Just about a month ago, before the Revolution opened preseason camp, we pondered what New England's depth chart would look like heading into the 2014 season. Since then, there have been a slew of trialists, one very welcome addition via trade, and some interesting positional battles playing out. So, with the season opener only 13 days away, we wanted to take a second look and see what might have changed...
Although it has been widely discussed that the Revolution's goalkeeper battle will be the most heated that it's ever been and will likely be throughout the season, many will agree that Bobby Shuttleworth is more or less the incumbent starter. After all, he did make a very strong case to be considered for the 2013 MLS All-Star game per his midseason form last year.
That being said, Brad Knighton has had the more impressive stats thus far through preseason. Knighton has started and played the full 90 minutes for 2 matches (2 draws) this winter and only allowed a single goal. Knighton also played 30 minutes in the Revs' win against the Fort Lauderdale Strikers. Shuttleworth, on the other hand, has also started/played 90 for 2 matches as well (a draw and a loss), but conceded 4 goals total. Not only that, but recaps of Knighton's 2 matches (particularly his showing against Real Salt Lake) have been chock full of praise for his sharp reflexes and keen shot-stopping abilities. My best guess would be that Knighton will start between the sticks on March 8th.
One of the more interesting positional battles this preseason is on the left side of the defense. New England's incumbent left back, Chris Tierney, has yet to see a minute of competitive action while he's been nursing a foot injury. Meanwhile, returning midfielder Donnie Smith has made quite a name for himself in Tierney's place. Smith has logged roughly 212 minutes at left back this preaseson (and an additional 51 at left mid). Not only has he been able to keep pace in this role, but he's shown a propensity to provide width, speed, and a willingness to attack from the flank. Smith is shooting up the depth chart and may just see a good chunk of minutes this season.
Despite Smith's impressive preseason, I still believe that Tierney will be the first choice left back at the start of the season (barring further injury). At the back half of the depth chart, both Kevin Alston and O'Brian Woodbine are making their cases for the job as well, but they still have some work to do it would seem.
Although preseason started with some unsettling news about his contract situation, Jose Goncalves is still the #1 center back on this team. After JoGo, Soares has seen the most time in the middle of the defense this preseason. His direct competition for the job opposite Goncalves is Stephen McCarthy, who has been struggling with injury since camp opened. Because of that, Soares likely has the upper hand to start the season as the captain's right hand man.
Meanwhile, Jay Heaps has tinkered with his center backs a fair deal since the beginning of camp, and part of that tinkering was trying out Andrew Farrell in the middle. He hasn't logged a tremendous amount of minutes in preseason action due to injury concerns, but Heaps certainly seems willing to start getting Farrell accustomed to the central role. His permanent move there might not happen this season, but it seems like the long-term plan is growing shorter. How this sub plot will play out this season will be an interesting situation to monitor.
- Andrew Farrell
- O'Brian Woodbine
- Kevin Alston
One of the most pleasant surprises this preseason has got to be fans' first glance at O'Brian Woodbine since he was acquired last summer. Woodbine has impressed on both sides of the defense, but probably most at right back where he seems most comfortable. He doesn't have great size, but seems to understand the position quite well. He offers support and width to the midfield when on the attack, has the pace to track back on defense, and generally seems to have good positional understanding. Heaps himself has sang the young Jamaican's praises, and it seems like he may be in line for a bigger role in 2014.
Kevin Alston has seen a good amount of time on both flanks, but still seems to me to be a depth option on both sides. It's encouraging to see and hear that Alston is approaching this preseason with a new energy after spending just about all of 2013 battling with his diagnosis of leukemia. He may not have the same role as he used to with the Revolution, but still has a very important one.
The Revolution may also choose to fill out their defensive depth chart with trialist Jossimar Sanchez, who has seen about 225 minutes at right back this preseason. The former UConn captain can also play defensive midfield and center back, making him a very versatile option should he be offered a contract by the Revolution.
The one position that's arguably the most unsettled is at defensive midfield. For the most part, it's still Scott Caldwell's spot to lose, despite it being widely understood that the team is still looking to bring in a more aggressive ball-winner to help secure the middle of the pitch a bit better than they were able to in 2013. Closely behind him is Andy Dorman who offers a different approach to the position but fills the role in generally the same way. Paolo DelPiccolo saw some preseason minutes in this spot, as well, but doesn't quite seem to be the answer (at least not yet). And Heaps has shown an interest in deploying Andrew Farrell in this spot, as well, but I'd bet on the Louisville man to stick to the backline for at least another season.
