2020 began with more hope for the New England Revolution than fans had seen in a long time. In 2019 the Revs began the offseason by signing Carles Gil who is a legitimate star, Gustavo Bou’s signing in midseason of that year proved to be a spectacular addition and then the Revs went out and got Polish striker Adam Buksa as a third DP for last season. Bruce Arena’s squad was pegged for a much improved season...and then COVID-19 happened.
I will continue to say this, but Buksa was the player most affected by both the pandemic stoppage and Gil’s injury. He was starved for service with Bou taking over primary playmaking duties for much of the year and hopefully is primed to make his second season a significant improvement over a solid debut MLS season where he did notch 6 goals and 2 assists on 24 of 59 shots on target.
Needless to say, this was a unit that never found their full form in 2020 until Gil’s return just before the playoffs. But even though the goals didn’t flow, there was a lot of hard work and chances generated in a tumultuous year when the Revs were inconsistent and a lot of times, just damn unlucky. It wasn’t surprising at all then to see Teal Bunbury lead the squad with 8 goals as the Revs utility attacker did what he did best - fill the gaps, work hard, and be opportunistic.
Now with the Revs at full strength, Bunbury might be doing that off the bench more, as he won’t be needed to fill in at the under-achieving left wing position and with Carles Gil likely to occupy the starting right wing spot. But now the spotlight is back on the DP’s, with Bou and Buksa needing to have big years as the Revs look to push for that elusive MLS Cup.
OUT: F/M Diego Fagundez, F Kekuta Manneh, LW Cristian Penilla
IN: LW Arnor Traustason, M/F Ema Boateng, FW Edward Kizza
Basically a lot of like for like additions here. The Revs are pretty much set up top with their DP tandem of Bou and Buksa, but the left flank continues to be problematic.
Traustason will look to replace Penilla at left wing after the Colombian faded in recent seasons after an exciting and productive start to his MLS career. Boateng is a familiar face to Bruce Arena and I have the same excitement and intrigue for Boateng as I did for Manneh late last year off the bench. The left side of the field has been a revolving door for New England of late so we’ll see if these new additions can help balance the field out.
ST: Adam Buksa, Gustavo Bou, Edward Kizza
LW: Arnor Traustason, Ema Boateng
RW: Teal Bunbury, Justin Rennicks
Okay again we have to preface this list with the fact that Carles Gil is going to technically be starting at right wing and Gustavo Bou is going to be starting at second striker in a roving middle role underneath Buksa. So Bunbury and Rennicks are more utility options at both winger and striker than true right wingers though Bunbury was quite excellent there last year and I am bummed out that he might have to feature a lot more often in a super sub role in 2021.
That being said, this is a pretty solid group of veterans and with Bunbury and Boateng as the main reserves, there’s a lot of experience on that bench for Arena to lean on late in games and give spot starts too. Late in games don’t be surprised to see Bunbury and Boateng finishing games off as box-to-box midfield type players moving Gil into the middle and going with just one striker up top.
If they’re not going to get a lot of playing time in MLS, I’d be very interested to see Rennicks and Kizza as a two-man striker tandem with Revs II in USL or in an Open Cup run. I think those could be very complimentary players with Kizza being the more traditional #9 like Buksa and Rennicks playing the second striker roving around like Bou which could help both players get used to those potential roles in MLS if needed.
BIGGEST QUESTION: Can the Revs get the balance between Bou and Buksa right?
Okay, last year this was a mess for a variety of reasons. The pandemic stoppage, Gil’s injury, just pretty much everything. And Buksa in particular soldiered on up top mostly by himself with not a lot of support and if we’re being honest, did pretty darn well.
Now with Gil back at full health and a seemingly set tactical plan with Gil playing that incutting right wing role, Buksa should be primed for a solid second season in New England. My concern however might be more with Bou, who shouldered a lot of the playmaking duties last year and not always very well. If Bou actually plays a hybrid scorer/facilitator role and compliments those around him I won’t be as worried. If Bou is going to be more selfish and shoot a lot from range when there are better options, the team as a whole is going to struggle, especially Buksa.
The Revs have the talent and depth that when something isn’t working on the field from game to game, they can shift things around. Whether that’s with subs or formations, the Revs shouldn’t be committed to the same 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-1-1 or whatever you want to call it. If Bou and Buksa can make it work in the middle, particularly I’d like to see them combine with each other on the counter more, it’s just another element that was missing last year that will make the Revs a championship caliber squad this year.