UPDATE (8:55PM): Per the Revolution, Dimitry Imbongo will not be suspended for his red card from last week's preseason game vs. Colorado. Despite initial reports that he could be suspended and Jay Heaps saying that the player would be suspended at a fan event last night, MLS confirmed to the team today that Imbongo will not be suspended and he is eligible for selection this week against Houston.
The Revolution may have a wealth of praise for Juan Agudelo and his contributions in the final stretch of 2013 that helped the Revs earn 3rd place in the East, but there’s another striker who one could argue was just as pivotal. Dimitry Imbongo is a player who is perhaps overlooked in New England’s fight to make it to the playoffs last season. He may not be as flashy or have the same finesse on the ball as Agudelo, but Imbongo’s impact at the tail end of 2013 should not be undervalued.
The 6-foot, 160 pound French striker found himself in a fierce battle for minutes last season. Behind Agudelo, other forwards like Chad Barrett, Jerry Bengtson, and Charlie Davies were chomping at the bit for playing time, but it was Imbongo who won out and featured in 14 out of the Revolution’s last 15 games of the 2013 regular season, and started in nine of those matches. He also scored a crucial goal against Sporting Kansas City in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals, forcing the series into extra time.
By the end of the season, Imbongo finished with 21 game appearances, 3 goals, and 4 assists. But there’s one other stat that sticks out, and not in a good way: 3 red cards. It’s no secret that Imbongo is easy to antagonize on the pitch, as opponents found out last year. In 2013, Imbongo was ejected from three separate games and also accumulated five yellow cards over the course of the season. And, as Revolution fans saw this preseason, that doesn’t seem to have changed much.
At the end of New England’s 2-2 preseason draw with the Colorado Rapids last Saturday in Arizona, Imbongo and Colorado’s Marvin Chavez got into an altercation that saw both players receiving straight red cards from the referee, ejecting them from the game (you can catch the tussle at the end of this highlights compilation). To add insult to injury, the word on the street is that the MLS Disciplinary Committee is wasting no time in punishing players for this type of unsportsmanlike conduct for the upcoming 2014 season. Sources on twitter have indicated that Imbongo has been handed a 2-game suspension for his preseason red card and therefore will not be available for head coach Jay Heaps until the Revs’ home opener against the Vancouver Whitecaps on March 22nd.
At New England’s Media Day and 2014 Jersey Launch event this week, Heaps was asked about Imbongo’s red card accumulation in 2013 and how he is approaching that situation for the upcoming season.
"It’s disappointing," Heaps said. "I look at red cards for a couple different reasons; when you get a red card and you’re trying to make a team play, you can understand it. Or if you’re backing someone up, or you’re defending the unit or group. But when it’s a personal red card, I have a real problem with that." He went on to say that Imbongo’s reputation on the pitch is in part due to an understanding of his own physicality that the young Frenchman has yet to fully conquer as a player.
"Unfortunately, I think Dimitry has a ways to go in understanding how strong and physical he is and what it’s going to take for him not to retaliate. I don’t think he initiates any of the red cards he’s received, unfortunately it’s been red cards that the referee sees as second retaliation," Heaps said. "For me, that’s not good enough for the group."
But Heaps and his staff have not given up hope on Imbongo; far from it. It is clear that Imbongo is a big part of what the Revolution will be trying to accomplish this upcoming season, just as he was for the Revs in their successful 2013 campaign. For Heaps, his hope is that he can help Imbongo learn how to harness his physical attributes to make him into an even better and more effective target forward than he already is.
"We want him to be even more physical," Heaps told the media. "Physical does not mean retaliation or ‘dirty’, it means establishing yourself within the rhythm of the game and using your strengths physically. And he is a strong guy. When he holds the ball, there’s no one that can take it from him. We love that about him. But it’s the other things; it’s the elbows up that he and we as a staff have to continue to work with him on."
With newcomer Teal Bunbury already being penciled in by many as the expected starter for the Revs heading into 2014, there’s reason to believe that Imbongo will serve as his direct competition for the starting spot in front of the midfield. But his suspension for the first two games of the season will likely open doors for othe strikers such as Jerry Bengtson and Charlie Davies to impress Heaps and his staff and make their case for minutes leading the line this season as well.
Imbongo is still very much a project in Heaps’ eyes, but a project worth devoting time to, especially after the important role he played in 2013. "He’s a young player," Heaps said. "He’s been on the receiving end of a lot of mistreatment. I think unfortunately he has a little bit of a reputation and he has to go about cleaning that up by playing the right way."
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