As the New England Revolution are set to embark on the final stage of their preseason at the Desert Diamond Cup in Tuscon, Arizona, all eyes are on how Jay Heaps' squad will shape up and fare.
Facing off against other MLS teams who are at a similar point in their preparations, the impending matches and weeks are a prime time to analyze some of the underlying stories and trends at play. While there are many subtle storylines and intricacies within the upcoming 2015 season in New England, one of the more compelling ones is the Revs' versatility.
As of now, the Revs have 22 signed players in camp, all of whom have the ability to contribute to the Revs' team in diverse ways. Aside from the goaltenders, let's take an in-depth look at the Revs' roster and how different pieces can fit into the 4-2-3-1 formation.
Defense: Like many other MLS teams, the Revs deploy a flat back-four that tends to utilize advancing outside backs. The center-backs stay home, dictate a rather high line, pass on runners as they come forward, and ping passes towards the midfielders or front-runners.
Kevin Alston: Entering his 7th season at Gillette Stadium, Alston has done away with the afro hair-do, but still leans heavily on his ability to man either outside back position. Dominantly right-footed, Alston is a natural fit for the right-back position, but showed during the playoff run that he can use his man-marking abilities to fill in at left-back when needed.
Darius Barnes: Also entering his 7th season with the Revs, Barnes is a jack of all trades. Center-back is probably Barnes' best position, but he has shown throughout his career that he can perform when needed at either outside-back spot. While he will be trying to earn a starting spot, Barnes will likely start the season in reserve and fill in wherever he is needed.
Jose Goncalves: The captain's versatility is not defined positionally, but rather by his supreme understanding of the game. A physically imposing center-back, Goncalves knows when to pressure, step in for a challenge, contest for a cross, and calm the play down. He is everything a coach wants his captain to be.
Jeremy Hall: Acquired in the offseason through a trade with Toronto FC, Hall has the ability to play in several positions for the Revs. Although he is listed as a midfielder on the club's website, the 26-year-old has played at right-back during preseason and has the ability to play almost anywhere Heaps desires in 2015.
Andrew Farrell: The club's former number one pick will be entering his third season with the team in 2015. Used throughout his first two years as a right-back, Farrell will in all likelihood slot into the center-back spot vacated by A.J. Soares' departure. The transition should go smoothly though, as Farrell played there in college.
Chris Tierney: The Massachusetts native has quietly become one of MLS' top left-backs over the past couple seasons. He possesses a lethal left boot and can be deputized in the left-midfield spot when needed.
Midfielders: Rather than going with a more traditional four man midfield setup, the Revs put out a dynamic midfield triumvirate. The attacking midfielder has license to roam, the defensive midfielder holds down the fort, and the third man employs a combination of the two. With a deep midfield set for 2015, the Revs have players who can slot into all three of those positions.
Scott Caldwell: The Revs' homegrown player was in an out of the lineup in 2014, but locked down the holding midfield spot during the playoff stretch. Despite his small frame, Caldwell strongly contests challenges and can fight above his weight. While Caldwell will mainly be deployed in his more familiar holding role, he can also get forward when the game requires it.
Andy Dorman: The second oldest player on the team can man either the holding position or a box-to-box role. Coming off an injury that cut his 2014 season short, Dorman will likely find playing time in both spots.
Jermaine Jones: When with the national team, Jones has been playing at center-back as of late, but he will be a true number 6 for the Revs. Tasked with supporting both the defense and attack, Jones is arguably the most complete and dynamic player on the team.
Daigo Kobayashi: Used both as a starter and substitute in 2014, Kobayashi has the ability to play all three midfield positions for the Revs. The Japanese-born player is more athletic than one would guess, doesn't shy away from a tackle, can pick out a seemingly non-existent pass, and has quite a strike from distance. Not a bad bag of tricks.
Lee Nguyen: An MVP-candidate in 2014, Nguyen, much like Goncalves, isn't all that versatile in a positional sense. He will be the starting attacking-midfielder and given license to find pockets of space in dangerous positions, but also has a diverse arsenal of skills. A quick dribbler, deft passer, clinical finisher, and complete player, Nguyen is primed for another strong season in 2015.
Steve Neumann: In 2014 Neumann recorded the most substitute appearances of all MLS players, all because of his ability to man several positions. The Georgetown graduate can play any of the three midfield positions, but also slot into the wide positions when Heaps needs him to.
Wingers: Although these players are not wingers in the traditional sense, they play out wide in attacking positions and are tasked with tracking back on defense and attacking the opponent's defense. Given the freedom to interchange up top, all of the below men can play in more than one position for the Revs.
Teal Bunbury: Acquired in a trade with Sporting Kansas City in 2014, Bunbury began his Revs' career in the striker position. However, he quickly was bumped out to the right-flank and thrived there. He developed into a target winger with a tireless work-rate and can play in any of the Revs' attacking positions.
Diego Fagundez: After a break-out 2013 season, Fagundez had a quieter 2014 season from the winger position. Known for his darting runs, dribbling ability, and quick trigger, the Uruguayan under-20 player can play on either the right or left flank.
Kelyn Rowe: The Revs' first round draft pick in 2012 prospered on the left flank in 2014. However, his natural position may very well be the one Lee Nguyen is currently manning. Expect to see him predominantly out wide in 2015, but filling in centrally when his services are required there.
Donnie Smith: The now third year player hardly saw the field in 2013 or 2014 and will be fighting for more minutes in 2015. The fact he can play as a winger or outside-back certainly helps his cause.
Strikers: In the Revs' 4-2-3-1 formation the striker is on his own up top, but certainly gets support from the midfield and flank positions. Each below striker has a unique skill-set that makes them intriguing and versatile players.
Juan Agudelo: After a long period of time in European limbo, Agudelo is back on the Revs for 2015. He has the strength, skill, and size to play as the lone striker or fill in out wide. Expect to see him in both places in 2015.
Charlie Davies: Davies enjoyed a prosperous 2015 season when people around MLS saw glimpses of the player they used to so dearly know. Like Agudelo, Davies can play out wide or up top by himself. However, as 2014 showed, his best minutes come when he is leading the attack, holding up play, and getting behind the opponent's back-four.
Sean Okoli: A bit of an unknown commodity, Okoli was acquired this off-season from the Seattle Sounders. He can play either up top or out wide. Okoli already has a goal this preseason.
As the 2015 season rapidly approaches, this is one storyline that should be fresh on the minds of all Revs fans. This year's team is mostly the same as the one who made it to MLS Cup in 2014 and if all goes according to plan their versatility should push them there again.