The US Open Cup, especially in its early stages, has traditionally provided reserve players with an opportunity to make their claim for more league minutes. In 2013, solid Open Cup performances led to more playing time for Chad Barrett and Andy Dorman. With the New England Revolution set to open tournament play on Wednesday against the Richmond Kickers, it's time to ponder which players will use the 2014 edition of the Open Cup to impress head coach Jay Heaps.
Since Matt Reis retired, Heaps has frequently stated that there is an open competition at the goalkeeping position. Knighton looked sharp throughout preseason, but Bobby Shuttleworth was placed between the sticks for the season opener. Now that Shuttleworth has shown some weaknesses, particularly when it comes to long shots, you have to think that the competition has intensified. Knighton could use the Open Cup as a way of proving that he deserves to be the number one.
Rowe had an outstanding sophomore season as he gathered seven goals and eight assists. Rowe's development has stagnated this year, however, because he's been dealing with hamstring issues that have limited him to seven appearances. Furthermore, he is facing heavy competition in the form of the consistent Daigo Kobayashi. The Washington native has always been good in the Open Cup as evident by his five goals and one assist in four appearances. A successful Open Cup could be what Rowe needs to regain the starting position.
Caldwell was a revelation last year as he beat out Kalifa Cisse, Clyde Simms and Dorman to be named the starting defensive midfielder. The homegrown product made up for his lack of size with smart passing and active positioning. Late into his rookie year, Caldwell hit a wall and was eventually replaced by Dorman. Caldwell regained the starting spot to begin this season, but a 4-0 trouncing in the opener led to the reintroduction of Dorman. The two played together in the loss against the Philadelphia Union with Dorman taking full ownership of the spot a week later. The Revs recorded back-to-back losses heading into the World Cup break, which might cause Heaps to think about swapping Dorman with Caldwell.
Davies was hopeful that a move back to the New England area would help get his career back on track, but that hasn't been the case so far. The New Hampshire native only played 23 minutes last year while on loan from Randers FC. This year, Davies was starting to show promise as an attacking substitute until a calf injury sidelined him in April. The 27-year-old is now fully healthy, which means that he could make an impact in the Open Cup. The game against the Kickers might help Davies build confidence, especially considering that he hasn't scored a first team goal in over two years.
Sene earned his first minutes since April 19th in last Sunday's match against the New York Red Bulls. Entering in the 81st minute, Sene didn't look exceptionally sharp. The Frenchman could use the Open Cup as a way of shaking off the rust and showing that he can contribute to this team. In 2012, Sene led the Revolution with 11 goals before going down with an injury. Last year, Sene was a crucial part in the late season push to capture a playoff spot. While the Revs have had a lot of success without Sene in the lineup, there's no question that he's talented enough to be a game charger, either as a starter or off the bench.
Imbongo is another player that has fallen down the depth chart. Alternating between a starter and a bench player in 2013, Imbongo has had trouble making the game-day 18 this season. While the Congo native can sometimes be overly physical, he does have a knack for scoring goals. Last year, Imbongo scored against Sporting KC in the second leg of the MLS Cup playoffs. He also scored the game-winning goal against the Red Bulls in the fourth round of the Open Cup. Imbongo's impressive stature makes him an excellent holdup player and a good Open Cup might be enough to overtake Patrick Mullins.