Other potential options here are unsigned trialists Alec Sundly, who was selected in the second round of this year's SuperDraft, and Revolution veteran Shalrie Joseph, who has just recently joined up with the team this week on a trial basis. Where the two stand, however, is unclear right now, at least to me. But we should know within a week's time what their future might hold with New England.
- Diego Fagundez
- Donnie Smith
Not much has changed here, but that doesn't mean that it won't within the next week or so. The Revs trialed Swiss winger Evan Melo while back in Bradenton, and the 20-year-old seemed to show well (and even scored against the Philadelphia Union during the teams' preseason scrimmage). Although he's no longer with the team, the door is not closed for Melo just yet. If offered a contract, he could be a viable back-up to Fagundez should the youngster need to miss any time this season.
Others who have seen time at this position in preseason are Dimitry Imbongo as well as unsigned draft pick Pierre Omanga. Neither are true wingers, but both seem capable enough to fill-in if need be (and, in Omanga's case, if he is signed).
There's really no argument to the fact that the dynamic duo of Nguyen and Rowe are poised to see another year partnered together in the middle. Together, Nguyen and Rowe dictate the tempo of the Revs attack and connect the midfield to the forward and wingers, all while contributing shots themselves when given the opportunity. Behind them is Steve Neumann, who saw limited time this preseason due to injury, but had a pair of pretty good first outings against Real Salt Lake and Chivas USA in Desert Diamond Cup play.
While there's no direct competition behind Neumann currently on the roster, trialist Daigo Kobayashi has certainly made a case not only for a contract but for serious consideration in the Revolution's 2014 plans should he be signed. The 31-year-old veteran, who played with the Vancouver Whitecaps last season, has been a vital spark in the midfield since joining up with the Revs in Arizona and has looked especially dangerous on set pieces. If added to the roster, Kobayashi could provide great competition for a starting job and could even contribute as an impact player off the bench. It will be interesting to see if his week with the Revs was enough to earn a contract offer.
One player who has probably helped himself the most this preseason is draftee Patrick Mullins. With Saer Sene still on the mend and Charlie Davies struggling with injury since camp opened, Mullins has seized the opportunity to play on the wing opposite Diego. He's put in a few solid shifts and looks every bit capable of filling the role, at least until Sene is back to full health. As of now, I'm penciling him into the Revs' starting XI on March 8th.
- Teal Bunbury
- Dimitry Imbongo
- Jerry Bengtson
I know that he only just got here, but Teal Bunbury's 45 minutes against Chivas USA sold me as at least the day 1 starter. He skillset is just what the Revs need out of their center forward and it's hard to see him not getting better than what we saw on Saturday as he becomes more familiar with his teammates and Heaps' system.
But don't count out Dimitry Imbongo just yet. Imbongo showed vast improvement over the course of last season and he knows the system quite well by now. The two should have a pretty heated competition for minutes this season, which can only be a good thing. Meanwhile, Jerry Bengtson will hope that he can find his way into some minutes as well, but he's got a big hill to climb after his disappointing season in 2013.
An intriguing option, should he be offered a contract, would be Belgian trialist Marvin Ogunjimi. Ogunjimi, who spent the last week or so with the Revs in Arizona, has an impressive resume with plenty of European and international experience. Not only that, but he seemed to be a pretty decent fit in the two games he featured in. Heaps mentioned to the media this past week that he thought the Belgian "assimilated well" and that the Revs are "continuing to look at" him. If signed, he could be a potent third attacking option for Heaps and would provide even greater competition with Bunbury and Imbongo for the starting spot.
If the season started tomorrow, I'd expect the following lineup (4-1-4-1):
Knighton; Tierney, Goncalves, Soares, Farrell; Caldwell; Fagundez, Nguyen, Rowe, Mullins; Bunbury
Bench: Shuttleworth, Neumann, Dorman, Imbongo, Smith, Woodbine, McCarthy
With the roster currently standing at 25 players, there's a high likelihood that there will be at least a few additions before first kick. Within the next week or so, we should have a better idea of how the final depth chart will shake out. Still, the Revs look like they are in decent shape the way things stand right now. But they still seem like a missing piece or two away from being complete.