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.
Bowen, who spent last season with Seattle, was tabbed by the Revolution in the first round of Thursday's re-entry draft. He was limited to a pair of league appearances in 2014, and has spent the bulk of his six-year career, which included stops with Chivas USA and the Los Angeles Galaxy, as a reserve forward. In 50 career games, he's scored four goals and added six assists.
In addition to playing up top, the 23-year-old can also play on the wing. In 2013, he collected a career best two goals, two assists and 32 shots in 22 games for a largely disappointing Chivas USA squad. A fiery personality, he was cautioned six times and ejected once in 2013.
As with any player selected during the re-entry draft, the Revolution have a limited window to negotiate a new contract with Bowen, who earned $70,000 in 2014, according to the players union. Should Bowen fail to sign, the Revolution would retain his MLS rights.
Hall, who opted out of the re-entry draft hours before it commenced, was limited to three league games for Toronto in 2014. Over the course of his six-year career, he's played in 115 games for Toronto, Dallas, Portland and New York. He's scored two goals and collected six assists since New York drafted him 11th overall in the 2009 SuperDraft.
The 26-year-old can play in the center of the midfield or backline, and that versatility likely caught the attention of the Revolution coaching staff. In past matchups against Toronto, Revolution coach Jay Heaps had singled out Hall for praise.
Meanwhile, all three Revolution players who were available during the re-entry draft -- forward Andre Akpan, midfielder Shalrie Joseph and defender Stephen McCarthy -- went unselected. As such, all three are now available to any MLS team on a first-come, first-serve basis.
With less than two months before the Revolution open preseason camp, and plenty of work for both the coaching staff and front office to attend to, we'll take a look at the top five questions surrounding the local XI this offseason:
1. Can Diego Fagundez bounce back from a forgettable 2014? Matching a remarkable 2013 season -- one in which he became the youngest player to reach double-digits in the goal-scoring department -- proved a difficult feat for Fagundez. It took him eight weeks to get his first goal, and after a brief spell of success, he promptly went missing for much of the summer. If Fagundez wants to reclaim his spot in the lineup, he'll need to up the ante on defense and get on the same page with striker Charlie Davies, who became the Revolution's go-to striker down the stretch.
2. How will the team cope with the loss of AJ Soares? After earning the team's top defender honors in 2014, Soares reportedly took his talents to Serie A on Monday. Replacing the veteran center back won't be easy, but the front office has options. Right back Andrew Farrell filled in at center back on a handful of occasions in 2014, and performed particularly well in that role. Another possibility is Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Draft, as veterans Jeff Parke, Bakary Soumare and Adam Moffat could fill the void. Then, of course, there is the SuperDraft, where the Revolution may trade up to take a blue-chipper like Michael Amick (UCLA).
3. Can Lee Nguyen repeat his success in 2015? Few predicted the season that Nguyen enjoyed in 2014. His 18 goals shattered his previous high of five, and his nine game-winning strikes topped MLS. But whether or not he can do the same next season depends upon those around him. Davies' holdup play created space for Nguyen to operate, while the addition of Jermaine Jones alleviated some of the pressure as well. Nguyen often credited those around him for his success, and as modest as he may have been, the sentiment was ultimately true. For the dynamic midfielder to register a similar campaign, the likes of Jones, Davies and Kelyn Rowe must remain sharp -- and healthy -- in 2015.
4. How will the Revolution utilize their partnership with Sporting Lisbon? This is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing questions of the offseason. One prong of the partnership, which was established in October, opened the door for the Revolution to have its players train with the Portuguese side during the offseason, and vice versa. Another possibility is that the Revolution could invite a player or two from Sporting for preseason camp. Then again, the Revolution could very well maximize their agreement with Sporting -- who boast one of the most prestigious player development academies in the world -- by adding a player or two, much like Orlando City has done in their partnership with Benfica.
5. What position will the front office train their eyes on during the offseason? It has to be forward, where the Revolution are particularly thin at the moment. With Davies the only target man on the active roster, and Teal Bunbury getting the bulk of his time in the midfield, the front office has to restock the cupboard when it comes to its forward corps. Last year, the Revolution looked at the SuperDraft, where they selected recently departed Patrick Mullins, and within the league, where they acquired Bunbury from Sporting Kansas City, to shore up their depth up top. Look for them to do the same this winter, even if it takes a pre-draft trade to get a spot in the Top 10.
