In today's installment of our midseason grades series I'm going to take a look at the strikers and forwards, breaking down how Jay Heaps plan to attack has fared thus far in 2012.
With expectations entering the 2012 campaign bordering on the optimistic, last year's 16th ranked scoring side (out of 18, mind you) had really nowhere to go but up. With several offseason acquisitions aimed at remedying this problem, New England still began the year looking for that talismanic scorer they hadn't seen since Taylor Twellman left town.
Enter, Saer Sene.
A product of the Bayern Munich development system, the 6'3" blonde-mohawked French dynamo entered the Revolution camp and immediately began making an impact. Sene opened up his 2012 scoring account against the Portland Timbers in late March, scoring in the first minute and entered the record books as the scorer of one of the fastest goals in team history.
Fifteen matches and seven goals later, Saer Sene has spear-headed the Revolution attack that currently sits eighth in the league in scoring with 24 goals for, well on pace to shatter last season's mark of 38.
However, after Sene? It's a crapshoot. The team has trotted out several others to partner with the Frenchman, all who have seen mixed results. Players like Jose Moreno, Blake Brettschneider, and Diego Fagundez have all made an on-field impact, while Bjorn Runstrom has found his way back home to Europe, and players like Alec Purdie and Mike Roach have seen time in the reserves.
Jose Moreno entered the Revolution fold with an extreme amount of fanfare and controversy. The moment Brian Bilello proclaimed "we've found a true #9", the expectations throughout New England were already at a fever pitch. When you add to that the subsequent daily soap opera saga that ultimately led to his tardy arrival to camp, it was almost impossible to overcome any pre-existing expectations.
Moreno managed to score on his debut on a lovely bit of play with Saer Sene, but since then has been an oft-injured disappointment with rare flashes of brilliance. He's strong, quick-witted, and instinctive, but lacks the polish and fitness of someone you can count on weekly during the season. As the season goes forward, not only will Moreno have to fight his own fitness, but his other strike partners as well just to see the field.
Blake Brettschneider has been the absolute definition of a mixed-bag. Not overly quick, but strong in the air and in hold up play, Brettschneider's blue-collar approach to his game is what draws Revs fans to liking him. The former D.C. United product has found ways both to score good goals, and miss clear cut chances. What has seemed to worry most in New England soccer circles, is his incredible inconsistency in his form, as well as his inability to make runs and link up with the Revs' talented midfield playmakers.
Diego Fagundez, the boy wonder, continues to defy the odds and come up with goals when he's brought into the fold. The teenager is looking a little bigger these days, showing off a little more strength than we've seen in recent years. Always with good soccer instincts, Fagundez has come off the bench mostly in his appearances, several of which were into difficult situations in matches where the Revs were either trailing, or chasing the game entirely.
With new strikers coming into the fold what seems like constantly, it will continue to be difficult for Fagundez to see consistent playing time, but given how well he has performed when given the opportunity, it's tough to see Jay Heaps keeping bench-ridden for much longer.
And then, of course, is New England's newest signing, and second-ever Designated Player, Jerry Bengtson. Bengston will not factor into my final grade for the first half, but it bears mentioning how big this signing is for New England. A leading scorer in the Honduran domestic leagues, a national team staple, and a young star to boot, all work in the Revs favor in their acquisition of Bengtson.
How the Honduran will link up with the rest of the Revs squad, particularly Saer Sene, will unfold throughout the second half of the season (with a brief break in the middle when Bengtson represents his country in the Olympics), but if Sunday' night's goal is any indication of what the two will be able to pull off together, a good start to 2012 may be punctuated by an even brighter finish.
2012 FIRST-HALF GRADE: B
Top half in the league in scoring, with 13 goals coming from the team's strikers (which truly is a testament to not only the balance, but how good the midfield has been also) as well as the acquisition of a proven, young Designated Player in Bengtson all lead me to this grade.
New England has been better offensively as a whole, and the strikers have certainly played their part. It's never been all roses from this group, but each piece has shown something different in their play in the first half. Whether it be the dynamic talents of Saer Sene, or the bulldog-like mentality of players like Brettschnieder and Moreno, each man has brought his own style to the fold.