Just weeks ahead of the 2015 season, we decided to don our freshest v-neck sweaters, cleanest white button-downs and trendiest silk ties, playing Jay Heaps for a day. Which Starting XI and formation would each TBM staffer select on March 8, when the Revolution travel to CenturyLink Field to take on the Sounders? Find out below.
Starting XI: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Alston; Caldwell, Jones; Rowe, Nguyen, Bunbury; Agudelo
Defense: Despite the A.J. Soares debacle--I'm assuming he will still ship off to Italy--the back line looks relatively stable. Farrell will shift into the center, where he showed well in limited appearances last season, creating an opportunity for Kevin Alston to slide into the right back spot. I expect Darrius Barnes to claim his share of starts, though Alston's speed, grit, and ability to win 50-50 balls make him a steady right-back option.
Midfield: Out of the gate, Jones and Caldwell will join the XI in familiar defensive midfield roles. Caldwell overcame a number of struggles last season, shrugging off a lack of physicality and sloppy passing to finish 2015 as an essential defending asset. By lining up alongside Jones, Caldwell gives the USMNT center back space to play in a box-to-box role, where he excelled down the stretch. Rowe, who seems poised to breakout in 2015, Nguyen and Bunbury will sit in front of Heap's defensive pair. Nguyen, as always, will serve as the creative engine, pushing forward behind Agudelo; Bunbury and Rowe will work to create chances from the flanks, with Rowe frequently cutting into the center of the park to build alongside Nguyen.
Forward: Agudelo will, in all likelihood, join the XI from day one. While he typically featured as a winger during his 2013 stint in Foxboro, he certainly has the skillset to thrive as a lone striker. The former USMNT forward uses a 6-foot-plus frame to play physical attacking soccer, looks comfortable with his back to goal and has a knack for involving his midfielders (see: Lee Nguyen) in the attacking third. As we saw in 2013, he also has the speed to outpace opposing back lines and create his own opportunities in front of goal.
Though I'm intrigued by the possibility of Agudelo joining Charlie Davies in a 4-1-3-2, I'm more intrigued by the possibility of Davies coming off the bench. The felxibility to feature Davies as a spot starter and as a supersub will give the Revs outstanding depth--and the capacity to quickly shift into an attacking 4-4-2.
Starting XI: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Alston; Jones, Caldwell; Agudelo, Nguyen, Bunbury; Davies
Defense: It's safe to assume at this point that Andrew Farrell will slide over from right back to center back following A.J. Soares' unofficial departure to Italy. But Farrell and Soares proved to be a solid pairing defensively in the first half of last season with Jose Goncalves nursing an injury, and it's likely that Jose and Farrell will be fine. I'll pencil in Alston at the right back spot because of the attacking element he brings on the flank, and opposite Chris Tierney on the left, that's two solid support options going forward. While the Revs still need another center back for true depth, utility defender Darrius Barnes, newcomer Jeremy Hall and youngster and Rochester favorite Donnie Smith provide not only depth but versatile options off the bench as well in the defense and midfield.
Midfield: I'm going to count the wingers as "forwards" so it'll just be the midfield triangle in this section. But this is about as mortal a lock as anything: Jermaine Jones, Scott Caldwell, Lee Nguyen. That leaves us with a second, or U.S. Open Cup, unit possibly of Andy Dorman, Daigo Kobayashi and Kelyn Rowe in the advanced role. This could be the deepest central midfield in the league this year and I haven't even mentioned Steve Neumann who led MLS in substitute appearances last year at a variety of positions. Sadly, there will not be enough starters minutes to go around, but everyone in that second unit is capable of starting for long stretches in 2015.