In fourth and final part of this series, we’ll take a look at the forwards: Jerry Bengtson (loaned to Belgrano until June 30, 2015), Charlie Davies (signed)
Overview: Who would replace Juan Agudelo? That was, perhaps, the biggest question for the Revolution heading into the 2014 season.
The front office attempted to answer it by acquiring Teal Bunbury, a talented player who saw his playing time decline the previous year. Similar in size (6-foot-2) to Agudelo (6-1), it was hoped that Bunbury could provide the same type of physical and disruptive presence as his predecessor.
But it didn’t take long to figure out that the two were different types of players. Bunbury’s speed and savvy didn’t lend itself well to such a gritty role. He went scoreless in his first seven games and was eventually plugged into the midfield as coach Jay Heaps went with rookie Patrick Mullins at striker.
Initially, the move appeared to be a masterstroke. The two-time Hermann Trophy winner scored in each of his first four games. Even more, his hold-up play created opportunities for others, and with him stationed up top, the Revolution registered back-to-back five-goal games in mid-May.
Mullins’ emergence, though, came and went like a comet. By July, he was back on the bench as another player took the reins: Charlie Davies.
The original plan for the Boston College alum was to put him on the wing, but the striker by trade never lost his natural instincts. Davies proved as much by scoring or assisting in three straight starts in late July, a time in which the Revolution were trying to dig themselves out of an eight-game losing streak.
While Davies didn’t pose the same scoring threat that Agudelo did, his ability to draw defenders and endure abuse allowed MVP candidate Lee Nguyen space and opportunities to cash in. Once the postseason arrived, Davies stepped on the clutch and threw it into fifth gear by notching a pair of two-goal games to spark the team’s first MLS Cup appearance in seven years.
As valuable as Davies showed himself, the Revolution didn’t quit tinkering with their personnel up top. They traded Saer Sene to New York in August for Andre Akpan, while adding Tony Taylor and Geoffrey Castillion to the roster in August. But none of the three midseason additions made any meaningful contributions down the stretch.
Analysis: Davies proved to be a solid option up top, no doubt. Though he spent the bulk of his career as a second striker rather than a target man, the 28-year-old forward quickly took to the role, and by season’s end, was thriving in it. But injury issues remain a concern. He spent the first half of the season sidelined with various leg injuries and rarely went the full 90 even when healthy.
The team’s depth at forward took a significant hit less than a week into the offseason. Reserve forwards Dimitry Imbongo and Castillion both were traded to Colorado during Monday’s half-day trade window, while Mullins and Tony Taylor both were selected by New York City FC during the expansion draft.
As for Jerry Bengtson, who’s on loan to Argentinian side Belgrano until June 2015, it’s clear the organization does not expect him to factor into the equation anytime soon.
Bottom line: As much as the Revolution would like to be able to count upon Davies to carry the load, it’s clear that the forward position remains the area of greatest need this winter. Look for the organization to address that concern by either scouring the international waters or through a trade. Of course, if Bunbury, who’s currently out of contract, decides to re-sign, don’t be surprised if Heaps contemplates returning him to his natural center forward’s position should all else fail.
In Part 3, we'll take a look at the midfielders: Teal Bunbury (unsigned), Scott Caldwell (signed), Andy Dorman (signed), Diego Fagundez (signed), Jermaine Jones (signed), Daigo Kobayashi (signed), Steve Neumann (signed), Lee Nguyen (signed), Kelyn Rowe (signed).
Overview: Few could've predicted the way the 2014 season unfolded for the Revolution in the middle of the park -- for a myriad of reasons.
For starters, there was the curious case of Diego Fagundez. The talented teenager led the team in scoring in 2013 but struggled with consistency in 2014. With Juan Agudelo gone, and coach Jay Heaps demanding more from his outside midfielders, Fagundez's minutes dwindled during the second half of the season.
