In less than a week the New England Revolution will be in Bradenton, FL for their first excursion of the preseason. And since the start of preseason is so close, we thought we'd take a look at the Revs depth chart as it currently stands before the roster battles begin to play out between now and March. So, let's have a look shall we?
Now, before I begin, I want to make clear that I am basing my "depth chart" below on the assumption that Jay Heaps will maintain his 4-5-1 formation that brought the team such success last year. As we all know, it's not a true 4-5-1 (like the Montreal Impact play, for example) with their wide midfielders providing width and crosses. Instead, the Revolution's set-up is built for the wide "midfielders" to pinch in towards goal rather than keeping the field stretched wide. As such, I'm referring to our wide midfielders as wingers since they play more like attackers in a 4-3-3 setup (of course on defense they have defensive responsibilities more like a 4-5-1 setup).
Let's start in goal.
- Bobby Shuttleworth
- Brad Knighton
- Luis Soffner
The way I see it, Bobby Shuttleworth will be given his chance to stake his claim as the #1 in New England, but we all know (or at least assume) that Knighton will be hot on his heels all season long. Luis Soffner is of course a prospect for the future, and he might even see some time in Rochester this season considering that the Rhinos lost their starting keeper, Kristian Nicht, to the Indy Eleven this past offseason.
On to the backline!
- Chris Tierney
- Kevin Alston
It's no secret that Tierney is the incumbent left back and that Alston will likely be a situational starter or just simply a bench option in 2014. Also on the list would be Darrius Barnes, who played left back on a couple occasions last season, and O'Brian Woodbine who can also play on the left.
- Jose Goncalves
- A.J. Soares
- Stephen McCarthy
- Darrius Barnes
This is a pretty easy area to assess. We know who the focal point of this defense is. Soares and McCarthy will have to battle it out for the spot next to Goncalves for yet another season. After that is Barnes who is versatile enough to play anywhere across the defense but prefers the center back position.
- Andrew Farrell
- O'Brian Woodbine
I know everyone is jonesing to see Farrell slid into the middle, but it ain't going to happen anytime soon. The sophomore had a stellar season on the right side of the backline and if he can work on his crossing in the offseason, he should be even better in 2014. Woodbine, who plays right back for the Jamaican National Team will be seen as his immediate backup unless he goes to Rochester, in which case Heaps can call upon Alston or Barnes to fill in here.
And now the fun part: the midfield.
Center Defensive Midfielder:
- Scott Caldwell
- Andy Dorman
- Paolo DelPiccolo
This is our defensive midfield spot, but honestly no one on our current roster is a true defensive midfielder. Caldwell and Dorman are both pretty classic center midfielders who have been converted to the defensive role. And, for the most part, it worked out pretty well in 2013. But Caldwell lacks size and aggression and Dorman has maybe a bit too much of the latter with less precision in his passing. This is most likely an area that the Revs technical staff is looking to upgrade by bringing in a true d-mid to trial with the club.
DelPiccolo seems like he'll occupy this position as well, from what I can tell, but he also may end up being more of an attacking midfielder--it remains to be seen. Second round SuperDraft selection Alec Sundly, who played as a holding/defensive midfielder during his four years at Cal, will have a ripe opportunity during this preseason to not only make the roster but to squeeze his way into this position's depth chart.
- Diego Fagundez
- Donnie Smith
In my opinion, Fagundez operates best on the right wing where he seems to find the game a bit better and generally be more involved. But during the last half of the 2013 season he mostly set up out on the left side of the pitch. The fact that Saer Sene returned to the lineup from injury is no coincidence either.
Behind Fagundez is Donnie Smith, who the Revs just re-signed for the upcoming season after an incredibly quiet rookie year. Smith is left-footed and quick, with the ability to beat opposing fullbacks in one-on-one situations. He has some grooming still to do, but there's a chance we'll see more of him this season. Jay Heaps may also try 11th overall draft pick Patrick Mullins at this position as well. With a nose for goal and a good left foot, he might just be a perfect fit.
Center Attacking Midfielder:
- Lee Nguyen
- Kelyn Rowe
- Steve Neumann
Rowe and Nguyen will team up again in 2014 as the driving force of the Revolution attack. If both can replicate their 2013 success and also avoid serious injury (knock on wood!) then there's no reason to believe that their spots are in jeopardy. Steve Neumann, however, will give them a run for their money. The 4th overall draft pick projects as an attacking midfielder and will likely see some minutes in 2014 but will mostly use his rookie season to observe and learn from Rowe and Nguyen the intricacies of this role in the Revolution system. With Sene injured, Neumann may also have an opportunity to compete for the right winger spot in preseason camp.
- Saer Sene
- Charlie Davies
Sene's injury is a tough blow for the Revs, but they know how to cope without him since they've already had to do so in 2013. The spot on the right wing will be wide open in preseason and there are several players who could make a case to start there on opening day. It's been made pretty clear that Heaps wants to deploy Davies out wide in 2014, and on the right wing is my best guess (though if he takes to the left instead, he could easily swap spots with Fagundez). But he will have stiff competition for this position and I won't be surprised if the Revolution have a trialist in camp who can play either wing and will come in fighting for a roster spot.
- Dimity Imbongo
- Patrick Mullins
- Jerry Bengtson
Imbongo had a pretty good season in 2013 and I think there's reason to believe that his 2014 will be even better. That said, he still might not be the first-choice striker that Heaps is looking for. Imbongo showed flashes of skill and finesse, but ultimately he is a physical #9 that is most effective against the more brutish backlines in MLS. In other words, he's no replacement for Juan Agudelo.
Behind Imbongo are Mullins and Bengtson. Neither of these players fit the mold of the center forward in the Revolution's 4-5-1 setup. They are poachers who flourish in two-striker formations. Mullins is probably better suited for this position than Bengtson due to his experience playing with his back to goal from time to time at Maryland. Even still, with Bengtson's future shrouded in mystery, this position is exceptionally thin and I'd put money on the Revolution bringing in some strikers for preseason. Pierre Omanga, whom the Revs drafted yesterday, will also have a chance to earn a roster spot and fill out this depth chart.
If the season started tomorrow, I'd expect the following lineup:
Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Soares, Farrell; Caldwell; Mullins, Rowe, Nguyen, Fagundez; Imbongo
Bench: Davies, McCarthy, Barnes, Knighton, Dorman, Neumann, Bengtson
New England's roster stands at 24 players as of today. If Sundly and Omanga make the team, there would still be four spots to fill (assuming that the Revs will carry 30 players again this season). They currently have three available international spots (two if they sign Omanga) and I expect them to be used on a defensive midfielder and a striker at the very least. We'll have a better idea of the preseason playing field next week when we learn the trialists that will be accompanying the Revolution down to Florida.