I was literally thinking the other night just how quickly the MLS offseason seems to go by these days. If you're lucky enough to make the playoffs, the wait seems even shorter, as those deeper playoff runs can take you into December. A few weeks pass and then it's Christmas and New Year's, and a couple of weeks after that it's the MLS Combine, the SuperDraft, and the opening of training camps.
With the stinging loss to D.C. United surely fresh on their minds, the 2016 New England Revolution begin their campaign this coming Sunday afternoon in the Texas heat against a familiar foe: the Houston Dynamo.
Every offseason there's always that period of introspection for clubs, as they look to find answers of what went wrong in the previous year's endeavors. For the New England Revolution, however, it must have been a particularly frustrating self-examination.
Coming off of yet another (ugh) MLS Cup defeat at the hands of the Los Angeles Galaxy in extra time, the Revolution had a relatively quiet offseason, only notably losing A.J. Soares, and gaining former player Juan Agudelo.
Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the 2015 season, aside from the disappointing playoff result and the now-annual summer slump, was the lack of roster moves with the glaring holes in the squad. The lack of squad depth reared it's ugly head particularly at the back, which was clearly exacerbated by the early loss of veteran defender Darrius Barnes.
Sure, there were plenty of names thrown around and all kinds of speculation (I swear I knew Will Packwood's entire family history), but nothing ever came to fruition, and transfer windows came and went without a significant move.
At least in my view, these frustrations have seemingly led to a rather active offseason with a few more fireworks.
KEY ROSTER MOVES
Let's just get the Jermaine Jones take out of the way immediately. YES, I wanted him back. YES, the team was better with him on the field. HOWEVER, at that price tag, coming off an injury-riddled campaign with multiple surgeries, I can absolutely see why management felt the need to let Jones walk, and I've made my peace with it. Then, later in the negotiations, after Jones took to social media and the 6-game suspension came down, you could clearly see the writing on the wall.
Quite frankly, Revs fans, it's time to move on. The one positive is that New England still holds the rights to Jones, and there would undoubtedly be some sort of compensation, which is a plus.
While the loss of Jones stings, the signing of a young, experienced, European designated player certainly helped ease the pain a little bit. The signing of Xavier Kouassi on a Designated Player pre-contract was met with a moderate buzz, given the player's nationality and current club (I don't catch much Swiss football, to be honest), but the Ivorian midfielder filled a need, and came with plenty of bite and experience, and I'm willing to guess it's at a lower price tag.
Sure, the incredible bad luck of Kouassi tearing knee ligaments prior to joining the Revolution is most likely the most Revs thing ever, but the signing signified a front office that was well aware of their needs, and their desire to fill them.
Finally, the two signings I'm personally excited about heading into the 2016 season are Sporting CP centerback Sambinha and, acquired via trade, former Vancouver Whitecaps central midfielder Gershon Koffie.
In Sambinha, the Revolution gained a piece they so severely lacked: a strong, physical presence in the center of defense. One of the thing that really sticks out about the Portuguese-born Bissau-Guinean defender is that he was the captain of the Sporting CP "B" team, which illustrates this front office's belief in leadership qualities both on and off the field.
The easiest analysis of the Gershon Koffie transaction is that it was an insurance move given the loss of Kouassi, and that's certainly the case, at least on the surface. With that being said, Koffie not only provides cover and depth in the middle of the park, he's absolutely talented enough to push players like Kelyn Rowe for playing time in the coming season. Koffie isn't a depth move, he's here to contribute, and he's more than capable.
Finally, I'd be crazy not to mention MLS SuperDraft pick Jordan McCrary. With the loss of Kevin Alston, the transition of Andrew Farrell to center back in 2015, and London Woodberry not truly stepping up, the Revolution desperately needed an outside back with McCrary's talent. While he may not start right away, expect the rookie to play a significant role down the stretch, he's that talented.
Personally, I think people that who overrate preseason trophies need to have their head examined, but I will say this: I'd still rather have them out there winning matches than losing them. Sure, the Desert Diamond Cup is nothing more than a preseason proving ground, but in 2016, the New England Revolution PROVED that there may be big things to come.