As Fagundez's form regressed, the onus to get the job done fell on Lee Nguyen, whose previous scoring high was five goals in 2012. The veteran midfielder answered the call brilliantly by bagging a league-record 18 goals by a pure midfielder. Half of those tallies were game winners, and by season's end, Nguyen was shortlisted for MVP consideration.
Nguyen's breakthrough season wasn't the only surprise, of course. The late-summer signing of Jermaine Jones, a classic box-to-box midfielder, brought both bite and ambition to New England's midfield corps. With him on the pitch, the Revolution ripped off a 9-1-1 record down the stretch, and he became an influential figure on a team that reached the MLS Cup final.
Another unexpected development: Teal Bunbury, a striker by trade, was asked to switch to the wing. The move initially appeared to be a reach, but by season's end, the speedy and tireless Bunbury picked up a team-best six assists and scored twice in the postseason.
Two other surprises popped up in the middle of the park. Offseason signing Daigo Kobayashi played in every one of the team's 34 games, and played well whether he started or came off the bench. Rookie Steve Neumann was a valuable late-game option, as he often steadied the ship when called upon.
For all the twists and turns, two of the team's unheralded heroes continued to show their worth. Veteran Andy Dorman was a force at holding midfielder before an MCL injury sidelined him for much of the second half. In his place, Scott Caldwell was nothing short of superb at putting out fires and plugging the opponent's passing lanes.
Analysis: The Revolution weren't terribly impressive in terms of overall possession (48.6 percent -- 14th in MLS), but that didn't stop the midfielders from finding success.
Nguyen was virtually unstoppable during the second half, while Jones made opposing players think twice about bullying the likes of Caldwell and Kelyn Rowe. Bunbury's speed and work rate gave the Revolution much-needed width and grit on the right, while Rowe's form on set pieces gave the attack an added element of danger.
As a unit, they might not have dictated the game as often as they would've liked. But individually, each did enough to hit their adversaries where it hurt, and as a result, their contributions were able to make the Revolution offense potent down the stretch.
If there is one area of concern, the midfielders didn't help the club curb their turnovers. The Revolution's 76 percent passing accuracy was ranked 17th in the league.
Bottom line: With a full season of Jones ahead, and Nguyen's scoring touch evident, the Revolution boast one of the most talented midfields in the league going into 2015. Bunbury's successful transition to the wing has turned him into a must-sign talent going into the offseason, while Scott Caldwell's defensive work has made him virtually irreplaceable. But if the team wants to become truly dominant in the middle third, Fagundez and Rowe will have to step up their game. Should Bunbury return, the pieces are all in place for another year of attack-minded soccer.
In Part 2, we’ll take a look at the defenders: Kevin Alston (signed), Darrius Barnes (signed), Andrew Farrell (signed), Jose Goncalves (signed), A.J. Soares (unsigned), Chris Tierney (signed).
Overview: Bend, but don’t break. That was the name of the game for the Revolution defense in 2014.
Following a sterling 2013 season in which the Revolution pitched a club record 14 shutouts and Jose Goncalves earned MLS Defender of the Year honors, injuries and off-the-field issues prevented an encore performance from the back four.
The first sign of trouble appeared in the preseason, when Goncalves voiced his displeasure over his new contract. Matters only worsened in the Revolution’s season-opening matchup with the Dynamo, a game in which the reigning Defender of the Year looked like a shadow of his 2013 self. A week later, he was left off the game-day roster. At that juncture, it looked like 2014 would a long and trying season for all parties involved.
But Goncalves quickly put his grievances aside -- at least publicly. He returned to the field alongside A.J. Soares, and the team eventually found its rhythm. They racked up clean sheets against defending champion Sporting Kansas City, Houston and Seattle, and didn’t allow a goal at home until late-May.
Just when it looked like the Revolution were primed to ride their defensive success into the summer, injuries conspired against them. After holding midfielder Andy Dorman went down with an injury in July, Soares was called upon to briefly fill the void, while Andrew Farrell lined up opposite Goncalves. The results weren’t very inspiring. A 5-1 loss against the Galaxy, as well as a 2-1 loss at Salt Lake in which the defense conceded two penalties, appeared to spell doom for the rest of the season.
But the defense managed to piece together better performances down the stretch -- even with injuries to Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston. It wasn't perfect week in and week out, but winning close games showed that the defense had the resolve to keep pressing on. With the offense spearing the team’s late-season success, the defense simply did their job: keep the opponent from scoring too often.
