New England Revolution players voluntarily returned to the training center on Monday in a sign that the 2021 season is upon us. The Revs will be looking to make the MLS Cup Final one year after bowing out in the Eastern Conference Final. The team’s success will likely revolve around these five questions.
1. Can Adam Buksa be the goal-scoring forward the Revs need?
The Polish attacker only collected six goals and two assists in 1499 regular season minutes last year, which left much to be desired. He looked better at the end of the season, as he scored twice in the last four games before grabbing a playoff goal against the Philadelphia Union.
Transitioning to MLS is never easy, but Buksa faced extra difficulties due to the global pandemic. He was also forced to play the bulk of his minutes without Carles Gil, who’s widely considered to be one of the best midfielders in the league.
In short, there’s reason to believe that Buksa’s second season will be better.
2. Who will play left wing?
Teal Bunbury is the incumbent on the left, but he’ll certainly face competition. Emanuel Boetang is the current threat on the roster after being added in the off-season. While he’s a nice piece, I don’t think he’ll be the full-time starter.
In fact, I still think there’s an acquisition to be made. There were rumors about Arnór Ingvi Traustason and Facundo Waller but they haven’t come to fruition. Getting this spot right is important because it will help Buksa, Gustavo Bou, and the rest of the team.
3. Who plays the outside back positions?
A left-footed back with pace, Christian Mafla appears to be a good acquisition on paper. I’m also encouraged by the praise he’s received from his former coach Juan Carlos Osorio, who once roamed the sidelines of MLS. Of course, MLS is a difficult league, so time will tell if Mafla can be the consistent presence on the left that the Revs have been missing for years.
The right side appears to be an open battle between Brandon Bye and Tajon Buchanan. Bye held the position until Buchanan stepped in late last season. Originally a move done out of necessity, Buchanan thrived as the player who got forward and tormented opponents with speed and footwork. The Canadian could fill a similar role this year.
The outside back positions are critical to the way the Revs want to play because they provide the width. Bruce Arena has to get the personnel right.
4. Can everyone stay healthy?
The 2020 season was derailed when Gil went down with an injury. He returned just before the playoffs to instigate the team’s resurgence. The team needs Gil to be healthy if they’re going to challenge for trophies.
The team also needs Matt Turner, Henry Kessler, and Andrew Farrell to be on the field. Similar to Gil, Turner is among the best in the league at his position. Replacing him is nearly impossible.
While Kessler and Farrell have formed a good partnership, others can put in similar shifts. The problem is that those individuals aren’t on the Revolution roster. AJ DeLaGarza will provide solid locker room leadership. Collin Verfurth and Jon Bell (if he signs) are deserving of their spots after solid seasons with the second team. Any of those guys would do a fine job as a spot starter, but I’m not sure if they should be in the lineup every week. Perhaps we’ll see more center back depth added before the season.
5. What will happen during the transfer windows?
Arena is here to win. As such, he’s always looking to improve his roster. I do think we’ll see more additions before the start of the season, likely filling needs at left wing, center back, and striker. Regardless of what happens, Arena will surely make adjustments during the summer transfer window.
Another thing to consider is that players could depart. Turner is the most obvious name as it’s long been rumored that he could one day head to Europe. I’m not sure if that happens this year, but suitors will certainly come knocking.