Best of BSJ Free Preview

Revolution roster analysis: Depth, defense surprising strengths so far

(Tim Clayton/Corbis via Getty Images)

Suffice it to say, the New England Revolution currently have — and in the opinion of some observers, surprisingly have added — more depth (26 players out of a possible 30 spots; technically 25 with one player out on loan) than it has had in recent years. The team started 2017 with 22 roster spots filled and didn’t really bring on a newcomer until August.

And the team is trending up, that much is true.

New England has 19 of 20 senior roster spots filled. Of two Designated Player slots, one is currently filled by centerback Claude Dielna. Dielna also takes up one of eight international slots on the roster, and the Revs have six of those spaces occupied: Dielna, Luis Caicedo, Krisztian Nemeth, Cristian Penilla, Gabriel Somi and Wilfried Zahibo. One of the team’s slots this year belongs to Columbus thanks to last August’s trade for Nemeth (for those of you keeping track at home, the Hungarian technically occupies two international slots on the books: his own slot, and the one the Revs traded to get him). That leaves one available international slot for a potential incoming transfer.

There are also three available slots on the Revs’ reserve roster. Currently on that roster are rookies Brandon Bye, Nicolas Samayoa, and Mark Segbers. Segbers is currently on loan with Orange County SC of the USL. Samayoa hasn’t seen any action or the bench for New England so far. Bye has three appearances and one start with the first team.

And away we go.

STRIKERS

Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Nemeth, Brian Wright, Femi Hollinger-Janzen

Agudelo and Bunbury are the main men up top. Before his 63rd-minute stunner in the 2-2 draw with New York City FC on March 24, Agudelo hadn’t scored in 15 matches dating back to July 29, 2017; he had eight goals during the first half of '17, his best total in MLS. Bunbury had seven goals for New England last season, a resurgent year after only scoring two in '16. He has since scored twice this season.

Nemeth is also an attacking option, but has played sparingly since New England acquired him in August. Wright and Hollinger-Janzen have not been in the squad so far in 2018 and are more than likely destined for U.S. Open Cup run-outs in June as the extent of their playing time, unless something dreadful happens to those first three.

BSJ analysis: These may be the only options we see this season unless general manager Michael Burns cuts the cord on some of them and frees up some space on the roster. Doubtful that will happen, though. Wright was a '17 first-round SuperDraft pick—the only one of four the club signed last year. The Revolution initially weren’t going to exercise the option on him this past offseason, but they eventually re-signed him in December.

ATTACKING MIDFIELDERS

Diego Fagundez, Penilla, Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen, Zachary Herivaux, Isaac Angking

New England is packed with scoring talent in the offensive midfield, there’s no doubt about that. The Revs should have no problem scoring goals, especially when they’re feeling their stroke, and when they’re feeling particularly ruthless in attack.

Through five matches, Fagundez leads the team with three goals. He’s moved into the central attacking midfielder role, and it looks like he’s flourishing there instead of out on the left. Penilla’s a breath of fresh air, and if he continues in this vein, one would have to think New England has to trigger the buy clause in his loan deal. Rowe is still serviceable at 26, and needs more touches on the ball right now; the Penilla-to-Fagundez tandem is working incredibly well.

BSJ analysis: Here lies the kicker — should one or even two of those three get hurt, trouble will loom rather quickly. Will clubs solve Penilla by having the right side centerback cheat toward him when he has the ball, all to counter his shift to the right when he makes his move around the back? Nguyen can’t even sniff the pitch save in training right now. Brad Friedel would be able to manage for that match, moving pieces around, but then Nguyen’s fitness level wouldn’t matter; he would be needed moving forward — and Herivaux has mainly been used in U.S. Open Cup matches. He has earned nods onto the bench for league matches, sure, but he hasn’t seen the pitch in the league since Oct. 23, 2016, and hasn’t seen significant league minutes since August 2016.

There is also something about Herivaux that screams nerves at me whenever I’ve seen him come on. He’s not confident, that’s for sure.

Angking hasn’t featured for the Revolution so far thanks to his lengthy non-soccer related illness dating to the preseason, but he scored 28 goals during his four years in the Revs Academy. So we believe he can score; we’re just waiting for him to get healthy so he can show what he can do.

DEFENSIVE MIDFIELDERS

Wilfried Zahibo, Scott Caldwell, Caicedo

BSJ analysis: At first, I wanted to say that this is the area where I’m most concerned when it comes to potentially picking up a player to help bolster the squad, but I’ve changed my thinking. And while it may be prudent to have that extra body in case of injury (see also: Sapher Taider’s stomp on Caicedo last Friday night), I’m thinking this trio has the makings of a rather good setup. And it’s not like others are unable to move up to supplement the center, if needed.

Zahibo has been excellent with his distribution; he does have the tendency to give the ball up when he’s not careful. Caldwell is always dependable, no problems there. Caicedo has been wonderful in his first two full matches, giving a burst of pace, especially in counterattack.

DEFENDERS/BACKS

Andrew Farrell, Dielna, Antonio Delamea, Bye, Gabriel Somi, Jalil Anibaba, Samayoa, Chris Tierney

BSJ analysis: Ah, the defense. Much maligned for years, it's coming around and I’m starting to warm to it. So are the fans: It’s amazing what a pair of clean sheets will do for a fan base’s confidence!

Of course, this is New England: that could change in five minutes, just like the weather, especially when a team of high-scoring caliber is on the pitch. The Revolution have already withstood Houston’s attacks, and the Dynamo are rather — sorry for the usage and play-on-words, but I can’t help myself — dynamic up top and in the midfield. NYCFC played without David Villa, and Montreal played nearly a full match without its playmaker and without a scoring threat in Ignacio Piatti. Some can point a line to the Revs getting lucky in the early goings: the opposition’s best players have not played or been on for long, and hence the defense has maintained things. We’ll be sure to monitor this as the season progresses.

If there was any area New England needed to improve on in '18 (heck, they needed an upgrade in '17), it was the defending, especially when it comes to giving up goals. The Revolution gave up 61 goals in the league in 2017, plus two in the Open Cup; the previous five years break down thusly: 54+8 in the Open Cup (2016), 47+1 (2015), 46+5 (2014), 38+6 (2013), and 44+3 (2012).

They are at five allowed so far in 2018. Again, we’re monitoring this.

GOALKEEPERS

Matt Turner, Brad Knighton, Cody Cropper

BSJ analysis: No problems here. Turner has emerged as the No. 1, and both Knighton and Cropper are solid goalkeepers, too. Knighton has experience and was the primary keeper during the U.S. Open Cup run in '16, and Cropper has a year under his belt.

Thanks for checking out BostonSportsJournal.com. Feel free to check out some of our best stories from the past in our Free Preview section here. If you'd like to support independent and locally owned journalism, subscribe today!