In 2014, the New England Revolution were always on the cusp of greatness. They were on the cusp of winning their first MLS Cup and by virtue of that loss and finishing one spot behind Real Salt Lake in the Supporter's Shield standings for the United States' final CONCACAF Champions League berth, the Revs missed out on the tournament they haven't qualified for since the 2008-9 edition.
We don't speak of the 6-1 aggregate loss to Trinidad and Tobago's Joe Public FC much either, but instead prefer to gloat about our much beloved 2008 North American SuperLiga title instead.
But this season, yes, we all know that the New England Revolution want to get back to MLS Cup, to finally win the league championship they've been on the wrong side of five times already in the comparatively short history of MLS to leagues around the world. But winning the playoff title, in a year where six teams will qualify from each task, is a tall order to ask for. I will not say that anything short of an MLS Cup is a complete and total failure for 2015.
But I will say that not qualifying for the 2016-17 CONCACAF Champions League will be a failure. I believe that the Revs are a Top 4 team in MLS right now, preseason injuries to Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen as well as lengthy international absences for both at this summer's Gold Cup be damned. This team is not only talented but it is deep as well, particularly up front and in the midfield.
So there shouldn't be any excuse as to why this Revs team shouldn't qualify for the CCL, and they have a lot of different ways of doing so.
SUPPORTER'S SHIELD/EASTERN CONFERENCE CHAMPIONS
I don't like the fact that the Revs are probably the favorites in the East, but I understand why. A full season with Jones and Juan Agudelo, Houston and Sporting KC moving to the West and two expansion teams all add up to a conference ripe for the taking. D.C. United's stellar jump last season will likely be tempered slightly and that team turned over a lot of players in the offseason. The New York Red Bulls lost both Thierry Henry (retirement) and Tim Cahill (China) and are in rebuilding mode. The Columbus Crew aren't the deepest team, but the addition of Kei Kamara in the offseason will bolster their attack bringing in a much needed target forward. Toronto FC keeps spending a lot of money but until I see them actually make the playoffs I can't take them seriously.
That leaves the Revs in prime position to take a conference that isn't exactly loaded with amazing teams and really challenge for not only the Eastern Conference, but the Supporter's Shield as well. With a very talented Western Conference likely to beat up on themselves, it wouldn't be surprising to see an Eastern Conference team run away with the Supporter's Shield.
U.S OPEN CUP
We'll get more into this later, but how about this for a second string/USOC lineup for the Revs this year:
Knighton; Smith, Barnes, Woodberry, Hall; Dorman, Kobayashi; Neumann, Rowe, Okoli; Davies
I've got to be honest, that's a pretty talented group of players right there and most of them were regular contributors on last year's MLS Cup team. With a few spots in the starting lineup still being sorted out, you could even swap Rowe for Deigo Fagundez or Jeremy Hall for Kevin Alston and it's still a pretty formidable lineup. There's a really nice mix of veterans and youth that showcases not only how talented this Revs team is but also how young the core is as well.
And that lineup is based on the assumption that you only play your second stringers in the Open Cup, but this year, I think the Revs should really try and go for the USOC this year. It's rare to have a roster this deep in both the midfield and attack, and yes the defense is a little young in spots as a unit but overall there's a lot to like there too. It wouldn't surprise me at all to rest regulars like Teal Bunbury or Juan Agudelo so that you can have them ready for midweek Open Cup games. I'm sure there will be more on this as the we get into the summer but I really want to see the Revs (and the rest of MLS) actually take the Open Cup seriously and not as some inconvenience during the summer.
Of course, the easiest way to qualify for the CCL is just win the whole thing. And yes, this is a team that clearly, on paper in March, can at the very least get back to the MLS Cup Final.
But that still means navigating through the playoff gauntlet in November where we know anything can happen over a two-legged series. But with an overwhelming number of starters and gameday regulars returning from the team that lost MLS Cup in 2014, you can bet there's plenty of motivation for them to return to the final.
But the Revs can not pin their CCL hopes on just MLS Cup, or for that matter, the USOC. To many strange things can happen in a knockout tournament setting, but this team has the depth and the talent to be a Top 4 squad in MLS. In 2014 Real Salt Lake qualified as the highest finishing Supporter's Shield team not already in the CCL as the Sounders won both the Western Conference and the USOC. There's no reason that the Revs at worst case shouldn't be in a position for such a berth if it becomes available.
So on the eve of the second legs of the 2014-15 CCL quarterfianls (Montreal-Pachuca tonight, DCU-Alajuelense tomorrow), it's time to establish what the 2015 Revs season should, at a minimum, be all about. And the Revs would certainly be built for a deep run in the CCL next year if they qualify and maintain most of the current roster, but that's a talk for another day. Like next summer.
Yes, the ultimate goal will always be to win that elusive MLS Cup. But with a team that is built to dominate the regular season like it did at the end of 2014, the only way this season is a total failure in my mind is if the Revs walk away with no silverware in 2015.
And no place in the 2016-17 CCL either.