In March, this conversation never crossed my mind. Not even for a minute. We all just assumed that Jerry Bengtson would be the team's starting forward, and then, when Saer Sene returned to the lineup at full health, he'd either play alongside Jerry, or would play out wide on the left flank.
Fast Forward to May 23rd.
Jerry Bengtson has scored ONE goal in the Revs' 11 matches, the front office has brought in Juan Agudelo from Chivas USA, Saer Sene is steadily returning to form, and Dimitry Imbongo has clearly introduced himself to the fans in New England with a couple of inspired performances.
So the question is, now what?
Benching Jerry Bengtson was unthinkable in March. In May? Heaps has already done it on more than one occasion. Which leads me to the next question: if not Jerry, then who?
New England has really grown into their formation, playing a solid system with one striker up top, but utilizing players like Sene and Diego Fagundez out on the wings to create flow as well as give the team some dangerous options out wide. I personally don't see the formation changing all that much, to be honest, so what does that mean for the current crop of forwards?
Saer Sene has really grown into that left flank role, where he can still cut in, and even drift into the middle if he so chooses. The best part about Sene's game, is that we've seen that he possesses the ability to play on either flank, and versatility is an important thing to have when constructing your lineup. So to sum up Sene's role, I'd say when he's fully healthy, there's absolutely no way you can keep one of the Revs' most dangerous players on the bench.
After Sene, we come to the new guy, Juan Agudelo. While injuries may have hampered his form in recent weeks, he had a purple patch with Chivas USA, where he scored 2 goals in his 4 starts, giving C-USA much needed pop up front. Agudelo is still battling full fitness, much like Sene, so at this particular point in the season he probably isn't going to push Bengtson for his starting role, but if his involvement in the second goal against Houston is any indication, he's not far away from doing so.
Perhaps most surprisingly, it's been Dimitry Imbongo turning heads in recent matches. Tough, physical, incredibly gifted strength, and a great aggressive style of play. For me personally, he threw himself into the conversation with that sick pass to Sene in Portland from the left flank. Perfectly weighted and curled, and perhaps a healthy Sene buries the chance. He may lack the polish of his other strike partners, but what he lacks in finish, he more than makes up for in brute strength and physical tools.
The forgotten man in all of this seems to be Chad Barrett, who, yes, still plays for the Revolution. His recent comments on Twitter have sparked a little controversy, whether it be calling out his team mates for not shooting, or taking a shot at the management for not giving him an opportunity in spite of being 100% healthy. It's hard to say where his role lies with this team now. He's clearly the fifth choice striker on the team now, and given his pedigree, I'd be surprised if he finishes the year in Foxboro. He's already lashed out, and he's buried on the depth chart.
So, what do we make of all of this? I think my answer is pretty simple: play the hot hand. This team simply looks and feels different when energy guys like Sene and Imbongo are on the field, and I'm willing to bet the younger legs of Agudelo are going to follow suit.
I still believe Jerry Bengtson is the best striker on this team, but, there's more that goes into it than that. Chemistry plays a big part, and so does fitting a philosophy. There's no mistaking that this offense looked stale and out of sync for most of the first two months of the season. Unimaginative, long-ball heavy, and lacking spark. Recently, however, it's been the energy guys getting the team back into form, and I expect that to continue.
The good news is, with World Cup qualifiers and Gold Cup matches on the horizon, the decisions won't be quite as difficult, but for the near future, Jay Heaps has an incredibly important job to do in finding out which forwards can give this team the best chance to win each week.
There's no point in writing a post like this without offering up my own opinion, so we'll close out this piece with my approach:
Time is running short for Jerry Bengtson. I'm not saying he can't be successful, I'm not suggesting he's on his way out, either. HOWEVER, even dating back to last season he's struggled to find his feet in New England. The biggest difference between now and then? He's got legitimate threats behind him on the bench. Guys like Agudelo and Imbongo are stepping up and showing they want the minutes, and they want to be in the mix.
The game plan from here? Bengtson still has time while both Saer Sene and Juan Agudelo recover to full fitness. This weekend is a good matchup with Toronto FC coming to Foxboro. Give Jerry the start, and see if he can get something going against one of the weaker sides. However, if Saturday's match follows the same script of recent matches where players like Imbongo, Agudelo, and Sene are introduced into the match and the team looks instantly better offensively, the writing may be on the wall in regards to who should be on the field scoring goals, and personally, I'm not sure if Bengtson is one of the names on that wall.