By all accounts, 2016 served as a down year for the Revolution. The club failed to qualify for playoff soccer for the first time since 2012 while conceding 10 more goals than it scored—a stat that made the difference between a playoff berth and a season cut short. Now, pressure has begun to mount on the Revs front office, which has yet to acquire a player to fill any of the club’s roster holes.
Yet as the curtain falls on another calendar year, there’s reason to feel optimistic. Xavier Kouassi will debut. Cody Cropper has a chance to develop into a star. And moves will come.
Here are five reasons to get your hopes up for 2017:
1. Xavier Kouassi will make his highly-anticipated debut
Kouassi, a Designated Player from Swiss side FC Sion, never appeared for the Revolution in 2016 while recovering from an ACL tear. Now healthy and ready to make an impact, Kouassi will join a loaded Revs midfield that already includes defensive-minded players Scott Caldwell and Gershon Koffie. Kouassi’s role remains uncertain, though his experience as a Swiss Super League club captain and reputation as a hard-nosed defender provide plenty of reason to feel optimistic. The Revs will lean on Kouassi for consistent production in 2017.
2. The Revs front office lives for January and February
In years past, the Revolution have taken a slow-and-steady approach to offseason roster rebuilding. Last year, the club signed Kouassi on February 1 and acquired Koffie on February 11. In 2015, the club signed Juan Agudelo—fresh off a stint with Eredivisie club FC Utrecht—on January 30. In typical fashion, the Revs have only leaked minor information about upcoming roster moves; at this point, we only know that Heaps & Co. have “covered a fair amount of ground” while scouting in Europe, South America and the Middle East.
It’s easy (and fair) to feel antsy as the rest of league reloads ahead of the 2017 season. But moves will come. The club will address its needs along the back line before the season kicks off on March 4. It will just take longer—much longer—than every fan would like.
3. Juan Agudelo has re-emerged as an elite goalscorer
Despite missing 10 matches due to injury, Agudelo put forth his best Revolution season in 2016, claiming the team’s Golden Boot award after scoring seven goals in 14 starts. He particularly shined down the stretch, scoring four goals while adding three assists in the Revs’ final seven matches. In 2017, Agudelo should have no difficulty building on his successful campaign, using a talented cast of attacking players—and hopefully, a season of full health—to turn in another career year.
4. The Revs have a rising star between the pipes
The Revolution have acquired several goalkeepers during the Jay Heaps era: Cody Cropper, Brad Knighton, Matt Turner, Joe Nasco, Trevor Spangenberg, Larry Jackson, Luis Soffner. This constant influx of ‘keepers may have subdued the club’s recent signing of Cropper, a USMNT prospect who has experience with British clubs Southampton (Premier League) and MK Dons (Championship). The only goalkeeper the Revolution protected during the MLS Expansion Draft, Cropper has the experience and potential to develop into a long-term starter for Jay Heaps. At some point in 2017, he figures to grab hold of the number one shirt.
5. Jay Heaps has much to prove following a down season
After guiding the Revs to an MLS Cup appearance in 2014, Heaps has watched his club gradually regress. For much of the 2016 season, the gaffer struggled to get the most out of his talented attacking players and failed to field a productive defensive unit. But in the season’s final two months, his club showed its potential. Kamara, Agudelo and Kelyn Rowe developed into an attacking force; the back line tightened up its play in front of Brad Knighton; and the Revs finally earned results, winning five of its final eight matches.
Now, Heaps has a chance to prove his 2014 title run was not a flash in the pan, nor simply the byproduct of a Jermaine Jones-led midfield. The Revolution have committed to Heaps in 2017. And as his strong finish to the 2016 season attests, he has the coaching acumen and on-field talent to lead a top-tier MLS club.