Forward: I'm going to be honest, I understand that Juan Agudelo is a great player, but Charlie Davies earned his starting spot at striker for the Revs last season and I see no reason why he should lose that job going into 2015. Since I'm not taking Teal Bunbury or his defense off the right flank, that leaves the left flank for Agudelo to slide into to start the year. Diego Fagundez and later Kelyn Rowe held down that spot but Rowe starting there was more about getting the best players into the starting lineup, not necessarily in their ideal roles. Agudelo will immediately step in and give Chris Tierney a target to cross to up the field. Fagundez, Rowe, Neumann and former Sounder Sean Okoli headline the options off the bench, and Japanese veteran and trialist Yuzo Tashiro could provide depth up top if Agudelo plays out on the wing.
Starting XI: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Alston; Caldwell, Jones; Fagundez, Nguyen, Bunbury; Agudelo
Defense: It's clear that Andrew Farrell will join Jose Goncalves in the middle and Chris Tierney is likely to maintain his post at left back. Tierney's counterpart on the right, however, is a bit more difficult to forecast. I'm giving Kevin Alston the inside track as he posted career-highs in goals (one) and assists (three) last season. Furthermore, he was protected in the Expansion Draft. Alston will need to stay sharp and healthy, however, as Jeremy Hall and Darrius Barnes will be itching to usurp the position.
Midfield: Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen are guaranteed starters while Scott Caldwell and Teal Bunbury are safe bets. That leaves one wing position to be filled. As of right now, I'm predicting that Diego Fagundez gets the nod. The soon-to-be 20-year-old struggled last season, but he still has loads of potential, as made evident by his participation in the South American Youth Championship with the Uruguay U-20s. Fagundez should also benefit from the return of Juan Agudelo.
Forward: Agudelo can play any of the three striker positions, but I believe he's best used at the point. It's difficult to leave Charlie Davies out of the starting XI, especially after his contributions late last year, but Agudelo is the type of holdup forward that is required to run the Revolution's preferred formation. Although my prediction puts Davies on the bench to start, I do foresee him being an important late-game substitute.
Starting XI: Shuttleworth; Tierney, Goncalves, Farrell, Hall; Jones, Caldwell; Rowe, Nguyen, Bunbury; Agudelo
Defense: With Andrew Farrell expected to slide in centrally to pair with Jose Goncalves, I think that newcomer Jeremy Hall will end up winning the right back spot--at least to start the season--beating out Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston for the starting gig. While both Barnes and Alston are serviceable options, I think Hall will end up being the better candidate. Alston's injury issues aside, he has proved to be a much more effective left back than right back, namely in regards to his ability to cross the ball into the box rather than drift in centrally (which he tends to do more often at right back, leaving the right midfielder exposed). Barnes, on the other hand, will be still competition for Hall, especially considering the fact that he started 13 games in 2014 in an outside back role. For me Hall is a player that can provide more on both sides of the ball and who knows the ropes in that position.
Midfield: No surprises here. If it ain't broke, don't fix it; and I don't see anything that needs fixing here. Many will argue that Fagundez could return to 2013 form with Agudelo back in the fold, but I still think the left midfield job is Rowe's to lose. In general, I expect the trio of Rowe, Bunbury, and Fagundez to all battle throughout the season for those two starting spots, and we all know how much Jay Heaps loves that kind of competition on his squad. Oh, and I also expect Steve Neumann to play in at least 4 out of the 5 midfield positions this season with a handful of starts as well.
Forward: There's no doubt that Charlie Davies had a resurgence at the tail end of 2014. But there should be even less doubt about what Juan Agudelo brings to this team. You need only to look at the 2013 squad to see the difference when Juan is on the field versus when he is not. Agudelo makes the Revolution an even more lethal attacking threat in 2015. And in my opinion, Charlie Davies will make an excellent super sub. I expect Heaps to experiment with some version of a 4-4-2 late in games when pushing for an equalizing or winning goal. Davies and Agudelo would probably be a very exciting striker duo to watch, but I highly doubt that Heaps is going to throw out his 4-2-3-1 just to get them both on the field. And, no, I don't think anyone in the midfield gets supplanted.