Analysis: It didn’t take long for questions to emerge about the state of the Revolution defense going into 2015. Soares, who was voted the team’s best defender in 2014 by the media, announced his intention to play overseas earlier this week. With his contract set to expire at the end of the year, he may very well have played his last game in a Revolution uniform. Meanwhile, Goncalves, who looked strong in some games and cavalier in others, will presumably return. On the right, Farrell’s season was largely a mixed bag, as the sophomore fullback conceded a string of soft breakaway goals during the summer. Interestingly, Farrell actually looked more comfortable when filling in at center back, and there’s a sense that he may be better suited for that role. On the left, Tierney was his usual reliable self, and his crosses opened up the offense. Alston struggled to stay healthy, but his speed and attacking instincts gave Heaps the flexibility to mix and match his lineup accordingly.
Bottom line: Whether Soares stays or goes, the Revolution are going to need the 2013 version of Goncalves to make a full-time return. When the Portuguese center back is at his best, the rest of the defense often follows suit. Should Soares say goodbye, Farrell could very well fill the void. Alston’s injury history may prompt the Revolution to shop for another fullback during the offseason. Tierney appears to have the left back’s spot locked down, but depending upon matchups week to week, he may be asked to push up into the midfield against speedier wingers. With these issues at the forefront, the Revolution will need to make some moves to keep their defense in order going into 2015.
Their 17 wins matched the regular-season high originally set by the 2005 squad, while midfielder Lee Nguyen enjoyed a breakthrough season that nearly netted him an MVP award. And then, of course, was the arrival -- and immediate impact -- of Jermaine Jones.
But even though the Revolution came within a goal of lifting their first MLS Cup trophy in club history, there are still plenty of questions about how next year’s roster will shape up. After all, this is MLS, a league that sees an extraordinary amount of turnover during the winter months.
In order to tackle some of those questions, we’ll examine the roster position-by-position as the club looks to strengthen its roster going into 2015.
In the first of a four-part series, we’ll take a look at the team’s goalkeepers: Bobby Shuttleworth (signed) and Brad Knighton (unsigned for 2015).
Overview: For the first time in nearly a decade, a blimp-sized question mark hovered over the sticks for the Revolution entering the preseason. With Matt Reis retired, a pair of his former understudies -- incumbent Bobby Shuttleworth and the recently re-acquired Brad Knighton -- arrived in camp ready to battle for the starting goalkeeper’s spot.
Strong preseason numbers appeared to give Knighton the edge, but Revolution coach Jay Heaps stuck with Shuttleworth. The decision was immediately met with criticism after the 26-year-old keeper conceded four goals in the season opener at Houston. Though Shuttleworth rebounded with stronger performances, Knighton briefly took the mantle in late-June after a pair of sterling starts during U.S. Open Cup competition.
But the second-time around Revolution keeper couldn’t hold onto the spot for long. After a shaky start against the Union on June 28, the reins were returned to Shuttleworth, who grabbed them and never let go. While the month of July was a punishing one for everyone on the squad, Shuttleworth emerged as the bona fide starting keeper down the homestretch.
Analysis: Despite a few bouts of inconsistency during the first half of the season, Shuttleworth all but etched his name on the lineup as the starting keeper during the second half. Fearless off his line and quick on his feet, the sixth-year keeper erased any doubts that he was a worthy successor to Reis.
Additionally, Knighton is a solid backup, not to mention close friend of Shuttleworth, and the dynamic fostered a fierce but civil competition for the spot.
Although former third- and fourth-stringers Luis Soffner and Larry Jackson had their options declined, the Revolution prefer to carry at least three keepers, so look for the front office to address that item during the later rounds of the SuperDraft and/or the waiver wire.
Bottom line: The Revolution are firm at goalkeeper going into 2015. Shuttleworth’s 2014 season wasn’t without bumps, but he emerged as one of the league’s better keepers by the end of it. His consistency will need to improve if he wishes to reach elite status, but at age 27 there’s no reason to believe that can’t happen down the road. Meanwhile, should Knighton return to fill the backup’s spot, look for him to do exactly what he did in 2014: test and sharpen Shuttleworth every week.
