It’s hard to say if the 2020 New England Revolution midfield was disappointing last season because it seemed half of it was on the injured list for the bulk of the season. Carles Gil missed the majority of season with an Achilles injury, Luis Caicedo missed the year with knee surgery, and while the Revs were able to put a patchwork group together, that platoon could not replace the playmaker and influence that Gil is in the middle of the field.
Now I’m choosing to break up the Revs central midfield group and keep the wingers in the attacking three group, so this will mainly focus on the holding and center mids and playmaker/#10 spot. But with a fully healthy roster and some new additions, Bruce Arena should be able to deploy a variety of formations that we’ll get to in a bit.
We’re also counting Carles Gil as a CAM even though he is likely to technically start at RW/RM. I want to say that under normal circumstances I would be against this, however the playoff run where Buchanan and Gil dominated from that flank changed my mind and I have no problem with the Revs using that partnership again for most of the year and why Buchanan is with the defenders in my overview.
Obviously Gil’s health was a major talking point last year as was his importance to the team overall. But this year he is going to have a lot more support from the get go surrounding him and he appears to be not only in full health but full confidence as well. This is bad news for the rest of Major League Soccer.
I don’t think we give Matt Polster enough credit for his 2020 campaign, or the Revs for going out and signing him in the summer. The Revs had a much needed hole in the midfield with the injury to Caicedo and a year later that signing could pay huge dividends.
OUT: Kelyn Rowe, Lee Nguyen
IN: Wilfried Kaptoum, Maciel
We can’t technically count Luis Caicedo and Matt Polster as new players, but having them for a full season is going to be absolutely huge. Adding in Wilfred Kaptoum as another #8 type player gives New England some serious depth all around. If there is a backup #10 from this group, it’s likely Kaptoum, though much to my chagrin we’ll see Bou operating as a second striker in that spot more often than not.
Losing fan favorites in Lee Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe however will still sting. They were both key parts of the Revs 2014 MLS Cup run and set the foundation for this team and were sadly let down by the club leading to there departures and subsequent re-acquisitions in 2020. If the Revs win a trophy in the near future, their names won’t officially be on it but will be in spirit. And both players, Lee especially, should have their names in the Revs Ring of Honor or whatever it is that should exist somewhere already.
CAM: Carles Gil
CM: Wilfried Kaptoum, Tommy McNamara, Maciel
CDM: Matt Polster, Luis Caicedo, Scott Caldwell
Okay, so a true depth chart is a little hard here for a variety of reasons. First is how exactly the Revs plan on deploying their midfielders. In all likelihood, the Revs will deploy Gil as an in-cutting right winger, with Bou occupying the traditional #10 spot as a withdrawn striker. But both of those players are going to drift around a lot to be effective, which makes pegging down the rest of the depth chart kind of a nightmare since well everyone here can get the job done.
With Kaptoum, Gil, Polster and Caicedo, you could trot out a diamond midfield with Gil at the top, Kaptoum and Caicedo as shuttlers and Polster as the #6 or move Gil out wide to accommodate Kaptoum at the CAM and getting all four players on the field at once in the usual 4-2-3-1 setup. That leaves Tommy McNamara, Scott Caldwell and the preseason darling Maciel recently signed from Revs II as the utility midfielders at both the holding and shuttling roles which could be very helpful in closing out games.
This is another solid grouping that should give Bruce Arena not only the depth tactically to change his formations, similar to his backline depth, but also keep a steady rotation for players via substitutes and days off for regular rest for a deep postseason run.
Biggest Question: Getting the Balance/Chemistry/Rotation Mostly Right
With five substitutions again this year and an immensely talented and deep group of central midfielders, we are going to see just how good Bruce Arena is at coaching.
The Revs will be able to start and finish in many different tactical looks, some more offensive and some more defensive, thanks to their tremendous depth across the roster but especially in the middle. Being able to sub on a winger and put Gil in the middle to close out games in possession is going to be one of those keys in my opinion as well as offering different formation looks with the diamond midfield or even two strikers.
Also, Arena will have to figure out his starting holding midfield pairing in his preferred 4-2-3-1 which I don’t think is set in stone at the moment. Matt Polster stabilized the unit last year and is line for a lot of minutes this year, probably as the more #6/true holding option. Luis Caicedo is back as well and his role is perhaps the most interesting because he might be relegated to the utility role off the bench, being able to play both the holding and more center positions.
Wilfrid Kaptoum is the great X-factor of 2021. If he is a force on both sides of the ball then the Revs are going to give other teams nightmares on a regular basis. If Gil is going to be cutting in from the right, having one of the two central mids able to bring the ball up through the middle and combine with the left side of the field is going to be crucial.
Even if Kaptoum, Caicedo, and Polster are going to log the majority of starts, I still expect Scott Caldwell and Tommy McNamara to get a considerable ammount of minutes off the bench, especially Tommy Mac who can also step in and play a more two-way outside mid role to help close out games too. Add in the young Maciel to those bench options, a player whom Polster is quite impressed with, and the Revs are really well established in the middle of the field and can control games from start to finish a lot better than they could last year.