There's a rhythm to every MLS season. December brings impact acquisitions. March brings big dreams. July and August bring the craziness of the summer transfer window.
Achieving this rhythm requires a proactive approach, but the Revolution have yet to get on board.
The club entered preseason training on the heels of a quiet offseason. Rumors swirled about a blockbuster trade during the SuperDraft, but nothing materialized. Talk of “huge, huge targets” had fans longing for a superstar, but one never emerged.
In late January, the team announced the signing of center backs Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua, though the top teams in the Eastern Conference had already integrated their additions. The Revs seemed two steps behind.
When the season opened March 4, the Revolution had six open roster spots. That didn’t faze General Manager Mike Burns, who said he “felt good” about his team after intentionally leaving room at the back end of the roster. It was all part of a plan to let the first half of the season play out before making additional acquisitions.
“You have to look beyond the current window you’re in,” Burns told mlssoccer.com in late February. “The first three or four months of the season may dictate where we think we want to add or where we think we might be deficient in a certain area on the field.”
This wait-and-see approach challenged the dreams of Revolution supporters who wondered if the smallest roster in the Eastern Conference could compete for a playoff spot. And their concerns proved valid. Though Delamea quickly developed into a steady presence along the back line, the Revs lacked the depth it needed to overcome injuries and international call-ups. The team had fallen well below the red line by mid-June.
But team president Brian Bilello had a plan.
In an interview with Six States, One Podcast, Bilello announced his intention to add several “higher-end roster guys.” Jay Heaps built on these comments by adding urgency to the player search, saying, “We’ve scoured and we’ve got to fill in and continue to try and find the right players that are going to fit for us.”
The summer transfer window opened July 10, and the Revolution made its first move on July 28 when it signed defender Claude Dielna. Reportedly strong and athletic, Dielna could develop into a regular contributor. But his track record—he failed to latch on with Championship side Sheffield Wednesday and became a free agent earlier this year—doesn’t indicate that he’s a higher-end roster guy.
Up to this point, July and August haven’t felt so crazy in Foxboro. And that’s because the Revolution have taken a reactive approach to roster building.
During the off-season, the club needed two starting center backs, a defensive midfielder, an attacking firestarter and a defensive depth piece. That’s a long list of roster holes. And to some extent, the team filled them: Burns acquired Delamea and Angoua, and later holding midfielder Gershon Koffie, who returned to New England on a loan deal in early May.
These moves reinforced the roster, though they lacked proper planning. Delamea caught on quickly, but Angoua has, at least on the surface, yet to acclimate to his new club. The Ivorian center back arrived at camp late, as a first-time resident of the United States, having never played in MLS, while battling an injury. He started week one against the Colorado Rapids.
That’s the challenge of filling a significant roster hole so late in the game. The Revolution chose not to address this same need during the 2016 summer transfer window, which left the team scrambling to fill the void ahead of the 2017 season. Focused on acquiring two starting center backs, the Revs missed on satisfying its other needs.
When the summer transfer window opened last month, the club should have immediately begun acquiring new talent. But it took three weeks to sign Dielna, the defensive depth piece the team needed in January. Dielna has yet to begin training with the Revolution.
While all this time has passed, new needs emerged—namely, a left back and a pure finisher. Layer those needs on top of those that went unfulfilled during the offseason, and the Revolution roster feels somewhat barren.
That’s what six open roster spots will do. And that’s why it’s critical that Burns addresses his current roster holes before the transfer window closes on Wednesday—and ultimately, before the September 15 roster freeze.
The Revolution may not make a late postseason surge. The team may finish at the bottom of the Eastern Conference, even if it acquires a game-changing player. But if Burns wants to adopt the rhythms of a successful MLS franchise, he needs to employ a proactive approach today.