Teal Bunbury has clearly hit the ground running in 2016, as well as an older, experienced Charlie Davies, leading many Revs fans to believe that the attack will be much more consistent in this year's campaign.
The team chemistry is seemingly already clicking as well. The players look as though they've bought into the philosophy and culture, and genuinely seem to enjoy one another. Truly a testament to not only Jay Heaps, but the leadership group on the field as well.
The Revolution left the Arizona desert unbeaten, and as Desert Diamond Cup Champions, and preseason or not, confidence and spirits are clearly riding high.
THE BIG QUESTIONS ENTERING MLS FIRST KICK
How big of a loss is Jermaine Jones? -
This is obviously thought #1 on everyone's mind, or at least that's what I gather by how much traffic is generated by anything Jermaine Jones related on the internet. Personally, I think you would be hard-pressed to replace the quality and leadership of a healthy Jones, but given how last year went, coupled with the 6 game suspension upcoming in 2016, as well as the social media spat with management, would you even want him back at this point?
Can Charlie Davies and Juan Agudelo consistently lead the attack?
My biggest concern heading into 2016 is where the goals will come from. Agudelo has immense talent, but tends to disappear, and anyone who has followed Davies' career can only wonder just how many miles he has left on those legs. Now, while Davies found the back of the net in preseason, Agudelo struggled a bit, and hasn't seemed to find his feet. This is particularly frustrating for Revolution fans simply because if you watch the intricacies of the match, you can just SEE his potential. 2016 needs to be his coming out party, especially at that high of a price tag.
Sure, there's plenty of depth, but who's actually going to step up?
I mentioned this the other night on The Midnight Ride Podcast, and it's still bothering me quite a bit. Everyone talks about how there's "quality depth" and how the Revs "have all the right pieces" heading into 2016, but, who's really going to step up and contribute and actually propel this team to greater things in 2016?
Guys like Kelyn Rowe and Diego Fagundez have been a part of the furniture in Foxboro for quite some time now, but where's the payoff? Fagundez had double-digit goals a couple of seasons ago, but is he really as good as he can be? Kelyn Rowe's arrival was met with all the fanfare a #3 pick should garner, but outside of a few screamer goals and a cool goal celebration, is he living up to his potential? With Rowe fighting for playing time, this may be a make or break year. With Lee Nguyen most likely leaving for international duty in the summer, it's Rowe's season to shine.
The depth is there, but depth alone doesn't win championships, production does.
Are we sold on Jay Heaps? Is his job in jeopardy at all in 2016?
Now that I have your attention let me first begin by saying that I'm a fan of Jay Heaps the motivator, the leader, and the heart of this team. What I am not sold on, however, is his ability to be creative enough tactically with the pieces he's been given over the course of a long campaign.
Face it, with back-to-back summer swoons, Jay Heaps would have never survived in another major soccer-playing nation, not to mention a handful of cities here in America. He's absolutely benefiting from a lack of outside pressure to succeed from the likes of sports media and fans in New England.
You know what? Maybe that's a good thing. Maybe being given a vote of confidence and patience from upstairs will allow him to truly build what he wants to here, the way he wants to. This team has a very nice core of young players that are not only experienced now, but have the experience of playing together.
However, mark my words, if the Revolution suffer another summer nose dive for the third successive season, with this caliber of roster and talent, I will personally be the first in line calling for his job.
FINAL THOUGHT AND SEASON PREDICTION
I've been coming to Revs matches since I was 13, and have been blogging or podcasting for multiple years on multiple platforms. I'm saying this because I think it gives me a little bit of clout when it comes to my opinions about this team, which leads me to my final thought:
This may not be the most "talented" roster I've ever seen in Foxboro, but I will absolutely say that given the chemistry, the depth, and the overall cohesion of this unit heading into 2016, this may be one of the most complete teams we've seen heading a season since the glory days around the turn of the century.
This team has leadership, chemistry, speed, strength, experience, depth, and a solid system that should all propel them to greater things in 2016. They certainly lack that "star power" aspect that several other teams possess, but with this young core having played so many valuable minutes together, it's hard to dismiss this Revolution team heading into the season.
It's too early for crazy predictions, but I'll absolutely declare that this team is one or two "big" pieces away from trading that preseason silverware in for a postseason trophy.