I know what you're all thinking, but let me just stop you right there and say I missed you all too, and yes, I'm alive.
I've been back amongst the Revs blogosphere for a few weeks, and have been contemplating what a good approach would be to my first column back after months away, and I've gotta tell you, I've got nothing. No clue where to start, and no idea of what direction to take this in.
With that being said, I've got a TON on my mind, and a lot of things running through this very passionate Revs-centric brain of mine, and if there's one cool thing about being a blogger, it's that I've got a forum to put all my thoughts down in black and white.
Now, this isn't going to be completely absent of structure or form, so please put your minds at ease and continue to read along. We'll start at the back, and move our way forward, and then maybe end with a few general thoughts on the club in general.
Sound good to you? Sweet. Let's get cracking.
Q: Is "controversy" too strong a word to describe the goalkeeper situation?
A: Yes. Often times, positional battles are described as "controversies" when you're dealing with two high-profile players, or players of starting quality. I don't really think that's what's going on here. In Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton (for sake of argument, I'm leaving Louie Soffner out of the competition because I don't think he's quite ready yet) you've got two relatively unproven guys who've yet to show they can be "the guy".
Competition is extremely healthy, especially when there's no incumbent, or clear cut favorite. With Matt Reis coming on strong last year, Shuttleworth saw his minutes diminish, and I didn't end 2013 thinking he was the heir apparent to the Revs' goalkeeper position. Thus, you've got two professionals that are extremely eager to prove they belong in the starting lineup, pushing each other every single day. The results will almost surely be positive.
Do I have a preference? Yes, I do. I know what I'm getting with Bobby, and I'm not overjoyed or particularly confident with him as the #1. With Knighton, who by several accounts has looked like a man on a mission, we've yet to see what he can bring to the table as the starting keeper given he was behind Reis when he was here. I'd like to see him get the chance to lead this team, and hopefully he performs well enough to warrant the opportunity.
Q: Is the back-line as set-in-stone as we think?
A: No, no it's not. I don't necessarily think anyone is in danger of getting left-out, or cut, but I really wouldn't be surprised if there's a different back four than we're expecting on Opening Night in Houston.
The good thing about the Revs defensive core, is that it's extremely deep and versatile. Not only did you bring back your captain and defensive cornerstone in Jose Gonçalves, you're getting a healthy and rejuvenated Kevin Alston, as well as a full season of O'Brian Woodbine. Most of the defenders on the roster can play multiple positions along the back line, and I fully expect Jay Heaps to experiment all preseason long, and it may even continue into the early stages of the regular season.
So basically, to put a bow on it, don't freak out if Andrew Farrell sees time a center-back, or if Darrius Barnes plays in an outside role either. There's going to be some moving parts for a little while, until Heaps deciphers what the best combination of four defenders is.
Q: Other than left-midfield, are any other midfield positions "up-for-grabs"?
A: Barring any new signings of decent significance, I really think, assuming the 4-1-4-1 is here to stay, that left midfield is the only position worth a conversation. Diego Fagundez is the starting right-mid, and Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen should roam the central midfield. As for Scott Caldwell and the CDM position, the only way I really see it changing, is if Farrell moves there (which, we've seen in the preseason already).
Is there a favorite for the job? It's hard to say, really. As the club is currently constructed, I don't see anyone that I'd point to and say "that's the guy". Obviously, I'd like Saer Sene there once healthy, but for now, it's really up-in-the-air. A couple of the trialists, most notably Evan Melo, could play the part if they're signed and brought in, but it's so early in the year, I really don't have a grasp on it. Maybe Steve Neumann could fill the role? Time will tell.
Ideally, you'd like someone on the left wing that could swap sides, and cut inside like Heaps likes, so it will be interesting to see the type of players that the Revs are going to give a shot out wide. Quite frankly, I'm more interested in seeing who starts at left midfield on opening night than I am in who the striker will be.
Q: Speaking of strikers...um...yeah...?
A: You know I'm a Jerry Bengtson guy. You know he's going to play in the World Cup in June. What type of influence that will have on his playing time and involvement while he's here remains to be seen. I would hope that Heaps would give him every opportunity to shine leading up to his Brazilian odyssey.
Dimitry Imbongo *looks* like the choice right now, or at least I think he is going to be the one to get the first crack at the job, but that doesn't make me any less worried about his potential involvement. He's a bull-in-a-china-shop with a hot-head and to be honest, he scares the ever-living daylights out of me on a nightly basis.
Charlie Davies, in my opinion, has a better shot in this system playing on the wing as an inside forward, than he does as a stand-alone striker. I just feel like he lacks the physical nature that this particular system needs from the striker position (basically the same with Bengtson too) and it could hold him back from seeing any considerable minutes up top.
Are there any dark-horses in this mix? Well, obviously you drafted Patrick Mullins in the first round, and traded up to get him to boot, so I'm sure he'll get a look there. Just about everyone in the front office has come out and said that the Revs are looking to bring in some striker talent, so expect a few more faces in camp before it's all said and done.
Q: Is there any one player that is primed for a Fagundez/Rowe type breakout season?
A: I really, REALLY, want to say Bengtson, but, I can't pull myself to putting my name on that prediction. There's just so little evidence to show that he's got anything else to give us.
My real answer? Scott Caldwell. A full season as the starter, as well as maybe Heaps loosening the reins a bit and letting him have a little more offensive responsibility, could all lead to Caldwell having a big year. He's a little bit older than you think, given his college career, so I think he's ready if he's given the chance.
Q: Any crazy thoughts or predictions?
A: Several. Sadly, they're mostly negative.
First, this roster, as constituted, needs more work if they plan on returning to the playoffs in 2014. Juan Agudelo is a MASSIVE loss. Don't forget that this team was struggling for an identity before he joined the fold, but once he was acquired, this team looked completely different going forward. It feels like several teams around the Revs in the final standings all made strides towards getting better and improving, and the Revs haven't done enough yet to keep up in my eyes.
Second, I don't think Gonçalves lasts the whole year. I don't. I honestly and truly hope I'm wrong, but this whole situation scares me, and makes me terribly uneasy. He's the team captain, and by the sound of things, he's not particularly happy, and feels a little slighted. With that being said, I'm not in the locker room every day, and I don't know him personally, so I say this with a big "take it with a grain of salt" qualifier.
Lastly, aside from finding a true answer to the loss of Agudelo, I think this entire season could hinge on the form of Lee Nguyen. Sounds a little overstated, but, I think Fagundez and Rowe will continue to progress, and it will come down to whether or not Nguyen elevates his game and takes matches over from the midfield, which I completely feel he's capable of doing. My only gripe about Lee, is that given the physical nature of MLS, and his lack of a bulldog mentality, he gets lost in matches against bigger teams. He's got to find a way to rise above the brutality, and shine like the star he is.
Q: Ok, lastly, fast-forward to October. Where are the Revs?
A: In the thick of a playoff race. This team isn't Supporter's Shield-worthy, or anything mighty like that, but they're bringing back almost all of the pieces from last year's third place side that took the eventual MLS Cup Champions to extra time in the second leg of the Conference Semi-Finals. I'm cautiously optimistic, and the best part about it is, there's a ton of time to change my mind about the 2014 New England Revolution at least a few hundred times.