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How did the New England Revolution get so low?

Hello darkness, our old friend.

MLS: New England Revolution at Toronto FC
The Revs are on track to miss out on the playoffs for the second time in as many years.
Kevin Sousa-USA TODAY Sports

With the 2017 MLS campaign halfway over, gloomy times are upon New England Revolution country. The Revs sit in 10th place in the Eastern Conference with little sign of climbing out of the cellar, beckoning an increasingly-clear reality they very well miss out on the playoffs for two years running.

The finer points are despondent, too, and deserve some chronicling:

  • A story by Benjamin Baer shows that New England has the league’s second-hardest schedule for the rest of 2017.
  • The Revs are 0-7-3 on the road, making them just one of four teams that’s winless on the road.
  • As of late July, New England is entering another summer swoon, crescendoing into a five-game losing streak that could worsen with matches against the LA Galaxy and Philadelphia Union nearing.
  • Defensive woes still persist. New England has allowed 31 goals through 19 matches, tied for the second-worst total in the Eastern Conference.
  • While a trite point, the Revs have zero representatives in the 2017 All-Star Game against Real Madrid.
  • And, perhaps most of all, Heaps’ squad has been shutout eight times across all competitions, ranging from preseason to Open Cup play to MLS action.

So, amidst the anger and frustration Revs fans are certainly feeling, it’s important to take a step back and look at the bigger picture. Each low moment is part of a greater chain reaction and paints the broad-stroking picture of New England’s current path to mediocrity.

Without further ado, let’s dive right on in…

May 12, 2016

OK, I sorta misled you. This tale starts back in the 2016 season when the Revs acquired Kei Kamara from Columbus Crew SC amidst what can kindly be dubbed a dustup between the striker and Federico Higuaín.

This was Michael Burns, New England’s GM, finally pulling the trigger on a big-ticket move, and it was widely viewed as pushing the Revs over the top. Kamara scored 22 goals in 2015 and led Columbus to an MLS Cup final, only to lose to the Portland Timbers. What could go wrong?

As it turns out, more than most originally thought. The 32-year-old Sierra Leone international has never truly settled into life at Gillette Stadium or Heaps’ system, even openly saying so on multiple occasions. He’s accumulated 11 goals and five assists in 38 matches, which are hardly paltry numbers, but it’s reasonable to expect more from a Designated Player like Kamara.

His up-and-down form can be attributed to a miscast skill set, Kamara’s own doing or really any reason, in all honesty. But one thing’s clear: Nearly 15 months after being traded, with the Revs’ 2017 season getting darker by the day, things just aren’t clicking for Kei.

MLS: New York Red Bulls at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

Jan. 27, 2017

The biggest criticism – and a fair one, at that – of the Revs since they fell in the 2014 MLS Cup, 2-1, to the LA Galaxy is they didn’t properly replace A.J. Soares at center back.

Jose Goncalves, a former Defender of the Year, did well to plug the gaps, but it was a revolving door alongside him. Anyone remember Samba, the loanee from Sporting Clube de Portugal?

Then, this past January, club president Brian Bilello, announced on Twitter the signing of two center backs – Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua – using TAM. The moves, in essence, were designed to solve New England’s leaky back four and provide some stability that would enable the squad’s core attackers to thrive.

The plan hasn’t exactly panned out.

Angoua has struggled to secure his place in the starting XI, fighting for time alongside London Woodberry (a MLS depth piece) and Joshua Smith (a 2017 fourth round draft pick). Not exactly the most glowing review for a 30-year-old with experience in Ligue 1 and the Ivory Coast national team.

Plus, there’s Angoua’s penchant for undisciplined play, most recently highlighted by his 75th-minute red card that doomed the Revs in a 1-0 Open Cup loss at home to the New York Red Bulls.

Delamea, on the other hand, has been a rock at the back who’s needed virtually zero time to acclimate to MLS. For a 26-year-old from Slovenia, that’s a difficult ask, but Delamea has seldom looked out of place. If anything, he’s one of the most-underrated signings of this past offseason.

Job well done to the Revs with unearthing Toni.

MLS: New England Revolution at Seattle Sounders FC Jennifer Buchanan-USA TODAY Sports

April 8, 2017

Five games into the MLS season, things were looking relatively stable for Heaps and Co.

After dropping their first two games to the Colorado Rapids and FC Dallas away, the Revs found their stride en route to a 2-2-1 record. They beat up on Minnesota United FC at home, also swept aside the Houston Dynamo at Gillette and drew at Portland. Those are all respectable results.

Sure, there were some weird moments, such as Heaps’ experiment with playing Juan Agudelo as the No. 10, but that’s sometimes what early season games are for – trying s**t out.

Plus, the company line of a sterling attack being buoyed by a back four learning on the fly was panning out; i.e. New England outscored opponents 9-6 during this stretch.

There were serious signs of mental fortitude, too, best shown by New England’s 1-1 draw at Portland. Joshua Smith earned a surprise start, only to boss Fanendo Adi, and Lee Nguyen scored a dramatic, late equalizer. Well done, lads.

April 22, 2017

Back-to-back draws are usually solid results – but not at home, and especially not in two games the Revs should have won.

What I’m referring to is a 0-0 tie with the San Jose Earthquakes on April 19 and a 2-2 tie with D.C. United on April 22.

The former came as then-head coach Dominic Kinnear’s team was struggling to find its identity and flying cross-country midweek. The latter, meanwhile saw Ben Olsen roll out a depleted side and sneak out of Gillette with a point. Flash forward, and the Revs sit above one team in the Eastern Conference. Guess who? None other than D.C.

Hindsight, of course, is 20/20 with these results, but I remember being in the locker room and the general sentiment was New England left four points on the table. It was a mix of ‘What could we have done differently?’ and ‘Where exactly did it go wrong?’ Those sort of feelings don’t just go away overnight.

