week that they had sold approximately 30,000 tickets for Sunday’s match.
“If you keep yourself in the game, the longer it goes 0-0, and if you can nick a goal, the better position you’re in to win the game,” Tierney said. “So we just need to tighten up things defensively and close up some holes.”
Clint Dempsey opened the scoring from the spot in the 25th minute after he was tripped inside the area by Juan Agudelo, then added another goal in the 67th minute following a dazzling sequence involving Obafemi Martins and Marco Pappa. Martins had put the Revolution in a two-goal hole going into the half when he snapped a Tyrone Mears cross through in the 41st minute.
The loss marked the Revolution's second-straight shutout defeat to open the regular season. They suffered a club-worst 4-0 season-opening loss to Houston last year.
What it means: Not a whole lot in terms of the larger picture, as last year's opening day humiliation in Houston showed. A poor start won't doom the Revolution for their remaining 33 games. That said, it was clear the kinks still need to be worked out of the Jose Goncalves-Andrew Farrell central partnership. Farrell was subpar in the rear, especially on Martins' goal, a sequence in which he gave the Sounders midfielder far too much space to take an easy crack on frame. On the offensive end, the absences of Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen were impossible to overlook. The attack lacked the decisiveness, quality and ambition that both players regularly bring when they're out on the pitch. One positive to be gleamed from Sunday's game: Kelyn Rowe showed grit on the defensive end and quickness on the ball.
Stat of the match: Stretching back to last year's season opener in Houston, the Revolution have been outscored 7-0 in their last two First Kick clashes.
Nguyen out: Nguyen, who was listed as questionable due to a groin injury ahead of Sunday's match, did not make the game-day roster. With Nguyen unavailable, Diego Fagundez saw the bulk of the minutes as the central attacking midfielder, but was held in check by the Sounders' center back duo of Chad Marshall and Brad Evans.
Dorman gets the start: With Jermaine Jones out until mid/late March, Andy Dorman got the call to slide into Jones' spot in the midfield. Dorman went 57 minutes and put together a team-best 87.8 percent passing rate before Daigo Kobayashi spelled him.
Bunbury exits late with possible shoulder injury: Teal Bunbury was forced to come out of Sunday's match around the 80th minute after he landed awkwardly on his right shoulder while chasing down a ball in the final third. Because Bunbury's injury came after the Revolution had made their third and final substitute, the locals were forced to finish the match shorthanded.
On to the Bronx: The Revolution will look to bounce back against expansion side New York City FC on March 15 at Yankee Stadium. Kickoff is set for 5 p.m.
After returning 10 of their 11 starters from last year’s MLS Cup final, and adding Juan Agudelo during the offseason, the bar’s already been set by some: a championship, and nothing less. But Revolution coach Jay Heaps isn’t buying it.
“It’s about the focus on the small things,” Heaps said. “It’s about each week. If we can do everything right each week, then we have a better chance on Saturday, and if we put together enough good Saturdays in a row, then we’ll have a good chance to make the playoffs, and everything else beyond that.”
Put in the work every day, and the results will take care of themselves. That’s the essence of Heaps’ philosophy. And even though the expectations have changed, his focus on the task at hand won’t.
To that end, Heaps’ primary objective is to improve the group in front of him. After starting center back A.J. Soares left for Norway during the winter, the back four is in a state of transition.
“It’s tough when you lose players of that caliber,” Revolution midfielder Teal Bunbyry said. “All teams have to deal with that, unfortunately. But we know we have guys like (Andrew) Farrell, and other guys, who are going to have to step up this year.”
While Farrell, a right back by trade, has experience at the center back spot, there were noticeable growing pains during preseason action. But so far, Heaps is committed to keeping him there with the hopes that, in due time, Farrell will forge a strong partnership with Jose Goncalves.
Another area of focus is avoiding the dips in form the Revolution saw last season. A mid-summer eight-game losing streak had the potential to derail their postseason ambitions, and finding consistency will be key to staying in contention throughout the summer.
“I think it’s a mental thing, really,” Bunbury said. “It’s about being able to stay mentally sharp, being able to work with each other, and keeping each other’s confidence up. It’s just about keeping a tight-knit group and being able to (stick) together.”
