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BSJ Season Recap: Revolution 2018 season ends without playoffs thanks to summer swoon

FOXBOROUGH — With the 2018 Revolution season complete, here’s a look back at the highlights and lowlights — well, mostly lowlights — in quickie form, complete with BSJ insight and analysis.

HEADLINES

Revs miss Eastern Conference playoffs for third-straight year: A summer swoon that really didn’t end even as the month of October opened was the catalyst of a tremendous crash-and-burn over the second half of the season. New England went 3-9-5 from July 7 to October 28, with the lone wins coming at Yankee Stadium on Sept. 5, and at home on Oct. 14 and Oct. 28. Consecutive bad results compounded the problems for the Revs. First-year manager Brad Friedel continually pointed toward a disastrous 3-2 loss to LA Galaxy on July 14 as what un-did the team. With MLS being the way it is, the Revolution hung in the playoff race until a 1-0 DC United win over FC Dallas on Oct. 14. It should also be mentioned that BSJ was not allowed to question management about why mediocrity is allowed with this team, and not with the Patriots.

Revs were a teeter-totter in first half: We wrote back in May that it was hard to get a bead on this Revolution side, because we didn’t really know what we were going to get from week to week. The mantra of “Good teams don’t lose two games in a row” was a common theme through the third week of July, when they had lost three in a row. As for the moments when the Revs felt up: Chris Tierney won the home opener against Colorado, 2-1, with a stunning free kick after a Wilfried Zahibo flop; Teal Bunbury’s goal against Sporting Kansas City; the Revs’ 2-1 win over New York Red Bulls on June 2. A gut-punch loss to Montreal on May 5 and a series of draws to Vancouver, Chicago, and San Jose frustrated the fan base. Bunbury scored 10 of his 11 goals in the first four months of the season. New England was one-and-done in the US Open Cup on June 5.

Tierney tears ACL on May 30: It was the only serious injury the team sustained in 2018. Near the end of the first half of the May 30 home match with Atlanta, Tierney — who has been with the club since 2008 — went up for a 50/50 ball and landed awkwardly. A scan showed Tierney had torn the ACL in his right knee, which ruled him out the rest of the season. The Revolution would end up using six players in Tierney’s usual left back slot: Gabriel Somi, Tierney, Claude Dielna, Brandon Bye, Kelyn Rowe (out of position yet again), and Jalil Anibaba (briefly). Juan Agudelo would have a hamstring injury in May, and Andrew Farrell had a hamstring injury in October; both returned to the squad.

Lee Nguyen transferred at Primary Transfer Window deadline: Drama swirled around the Revolution in the first two-plus months of the season. Lee Nguyen, who scored 51 goals for the Revs, had requested a transfer after 2017, was a holdout to training camp, arrived three-and-a-half weeks late — and found himself not available for selection in any of the Revs’ first eight matches; Diego Fagundez won the No. 10 central attacking midfielder role. An Eastern Conference rival, reportedly Chicago, had offered $750,000 for Nguyen in early April, but the Revolution front office turned them down. He would eventually be transferred to Los Angeles FC just before midnight on May 1 for $700,000.

Angking debuts on Sept. 5, Segbers on Oct. 18: East Providence native Isaac Angking had signed with the club as its fourth Homegrown player, but a non-soccer illness shelved him from the preseason to some time in June. He began to train with the club, and made his first matchday squad on July 18 in Minnesota. He would make his Major League Soccer debut in a 1-0 win over NYCFC on Sept. 1, and nearly scored his first professional goal. He would make one more appearance this season. Draft pick Mark Segbers would get his first start in a Revs shirt during the Open Cup, scoring the first goal. He had been on loan with Orange County SC in the USL; he would make his MLS debut on Oct. 18, coming on in the second half of a 4-1 drubbing at the hands of RSL.

Road form improves slightly: 2016 and 2017 were not good seasons for the Revs to play on the road, with eight points and six points in those two years, respectively. Critical in those years? The inability to win in the Lower 48, while having better success — one win — in Canada. The Boys In Blue would accrue 12 road points in 2018, with two road wins — Houston, NYCFC — and six draws away from Gillette. Still, the Revolution left many points on the road, including winnable matches against Columbus, Vancouver, Chicago, San Jose, and Orlando City, all of which were road draws.

Revs break ground on $35 million training center: Back in May, BostonSportsJournal.com reported on a plan to expand the current training facility, and on Oct. 15, the Revolution brass — Robert Kraft, Jonathan Kraft, Brian Bilello, and Michael Burns — broke ground.

TURNING POINT OF THE SEASON

The Revs had gone down to 10 men early against Los Angeles Galaxy, and wound up taking a 2-1 lead into second-half stoppage time. But two Galaxy set-piece goals in two minutes flipped the world on its axis, and 36,000-plus fans went home disappointed.

Sadly, the disappointment did not end there.

TRANSFERS IN/OUT

IN: Cristian Penilla, Wilfried Zahibo, Jalil Anibaba, Gabriel Somi, Luis Caicedo, Cristhian Machado, Michael Mancienne, Guillermo Hauche

OUT: Lee Nguyen, Krisztian Nemeth

Three of the Revs’ incoming transfers — Penilla, Caicedo, and Mancienne — provided good moments: Penilla scored 12 goals, Caicedo’s ability to track back and dispossess was second to none, and Mancienne’s experience at playing in the top levels of England and Germany helped calm down a reckless back line. Anibaba was lights out in the back for most of the season, willing to throw himself all over the 18-yard box to stop shots. Zahibo had flashes of brilliance early, but that faded. Somi was too slow. Machado had one costly giveaway which led to Orlando’s equalizer on Aug. 4. Hauche was criticized after a couple of poor performances in early October.

