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4 ways the Revolution can return as playoff contenders

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To compete in 2018, the team should prioritize these changes.

MLS: New England Revolution at Orlando City SC Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports

The Revs have arrived at a crossroads. Three seasons removed from a run to the MLS Cup final, the 8th-place club in the Eastern Conference must make significant adjustments if it wants to emerge as a playoff contender next season.

It all starts the appointment of a new manager. From there, the team must address these four needs:

Remove repetition from the attack

In each of his final three seasons, Jay Heaps struggled to find roles for Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe. Both have brought the most value when playing in a center attacking midfield role. But that spot has historically belonged to Lee Nguyen. With Rowe and Fagundez pushed to the flanks, the Revolution have lacked the width and service needed to feed Kei Kamara—or whoever else features up top—on a regular basis. As a result, Fagundez has lost out on meaningful minutes, and Rowe has turned into a jack-of-all trades, playing virtually every position except center back and goalkeeper.

All three players carry trade value. It’s time to move on from one of three for the sake of improving the roster elsewhere—and ensuring the attack has a more consistent identity next season.

Settle on a regular back four

The Revolution have acquired four defenders since last winter’s SuperDraft. Unfortunately, these additions have yet to give the team a consistent look along the back line.

This offseason, the Revs need to zero in on four to five players who will make up the defensive core—not six or seven, as has been the case over the past two seasons. That’s the only way the next Revolution manager will build a cohesive unit.

This means the club will need to make a decision on Chris Tierney’s future—whether he enters 2018 as a reserve defender or a regular starter. The team will also need to decide if Andrew Farrell, who fell out of favor in early September, is a long-term answer at right back.

Regardless of what the Revs decide, they desperately need continuity along the back line: no glaring holes, no patchwork units, no out-of-position players. That’s how the best teams in the Eastern Conference manage their defensive units.

Add depth players that fit the system

When the Revolution surrendered a 3-0 lead to the Sounders earlier this year, critics questioned Heaps’ game management. The question seemed fair: his substitutions were of the “I need fresh legs” variety instead of the “what moves will help me hold a lead?” variety. A 3-0 lead eventually turned into a 3-3 draw, with all three Sounders’ goals coming after the first Revolution sub.

But while these decisions backfired, Heaps had few options at his disposal. His bench included no natural midfielders and a trio of out-of-form forwards. In the end, he brought Je-Vaughn Watson, Teal Bunbury and Femi Hollinger-Janzen into the match. And the rest is history.

Since that match, second-half struggles have plagued the Revolution. That’s exactly why the teams needs a set of bench players with defined roles. A veteran defensive midfielder to help close out matches. An attacking midfielder who brings great energy and offers width. A physical forward who can help maintain possession.

By purposefully filling out the roster, the Revolution can begin to improve upon its second-half troubles.

Acquire a star

Though spending money never guaranteed any team a win, it’s time for the Revolution to sell out for its next Jermaine Jones.

Since Jones’ departure following an injury-plagued 2015 season, the Revolution have lacked a franchise leader who raises the play of those around him and demands extra attention from opposing clubs. The top teams in MLS have this player: Toronto’s Sebastian Giovinco, NYCFC’s David Villa, Portland’s Diego Valeri.

To keep up, the Revolution need their own club leader—someone who can make plays to salvage draws, take control when a 3-0 lead starts to slide, and prevent a 6-1 blowout when an early red card spells disaster.

This player doesn’t need to serve as a cure-all for the Revs’ woes. But he does need to help shift the culture of a team that has grown accustomed to underperforming.

What other changes should the Revs prioritize? Tell us below.