But even though the Revolution certainly have flaws to address, there’s plenty of reason to believe that this year’s squad could be even better than the one that nearly ripped a title away from the Galaxy.
For starters, Heaps will have a full season of Jermaine Jones at his disposal. Although the 33-year-old midfielder will start the season on the shelf, the Revolution is one of the fiercest squads in MLS when he takes the field. Lee Nguyen, who led the team with 18 goals last season, will be keen to show that last season’s breakout campaign wasn’t a fluke.
Additionally, the return of Juan Agudelo, a strong and technically-sound striker, was nothing short of a coup for the Revolution. Once thought to be gone for good following his departure from New England in 2013, the physical forward re-signed with the squad last month after he was unable to strike a deal with a European side.
To say that Agudelo hasn’t missed a beat would be an understatement. He regularly combined with Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe during preseason action, and left no doubt that he could reclaim his spot as the starting striker.
“Everybody knows the type of player he is, and the quality that he has,” Bunbury said. “We have so much depth on this team, and that’s going to add to our attack. He’s a great guy to have in the locker room, as well. He’s learned a lot from being away for a year, and he’s fully focused and committed.”
Another player who looked sharp during the preseason is Fagundez, who joined the club midway through camp after a successful spell with the Uruguay U-20s. His experience at the international level seemed to restore the confidence he seemed to lose at times last year.
“I think it was a really good perspective for him,” Heaps said. “I think it opened his eyes up quite a bit.”
An argument could be made that this edition of the Revolution is even stronger than the one that reached the MLS Cup final last season. With the likes of Jones, Agudelo, Fagundez, Nguyen and Bunbury -- who collected a team-high six assists last year -- leading the attack, this team should be able to lift the MLS Cup trophy once December rolls around.
But to Bunbury, success for the 2015 Revolution isn't necessarily winning a title.
“Many people would say winning it all,” Bunbury said. “But I think for us, it’s just a mindset. For us, success would be going into each game and playing our style, and that’s an attacking style, a fun style, and winning.”
Fourteen months after he waved goodbye to Foxborough for what proved to be an ill-fated European journey, dynamic striker Juan Agudelo returned to the Revolution by signing a multi-year deal that will reportedly run through 2018.
The addition of Agudelo immediately gives the Revolution offense something it's lacked since his departure: a true back-to-goal striker who is both physically imposing and tactically sound, a rare combination that is perfectly suited for the top of Jay Heaps’ preferred 4-1-4-1 formation.
During his first spell with the Revolution in 2013, the 6-foot-1, 180-pound striker routinely dragged defenders away from the likes of Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe. It was no accident that both enjoyed sensational campaigns as a result, with Fagundez netting a career-best 13 goals and Rowe collecting a career-best eight assists.
But Agudelo isn't just a big-bodied target man with average shot. Consider that in his 14 games with the Revolution in 2013, he scored seven goals, an impressive goal/game ratio of 0.5. A closer look, though, reveals just how lethal Agudelo is in front of the net: Those seven goals came from only 11 shots on goal. In other words, he put away more than half (63.6 percent) of the shots he took.
If there is one weakness on Agudelo's dossier, it's his health. His physicality has led to injuries, as seen during 2013, when he suffered separate hamstring and knee injuries, which forced him to miss 14 games between Chivas USA and the Revs.
However, if Agudelo can stay healthy, there’s reason to believe that he could be even more dangerous during his encore.
The 22-year-old joins a squad that is undeniably stronger than the one he left in 2013. The addition of Jermaine Jones gave the attack an added dimension last year, while Lee Nguyen has transformed himself into one the best midfielders in the league. Plus, with Heaps fully comfortable with the 4-1-4-1 -- which was a new development during Agudelo’s first run -- Agudelo may find even greater opportunities to exploit defensive weaknesses out on the wing or beside Charlie Davies, who’s a second forward by trade.
The addition of Agudelo doesn’t just strengthen the Revolution offense: it gives the club the best shot it’s ever had at grabbing its first MLS Cup championship.
Less than seven weeks after watching the L.A. Galaxy raise the MLS Cup trophy at their expense, the Revolution were back on the training field for the first time in 2015 on Friday. And no one was talking championship banner or bust.
“We really don’t look at it that way,” Davies said. “Obviously, we know we had a great season [last year], and I think it’s just important that we just continue to get better.”