For all the talk of missing Lee Nguyen, let’s set the record straight: he wanted out of New England, and let me remind you — he came to camp three and a half weeks late. He didn’t exactly endear himself to the new regime. His transfer, while the supporters didn’t like it (and trust me, I understand why you didn’t like it, especially after all he accomplished), was addition by subtraction. Nemeth, for all the talk about him being a goal-scorer… didn’t score goals.

The Revs did not replace Nguyen with a playmaker, and after Tierney got hurt, the club did not seek out a new full-time left back; instead, it was a Band-Aid approach with six total players playing left back (Anibaba would sub in against Atlanta). Machado, while Friedel boasted of his versatility, only played defensive midfield in his two appearances.

SEASON THREE UP

Cristian Penilla: The Ecuadorian on loan from Pachuca — and if he’s not in Pachuca’s plans moving forward, the Revolution need to secure his services right away this offseason UPDATED: They did. — helped guide the Revs offensively. With speed on the ball and a serious cut-in to get the ball on his right foot, Penilla scored 12 goals for New England. Penilla started every match but one — his red card suspension on July 18 — and provided excitement every time he was on the ball.

Luis Caicedo: The plucky kid from Colombia… he did pretty much everything. He showed incredible speed in tracking back to dispossess as we said, and showed a resilience we didn’t know possible for such a thin gentleman; when Sapher Taider stomped on his leg in the first Montreal match on April 6, he writhed a bit on the Gillette carpet, but bounced back up and would play the remainder of the match. He even scored a goal, and helped on a couple of others. He’s another we’d like to see the buy clause in his loan deal triggered. UPDATED: It was.

Scott Caldwell: The Braintree native gave everything he had for the Crayon Crest in 2018, he covered an insane amount of ground, and even scored a couple of goals after working his hiney-hopper off for them. There were times during the swoon where he looked downright offended that the team had blown points. He was also good for a solid quote, and called me out once this season when I said that in one match, the DC United road match, he looked like the only one who wanted it.

SEASON THREE DOWN

These will be rather easy.

Claude Dielna: The Revs’ “captain” and $900,000 designated player switched off way too much and found himself at the heart of New England’s collapse in the month of July: he failed to defend against Dallas in April, switched off against Galaxy, and fouled Tyler Adams of New York Red Bulls; the ensuing free kick led to New York’s goal, the only one it needed on July 21, and that would be the last we saw of him -- except, you know, on Instagram. He also put the Revs down to nine men in the season opener in Philadelphia. He can’t get out of Foxborough fast enough; he admitted Sunday night that his time here is over. We’d help him pack if we could.

Gabriel Somi: This signing was pretty much a bust right from week one. I mean, I wanted to give him a chance — I like what he did in the Houston game, staying with his man even though he got spun around; he supplemented the centerbacks well against Dallas — but in the end, he was done pretty much by August. Somi gave up too much space, was generally slow, and just was not a good signing. He, too, was a waste of nearly $500,000 of Robert Kraft’s money.

Juan Agudelo: Time to cut ties with the New Jersey kid. His second stint with the Revs did not go as we expected, and this year, only three goals to show for it. There is no doubt that Swagudelo is a talented player, and his skill on the ball is unquestioned. That’s not the problem. The problem is he’s not a finisher, had never scored more than eight goals in a season, and only one of his goals this year was an emphatic one: the go-ahead goal against NYCFC back on Mar. 24. He was mere potential, and I don’t believe he reached it.

HONORABLE MENTIONS

Jalil Anibaba, Matt Turner, Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez

DISHONORABLE MENTIONS

Cristhian Machado, Guillermo Hauche

TEAM AWARD WINNERS

Team MVP: Cristian Penilla
Defender of the Year: Andrew Farrell
Humanitarian of the Year: Andrew Farrell
Players MVP: Cristian Penilla
Midnight Riders’ Man of the Year: Cristian Penilla

SCORING LEADERS

Cristian Penilla: 12 goals, 8 assists
Teal Bunbury: 11 goals, 4 assists
Diego Fagundez: 9 goals, 10 assists
Wilfried Zahibo: 4 goals, 4 assists
Juan Agudelo: 3 goals, 4 assists

TWO END OF SEASON TAKES THAT SWEENS MAY REGRET LATER

Back in May I had asked Friedel if, when the high press the Revs utilized this year failed to work, there was a Plan B. He said no. I believed then that he needed a Plan B. I still believe now that he needed a Plan B. I will believe next year that he needs a Plan B. Then again, if he had the personnel that knew not to shut off in critical moments, or had speedy defenders, we wouldn’t be having this conversation.

The club has said that the new training facility will be a game-changer for the Revolution. It’ll be a way to attract talent to Foxborough. They say that it will be ready for occupancy by next summer. But will it be before the Secondary Transfer Window ends, or afterward? Because we know how much of an impact late transfers make…. That was sarcasm, by the way. In addition, and in the vein of attracting talent — will there still be turf on Gillette Stadium? Because you can try to attract the talent all you want, but as long as the plastic pasture is in play, the big stars will stay away. Heck, I’m wondering if Wayne Rooney will play on it in '19 (I already know the answer). Zlatan, Thierry Henry, and David Beckham famously didn’t want to play on it.

WHAT’S NEXT?

We’re expecting the following things to happen over the next two-plus months:

  • Revs will announce which players’ contracts are not being renewed near the end of November
  • Protected players for the expansion draft (FC Cincinnati enters the league in ’19) to come out around Dec. 10
  • First set of new signings around the first of the New Year
  • MLS SuperDraft mid-January
  • Training camps open late January
  • Schedule reveal in February

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