The head coach/sporting director has several games and an entire offseason with the club under his belt, there's a clip of new players from varying levels/origins of play, the club introduced its inaugural USL League One team, and there's a brand new $35 million training facility dedicated to the club. If you're a supporter of the New England Revolution, there's no question that this is an exciting time for you.
Since the end of the 2019 season, Bruce Arena wasted no time stringing together a purposeful off-season for his club. On top of the Gustavo Bou addition that came last summer, he has addressed needs and stacked talent in spots on the field where the team has failed to produce in the last two years.
So with the team's preseason behind them, and their 2020 season opener set for Saturday in Montreal, there's no better time to review what you need to know about them before they put their stamp on the league's 25th season.
THE NEW GUYS
There are six of them on the official roster. I'm not going to dive deep into all of them, but feel free to do so in the players' bios on the team's roster. However, there are a few guys you should know about that have enough professional experience to make a real difference.
Adam Buksa (pron. "Book-sah"): Buksa joins the Revolution from Poland's top flight, where he scored seven goals for his team in the 2019-2020 season. From what I've seen so far, you're getting an athletic, left-footed forward who is eager to find the back of the goal. He has no fear of getting up aerially to make something happen and holds his own in the box. I don't have a huge sample size on his game, but I don't think he's one to make clever plays in the attacking third to set up his teammates. Further, don't expect him to dance over the ball and use wit to beat players like Carles Gil. He's more likely to take a touch past a defender and have a chance at goal.
Seth Sinovic (pron. "Sin-oh-vich"): At age 33, Sinovic brings over 200 games of MLS experience to the roster. Not only that, but Sinovic has been on Sporting Kansas City teams during his MLS career that have won US Open Cups and an MLS Cup in 2013. He's certainly reliable, having tallied more than six MLS seasons with 20 or more starts. For a team that has had so much trouble finding that very trait at left back, he's a good add. Sinovic is an aggressive defender and has no fear of getting forward.
Henry Kessler: The club's first MLS Superdraft selection is Henry Kessler, a 21-year-old center back with a good frame (6-4, 185 pounds) who joins the Revolution from the University of Virginia. As far as I know, Kessler doesn't have any professional minutes under his belt, but he is highly accredited and he established a notable reputation in one of the nation's best collegiate conferences. I don't have much insight on him yet as a player, but I thought it was necessary to include him with Sinovic and Buksa as notable new players given that he was the team's only addition at arguably their thinnest position. After watching him play against LA Galaxy, I didn't think he was going to be ready to step in and start from the team. However, if you do just a little digging, you'll find that the coaching staff has mostly only positive things to say about him.
The rest of the additions (so far) are as follows:
Alexander Büttner (pron. "Boot-ner") is a 31-year-old left back who has amassed several thousand minutes of experience across some of Europe's top leagues.
Damian Rivera (nickname "Tico") is a 17-year-old academy product who is a playmaker (his true projected position on this team is something that I'm unsure of, but I would guess it would be winger/midfielder/forward) who scored an impressive goal against Colorado (one of two goals in that game) with his left foot after getting a touch past a defender.
Kelyn Rowe rejoined the team after touring a couple of others last season.
Jeff Caldwell is a 24-year-old goalkeeper who was originally drafted by New York City FC and appeared in 28 USL games in 2019. I assume he was brought on to fill the roster at the goalkeeper position and increase competition after Cody Cropper went to the Houston Dynamo.
CARLES GIL AND THE MIDFIELD
Carles Gil has been sidelined for some time now with a mysterious foot injury that no one seems to know that much about. There is still no word about whether or not he'll be healthy enough to play in the season opener against the Impact, but it could be quite troublesome for the start of this team's season.
It's important to remember what this team was before Gil arrived; a team struggling to get a sniff of the playoffs that didn't have much of an identity on the ball from game-to-game. When Gil arrived, he brought a sense of urgency and poise to the midfield. His ability to keep the ball close and away from the opponent while putting his teammates in great positions turned heads across the league. By the end of the season, he was dubbed MLS Newcomer of the Year; and joined some great company in those that have won the award before him; Diego Valeri, Miguel Almiron, and Zlatan Ibrahimovic, to name a few.
But without Gil, the Revs don't have much in comparison to the rest of the league, or the Eastern Conference alone. Just consider some of the talent in the midfield on other Eastern Conference projected contenders:
NYCFC: Maxi Morales, Keaton Parks, and Alexander Ring
Atlanta United: Ezequiel Barco, Pity Martinez, Jeff Larentowicz, and Eric Remedi
Columbus Crew: Lucas Zelarayan, Darlington Nagbe, and Artur
The Revolution midfield doesn't come close to any of those listed, and it's crucial for a contending team to have a midfield that can hang with the top competition in the league. The strength of the midfield will also depend heavily on which formation Bruce Arena decides to wield.
They may perform better if he were to go with a 4-5-1, where Buksa could play the lone forward role while Gustavo Bou and Gil play attacking in front of Wilfried Zahibo. But I don't foresee much success in the center midfield if Arena chooses a 4-4-2 where Bou plays as the second forward and Gil plays on the wing (even though he slid central often) like he did last year. This would leave Zahibo to play alongside one of several potential players; Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Rivera, Luis Caicedo, Scott Caldwell, Isaac Angking, or Nicolas Firmino. None of those names in a 4-4-2 give me any confidence that this team can win on a regular basis. Keep an eye on how Arena manages the midfield; especially if Gil isn't available.
THE NEW TEAM
The club announced its new USL affiliate recently, Revolution II, and they just played their first friendly on February 19th. They will play in USL League One, which is the second of three tiers in USL. The main purpose of the team is to serve as a middle ground between the Revolution Academy and the first team. The advantages that Revolution II provides.
- A step above academy: If there are any Revolution Academy players that are starting to develop quicker than others at the academy level, they can participate in a professional game environment without ruining their NCAA eligibility. In addition, first-team players (players like Firmino, Rivera, and Angking) that don't receive frequent minutes on the first team can travel to get professional minutes with Revolution II; which allows them to maintain game fitness.
- Short term deals: When the Open Cup comes around, the first team has the ability to sign players from Revolution II to short term deals to play with the first team. This may not seem like a benefit for a Revolution team that seems so deep with middling talent on the roster, but when the inevitable injuries and knocks arise as a result of the regular season grind, this could prove useful to keep first-team players fresh for league matches.
Revolution II will play in their first USL League One game on Saturday, March 28th.
THE CENTER BACK SITUATION
In the club's recent history, they simply haven't been strong at center back; and that narrative still remains. There were three additions on the defensive end of the field (Büttner, Sinovic, and Kessler), but