It may sound trite, but what Davies is saying is actually the cornerstone of what brought the club to its first MLS Cup appearance in seven years. After all, constant improvement has always been the name of the game since coach Jay Heaps took the reins just over three years ago.
But that objective isn’t necessarily about improving the team's record year-to-year, even if that’s exactly what the Revolution have done in each season under Heaps. Rather, it’s about fine-tuning the details. It’s about ensuring that the day-to-day work steadily improves from January to, hopefully, December. It’s the constant attention to the small picture, rather than the big one. Title talk? Get back to Heaps in December.
“For us, we look at the small steps and what we need to do,” Heaps said. “Right now, we’re focused on today’s session, what we’re going to do in terms of [building up] our fitness, and what we’re going through this season, and knock off goals in terms of segments rather than just picking one target.”
For Heaps, that’s especially true when the target is the MLS Cup trophy. Deep down inside, he may believe that his squad is capable of winning it. But with nearly 11 months to go until the Cup final, he isn’t particularly anxious to talk about it with his team.
“You go over the steps to get there,” Heaps said. “If you start by saying, ‘We’re going to win MLS Cup,’ then you’ve already lost.”
In a sense, the topic of winning it all this early in the year may be more of a distraction than a goal within the confines of the Gillette Stadium footprint. But that doesn’t mean the club isn’t confident about its chances of getting another crack at the Cup later this year.
New England is returning 16 of the 18 players who made the game-day roster at last year’s MLS Cup. Plus, Heaps will have a full season of game-changer Jermaine Jones, who joined the team last August, at his disposal. And with MVP candidate Lee Nguyen back in the saddle, it’s easy to see why expectations are as high as they are.
“I feel like this year, there’s just a different buzz coming into the locker room this preseason where we’re all confident,” Davies said. “We know that we’re ready to get the hard work started, and hopefully continue to get better as a team.”
Davies & Co. know they’ll have to be better, too. After pushing the eventual champions to the brink, the Revolution are well aware that they’ve got a target on their backs going into 2015. And every opponent will be keen to get the best of the reigning Eastern Conference champs.
For now, however, the club’s inner belief in getting another crack at the MLS Cup is higher than ever. The situation in Foxborough is brighter than it was a year ago. So it’s easy to forgive Davies -- or anyone else wearing the Revolution crest -- for not wanting to entertain the prospect of disappointment.
“I feel that with this group of guys, winning a championship obviously isn’t impossible,” Davies said. “So I think if we continue to play well and get better, everything will take care of itself.”
Fenelus, 22, scored a team-best seven goals and contributed two assists during his senior year with the Titans. Prior to joining the program, he amassed 40 goals and 19 assists in two seasons (2011-12) with Western Texas College (NJCAA).
At the international level, the speedy striker has been capped four times by Turks and Caicos Islands, for whom he scored the squad’s first goal in six years last summer during a Caribbean Cup qualifier against British Virgin Islands.
Though Fenelus likely will head into Revolution preseason camp unsigned, he figures to get a long look from the coaching staff given the lack of depth up top. The club currently has only two strikers on the active roster -- Charlie Davies and Sean Okoli.
Prior to Tuesday’s third and fourth rounds, the Revolution had traded away picks in the first, second, third and fourth rounds, netting Okoli, Teal Bunbury, Brad Knighton and Jeremy Hall in return. The pick used to draft Fenelus was acquired from Colorado in a trade that sent Geoffrey Castillion and Dimitry Imbongo to the Western Conference squad.
The Revolution will kick off its preseason camp on Thursday at Gillette Stadium.
The 21-year-old forward played in three games for the Sounders in his rookie year, but did not record any offensive statistics. He was signed by the club to a Homegrown Player deal prior to the 2014 season.
Okoli spent three years at Wake Forest (2011-2013), where he scored 24 goals and added nine assists during his college career. He was a projected first-round pick before the Sounders used the Homegrown-protected tag to sign him.
The Revolution have one pick at their disposal -- the 47th overall pick (third round) -- ahead of the third and fourth rounds, which will be held via teleconference Tuesday.
With the club on the clock ahead of the 33rd pick, the television cameras showed the Revolution braintrust in discussions with Sounders general manager Gareth Lagerway. Moments later, Revolution coach Jay Heaps emphatically shook Lagerway’s hand. The Sounders then used the pick to select Northwestern goalkeeper Tyler Miller.