MLS: D.C. United at New England Revolution Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports

April 29, 2017

Nine times out of 10, an away point at the Century Link Field, the home of the 2016 MLS Cup champs Seattle Sounders, is a fantastic result. But not in the manner New England’s 3-3 draw on April 29 unfolded.

The Revs, to the shock of everyone – if anyone debates this, they’re lying to you – stormed out to a 3-0 lead by the 54th minute. Daigo Kobayashi netted the opener, only for Juan Agudelo to bag a brace, igniting the form that landed him on the U.S. Gold Cup roster this summer.

But then it all unraveled.

New England simply collapsed, and Heaps subbed off three players who were at the heart of everything going right: Nguyen, Kobayashi and Xavier Kouassi. They sat deep in a defensive shell and invited pressure from Seattle. And, boy, did the guys in Rave Green make the Revs pay.

From the 75th minute onwards, Nicolas Lodeiro, Will Bruin and Osvaldo Alonso all scored in what’s the most-exciting MLS draw I’ve witnessed in recent memory. Pure jubilation on one side, and pure defeat on the other, capped by dreadful game management and an inability to see out a surefire result.

It was the type of game that fans don’t forget, and one that set forth a dreary omen for what could unfold in the months to come.

May 13, 2017

But the Revs bounced back some, doing exactly what playoff-level teams do: Trouncing a weakened team at home.

Particularly, they beat Real Salt Lake, 4-0, with head coach Mike Petke’s group fielding what could generously be called a “B” squad. International call-ups, injuries and suspensions took their toll, and New England wasted no time in punishing RSL, erupting for four first-half goals.

It was, of course, a result to take with a grain of salt, but all the right pieces were getting in on the fun. Strikes from Scott Caldwell, Kamara, Fagundez and Nguyen ... that’s how things are supposed to go when New England is firing on all cylinders.

MLS: Real Salt Lake at New England Revolution David Butler II-USA TODAY Sports

May 21, 2017

The return of Gershon Koffie is lost somewhat when discussing the Revs’ 2017 season thus far.

New England traded for him prior to the 2016 season, and his range, athleticism and bite proved crucial. Koffie’s inclusion also let the new 4-4-2 diamond formation thrive, providing an anchor upon which it could operate. But then he departed in the offseason, heading off to Sweden’s Hammarby IF, and a sizable midfield hole opened.

Bilello, Burns and Heaps recognized this, re-acquiring the Ghanaian on May 8 via loan. And what a signing it’s proven to be since he made his debut on May 21 in a 2-1 home win over Columbus. The Revs simply are a better team when Koffie is out there.

But there’s a caveat to Koffie’s presence that is in no way his fault: It underscores how limited New England’s roster was heading into the 2017 season. The club had 23 of 30 possible players rostered, creating a situation where depth became scarce and a significant injury could prove fatal.

MLS: New England Revolution at Philadelphia Union Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

May 31, 2017

The fear of injury came true, and to arguably New England’s most important player.

Xavier Kouassi rose high in the 86th minute at New York City FC, salvaging a 2-2 draw on the road with a thumping header. The problem, though, was Kouassi injured his quad on the play, sidelining him for nearly six weeks.

New England dearly missed the Designated Player from there on out, as his crisp passing, soccer IQ and tackling became noticeably absent from the starting XI. There’s statistical proof, too, in just how much Kouassi’s injury has taken a toll: The Revs are 1-4 in MLS action since he suffered a setback.

It’s also another injury for the much-anticipated Ivorian, who suffered an ACL tear before even appearing for New England, an injury that caused him to miss out on the entire 2016 season.

June 25, 2017

‘Twas day that Kelyn Rowe and Juan Agudelo get called up by Bruce Arena to the U.S. men’s national for the 2017 Gold Cup. Each deserved their nods, but they came at an inopportune time for the Revs.

New England had just lost back-to-back games in league play against the Chicago Fire and Toronto FC, and then two of its best players departed. That set in motion two more league losses – to Red Bull and the Union – from which Heaps’ squad is still trying to recover.

More glaringly, Rowe and Agudelo’s absence shed light on the fact the New England boasts little squad depth. Take out a piece or two, and the puzzle starts to collapse.

Rowe has since returned, starring for the U.S. in the Gold Cup’s group stage, but Agudelo remains for the knockout round.

MLS: U.S. Open Cup Final-New England Revolution vs FC Dallas Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

July 13, 2017

Losing two home games in eight days to craft a five-game losing streak is bad enough, and it gets even worse when both matches come against your rival, the New York Red Bulls.

The fashion in which they came are debilitating, too, with foes scoring late goals in both encounters. In the 3-2 league loss on July 5, the Revs allowed Gonzalo Veron to score as stoppage time approached, then Bradley Wright-Phillips did the same on July 13, bouncing New England from the Open Cup.

They’re the types of results fuel an anguished fanbase, a group that’s growing increasingly pessimistic over the 2017 season. This tweet from our own Jake Catanese sums up the bitter taste in everyone’s mouth pretty well.

Mindful of current form and with a difficult second half of the season looming, it’s hard to see a way out for New England. Eight of their 15 games are on the road, and that doesn’t bode well for a side that’s so far claimed three of a possible 30 points away from home.

But it’s also important to realize that the current state of affairs didn’t come out of thin air. There were incremental steps – journeys of hope and despair – that, when added up, explain all that’s transpired.

Sure, the low moments outnumber the high ones, but don’t lose sight of the balancing act they’re engaged in. And, in the words of the Revs’ supporters groups:

Mamma mamma can’t you see

What New England’s done for me

Mamma mamma can’t you see

What New England’s done for me

22 years and still the same

Revolution that’s our name

22 years and still the same

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