The Revolution entered the new year not with a bang but a whimper. After weeks of offseason silence, a roster improvement plan seemed like a fantasy.
Yet in two weeks’ time, the club addressed its top priorities, acquiring two international center backs and a pair or rookie attackers. Now, Jay Heaps will spend the next four weeks organizing his roster—and integrating his newest players into a crowded lineup.
1. Cody Cropper
2. Bobby Shuttleworth
3. Brad Knighton
4. Matt Turner
Heaps has made it clear that he expects all four goalkeepers to compete for the number one shirt this preseason. That’s a lot of minutes to go around, most of which should go to Cropper and Turner, who remain relatively unknown commodities.
If Cropper continues his sharp play—he made a handful of strong saves during a scrimmage against Minnesota United—he should earn regular starts. At some point, Heaps needs to determine if the advertised Cropper, who played at the top level in England and featured for the U.S. Men’s National Team, matches the Cropper he acquired last fall.
If Cropper struggles, Heaps has a strong contingency plan: his backups, Shuttleworth and Knighton, benefit from a combined 175 MLS starts. Assuming Cropper eventually wins the job, both players would serve as a top-tier MLS backups.
That leaves Turner, who has flashed potential but needs meaningful minutes to develop. The Fairfield alum should head to Rochester, where playing time will come more regularly.
RB: Andrew Farrell (London Woodberry)
CB: Antonio Delamea (Je-Vaughn Watson, Joshua Smith*)
CB: Benjamin Angoua
LB: Chris Tierney (Donnie Smith)
Often a point of discussion, Heaps’ back line received reinforcements in the form of center backs Delamea and Angoua this preseason. Both players will need time to acclimate, though one thing seems clear: the Revs believe the pair can start side-by-side at some point this season.
For now, expect Watson to earn starts beside Delamea, who is healthier than Angoua and has benefited from additional training with the Revolution. Once Angoua is ready to join the Starting XI, Watson will likely move into a reserve role, where he’ll become the first defender off the bench and one of the most valuable depth pieces on the Revolution roster.
Woodberry won’t be far behind. Though still coming into his own, the 25-year old has turned in quality starts at several different positions along the back line. He figures to earn meaningful minutes, especially if Delamea and Angoua take longer to transition than expected.
Tasked with providing cover for All-Star left back Chris Tierney, Donnie Smith will need to stay healthy in 2017. Smith collected an assist against Minnesota on Tuesday and looked sharp in limited minutes last season.
Joshua Smith, a 2017 fourth-round SuperDraft pick, could serve as a promising developmental project if he makes the roster.
CDM: Xavier Kouassi (Daigo Kobayashi, Zachary Herivaux, Emmanuel Appiah*)
RM: Scott Caldwell (Diego Fagundez)
LM: Kelyn Rowe (Napo Matsoso*)
CAM: Lee Nguyen
One of the deepest units on the Revolution roster, the midfield boasts attacking firepower with Nguyen, Rowe and Fagundez.
In 2016, Rowe separated himself from Fagundez—perhaps for the first time—during a season that resulted in Team MVP honors. That doesn’t mean Fagundez will have a reduced role this season, but may mean that Rowe will get a first crack at the Starting XI. If Rowe does win the job, Fagundez—who appeared in all 34 matches last season—should serve as the first attacker off the bench.
Though Caldwell has primarily served as a defensive midfielder during his Revolution career, look for Heaps to push him wide in a 4-4-2 diamond. His on-field intelligence, passing expertise and ability to track back defensively will make him an asset in a more advanced midfield role.
Defensively, the Revs will witness the debut of Kouassi, who missed all of last season after tearing his ACL. The highly-touted DP plays with “a little bit of bite,” according to Mike Burns, and will look to replace the destroyer mentality the club lost when Jermaine Jones departed. Kouassi will be backed by Kobayashi, who has made 20 appearances in each of his last six MLS seasons, and Herivaux, a homegrown player who appears ready to contribute on the MLS stage. Both players could earn starts as Kouassi returns to full fitness.
Matsoso, a 2017 third-round pick capable of playing several midfield positions, and Appiah, a former first-round pick who prefers a box-to-box role, should make the roster as intriguing depth pieces.
1. Kei Kamara (Teal Bunbury)
2. Juan Agudelo (Brian Wright)
The striker positions offer the most predictability, with Kamara and Agudelo set to spearhead the attack. In 2016, the pair combined for 14 goals and seven assists during two partial seasons. Those numbers should inflate as both forwards earn regular starts.
Bunbury figures to serve as the first striker off the bench, but will face pressure from Wright, a balanced attacker with a reputation for finishing chances and threading final passes. To fend off the first round SuperDraft pick, Bunbury must find success complementing a second striker. He looked most comfortable in a “target winger” role last season, a position that doesn’t translate into the 4-4-2 diamond formation Heaps employed late last season.
During Friday’s scrimmage against the Red Bulls, both players moved forward in their petition for minutes, as Wright finished a low cross from Teal Bunbury to give the Revolution a 2-0 advantage.
Who do you have penciled into your 2017 Starting XI? Share your preferred lineup below.
*Preseason trialist projected to make roster. Additional preseason trialists include defenders Otis Earle and Tyler Turner.