The Revolution have one more pick at their disposal -- the 47th overall pick (third round) -- ahead of the third and fourth rounds, which will be held via teleconference on Tuesday, Jan. 20.
The club currently has 19 players on its roster, 11 short of the maximum. They’ll open camp on Jan. 22 at Gillette Stadium.
Bunbury, whose 85th-minute effort smacked off the bar with the match even at 1-1 during the Cup final, was signed to a multiyear deal with the Revolution on Wednesday. Per club and league policy, terms of the deal were not disclosed.
“I am thankful to be able to remain with the Revs and help this club continue to build on what we accomplished last season,” Bunbury said in a statement from the club. “We have a close knit team that is capable of winning a championship, and I look forward to being a part of that.”
Bunbury had six goals and eight assists in his first season with the Revolution, who acquired him from Sporting Kansas City prior to the 2014 season. He started the season in his natural center forward’s spot, but made the successful transition to right midfielder in May.
The 24-year-old was a vital part of the Revolution’s postseason run, playing every minute of the club’s five playoff games. He scored two goals and added two assists to help send the squad to its first MLS Cup appearance in seven years.
“We’re excited to bring Teal back this season,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in the statement. “Teal is a talented, young player who’s brought a dynamic element to our system, and we’re expecting him to continue being a key contributor on the field.”
With Bunbury back in the fold, the Revolution will return at least 10 of their 11 starters from the MLS Cup final. Only center back A.J. Soares, who drew interest from Serie A side Hellas Verona last month, remains unsigned.
Barring an 11th-hour trade, the Revolution, who’ve drafted inside the top 10 in each of the last six drafts, will have to wait until the second round (33rd overall) to make their first selection. The club surrendered this year’s first-round pick -- the 19th overall selection -- to Sporting Kansas City as part of the Teal Bunbury trade last March.
The only other pick the Revolution have at this year’s draft is a third-round selection (47th overall), one which won’t be made until Tuesday, when the third and fourth rounds of the draft are held via conference call. The club’s fourth-round pick (61st overall) was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps for backup goalkeeper Brad Knighton last winter.
Here are some quick-hit thoughts on what may lie ahead for the locals as the draft approaches:
A Long wait: The 33rd pick is the latest the Revolution have ever had to wait to make their first selection at a college draft. Prior to this year’s draft, the longest wait for the Revolution’s first pick came in 1999, when Leighton O’Brien was taken with the 25th overall selection (third round). O’Brien was waived prior to the start of the 1999 season, and never appeared for the Revolution.
Mediocre class: With only two picks at its disposal this year, the Revolution don’t appear to be in prime position to climb back into the top 10, or the first round. And that may be just as well. Many pundits are classifying this year’s draft crop as largely underwhelming, with only two bona fide prospects available (Connecticut’s Cyle Larin and Washington’s Cristian Roldan). The rest of the 2015 class appears to be stocked with long-term projects and USL-PRO loan candidates.
Let's make a deal: One scenario in which the Revolution could be tempted to make a trade: acquiring the top pick -- to be used on Larin -- from Orlando City for the MLS rights to Juan Agudelo. Larin is the kind of big forward that coach Jay Heaps could use to make his 4-1-4-1 formation operate with more efficiency. Plus, as a Generation Adidas signing, Larin’s compensation wouldn’t count against the salary cap. Oh, and then there’s the fact that the club would have him under contract for at least the next three seasons. Given that Agudelo, who trained with Orlando City last summer, is in no rush to return to the Revolution, it might behoove the front office to use the striker’s rights to secure the most pro-ready player available (Larin) -- and at a position of need, too.
Been there, done that: The Revolution have picked 33rd overall once before, back in 2005, when they selected defender/midfielder Tony Lochhead from UC Santa Barbara. Lochhead played three seasons in New England (2005-2007) before he returned to his native New Zealand. He represented his country at the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before returning to MLS last year with recently-dissolved Chivas USA.
Predictions: Who is expected to go to the Revolution with the 33rd pick? SBISoccer.com has California central midfielder Seth Casiple headed east, while Top Drawer Soccer has Connecticut center back Sergio Campbell staying in the region.