The Revolution broke preseason camp with soaring expectations after snapping a three-season playoff drought in 2013. But making a return trip to the postseason -- no matter how strong the collective ambition was in the locker room -- wasn’t necessarily a foregone conclusion.
Longtime goalkeeper Matt Reis retired during the offseason while talent striker Juan Agudelo departed for a chance to play in Europe. Matters took a turn for the worse when center back Jose Goncalves aired his contract frustration days after the team traded the rights to another center back -- Michael Parkhurst -- to Columbus for a first-round pick and allocation money.
It didn’t take long for the aforementioned concerns to bubble to the surface. In the season opener at Houston, Reis’ replacement -- Bobby Shuttleworth -- was beaten four times by a Dynamo side that exploited a puzzling performance by Goncalves. On the other end of the pitch, Teal Bunbury, who was brought in to replace Agudelo, looked out of sync with those around him. When all was said and done, the 4-0 shellacking marked the worst season-opening defeat in team history.
Though the loss unnerved plenty in New England, the Revolution were back in the saddle weeks later. After shaking off some early-season scoring struggles, the offense came alive as the temperatures in the region started to warm.
The locals went on a seven-game unbeaten streak (5-0-2) between early April and mid-May that included a 5-0 thumping to the eventual Supporters’ Shield winning-Sounders and a 5-3 shellacking of the Union less than a week later. By the time Memorial Day weekend arrived, first place was theirs. But storm clouds lay ahead on the horizon.
New England entered the World Cup break with back-to-back losses to last-place Montreal and an undermanned Red Bulls side. They returned to league action at the end of June and promptly dropped a humbling 3-1 defeat to Philadelphia. The following week, they conceded not one, but two penalties in a loss at Salt Lake. All told, the Revolution suffered eight straight defeats and sat below the red playoff line at the halfway point of the season. Something had to change.
While the team slowly rediscovered its identity in August, they received a major boost when MLS awarded the Revolution the rights to U.S. international Jermaine Jones, who joined the club just before Labor Day weekend. The move worked like a charm for a team that desperately craved Jones’ leadership and tactical awareness.
With Jones in the fold, the Revolution went 9-1-1 in their final 11, including a pair of impressive wins at Sporting Park, as well as BBVA Compass Stadium, where they were thumped during the first game of the season.
What’s more, Lee Nguyen caught fire as he scored 12 goals in his final 14 games while Bunbury and Charlie Davies thrived in new roles as the regular season came to a close. Meanwhile, Shuttleworth overcame his early-season inconsistency to establish himself as the bona fide starter.
The strong finish assured the Revolution of the second seed in the Eastern Conference, and they wasted no time announcing their intentions when they tore through the Crew by an aggregate score of 7-3 in the conference semifinals. In the conference final, they edged New York’s high-powered attack 4-3 on aggregate. For the first time in seven years, the Revolution were en route to a Cup final.
Their championship dreams may have been dashed in the end, but with Jones, Nguyen and Shuttleworth all slated to return next year, the Revolution have to like their chances of getting another crack at their first MLS Cup title in 2015.
New York City FC selected Mullins with their second pick and Taylor with their fifth. Once Taylor was chosen, the remaining players on the Revolution's unprotected list were no longer eligible for selection as no club could lose more than two players.
Mullins' departure came less than four days after he assisted on Chris Tierney's 79th-minute goal during Sunday's MLS Cup final. The back-to-back Hermann Trophy winner was drafted by the Revolution with the 11th overall pick in the 2014 SuperDraft. He played in 21 games and became the first rookie in more than a decade to score in four straight games.
Taylor joined the Revolution via weighted lottery in August after spending four years plying his trade in Europe. He made his lone appearance for New England on Aug. 23 as a late-game substitute in a 1-0 win over Chivas USA.
Prior to the expansion draft, the Revolution sent allocation money to both New York City and Orlando City SC as part of an agreement that neither would select midfielder Diego Fagundez, who was among those on New England's unprotected list.
With the departures of Mullins and Taylor, Charlie Davies and Teal Bunbury are the only two forwards remaining on the Revolution roster. The club's current roster now stands at 19.