The New England Revolution have made some big moves this off-season. Allow me to break them down for you.
First, the Revs’ 8th and 9th college draft picks.
The Revs’ selections of Brandon Bye and Mark Segbers may raise a lot of questions from supporters, since both are right-sided players, mainly right backs. This is where Andrew Farrell has been playing – and pretty well – over the past five years, at least defensively. One might wonder why the Revs would use up two high selections on two unproven college products who play the same position as he does.
My guess? Because Farrell hasn’t scored a goal in five years, and an outside back should be an offensive as well as defensive position. To me, the reason for Farrell’s lack of success is clear. Although he’s fast and willing to overlap – and has more than adequate dribbling skills – he has little confidence in his ability to cross the ball and even less in his shot.
It is a shame that the vast majority of professional and college coaches regard technical development as the player’s responsibility, not theirs. Watching Farrell over the last five years, I feel as if he has actually regressed in his kicking ability. It is a real shame that some coach didn’t take him aside and drill him in the basic fundamentals of striking the ball. Too bad, because it can be taught, and I have the impression that Farrell would be more than willing to learn.
Both Bye and Segbers have talent and have scored goals during their college careers, so who knows, getting both these players could pay off. They also obviously do not have to be glued to the right side of the field. Chris Tierney has defensive difficulties on the left side that the Revs have tried to remedy in a variety of ways, always unsuccessful. Maybe one of the new guys will plug that hole.
In any case, I hope that both Bye and Segbers spend a half hour before each practice working on technique. Getting playing time is what any player craves, and honing your skills is one good way to get it. Coaches notice.
Second, the acquisition of Christian Penilla.
Christian Penilla is a speedy and tricky player whose favored area on the field is on the left side as either a midfielder or winger. He has the capacity to take an opposing back on, much like David Accam (now with the Union) did for the Fire last year. This gives him the option to drive to the end line and cross with his left foot (his left is pretty good) or to cut to the middle of the field to pass or shoot right-footed. The lack of this dual option was a Rev weakness last season, as Fagundez wasn’t much of a threat on the outside, cutting to the middle 99 out of a 100 times, and Tierney pretty much specialized in the cross.
Penilla has played professional soccer for about 8 years, is 26 years old, and has scored 32 goals during this time. He played on the Ecuadorian national team twice (friendlies), and is on loan from Pachuca. I would love to know exactly why Pachuca decided to loan him to the Revs (I can think of both complimentary and uncomplimentary reasons). In any case, on the basis of film clips (Google ‘Christian Panella’ to see them – and to enjoy the ACDC soundtrack at the latter part of the 9-minute clip), I think the Revs’ gamble in signing him was worth taking.
Third, other signings: Jalil Anibaba, Gabriel Somi, Nicolas Samayoa, Wilfried Zahibo, Isaac Anking.
Jalil Anibaba is a 29-year-old MLS veteran since 2011, last playing with Houston as a defender on the flanks or in the middle. As far as I know, he prefers the right back slot, much like Bye and Segbers. In this context, I’m going to be fascinated to see how the Rev defense shakes out over the first weeks of the season. It will certainly be interesting to see what effect Jalil’s league experience has on the structure of the team, as he could possibly replace any of the back four. His presence surely makes the battle for playing time more competitive – always a welcome situation for a coach (if not for the players).
To top the defensive picture off: Gabriel Somi is a dual national, Sweden and Syria, playing in a couple of leagues below the top level. He’s 26 years old and is primarily a left -footed left back, clearly in competition with Chris Tierney. Nicolas Samayoa is a 22-year-old college player, a centerback from Guatemala, and the 78th overall pick (toward the end) in the college draft. Is Brad Friedel undermining Delamea and Dielna’s security about their positions? I doubt it, but Samayoa may be useful in the future, or at another position. I have learned never to underestimate a Central American soccer player.
Now, finally, to the most critical question. Ever since Jermaine Jones left the Revs, I have been a Johnny-One-Note harping on the Revs’ need for a high-end midfield general. It’s hard to buy the requisite combination of field vision and technical expertise (including the ability to connect on an accurate long ball of 40 yards or more) for less than a million dollars.
The Revs’ two midfield additions are Wilfried Zahibo, a 24-year-old Frenchman with a lot of experience at the French and Spanish second levels, last playing for Gimnastic in Spain, and Isaac Anking, a homegrown midfielder making the minimum salary for five years. There are some pretty good MLS players, even starters, in this category. But at this moment I’m not holding out a whole lot of hope that we’ve found our Schweinsteiger.
In sum, the Revs got rid of seven players: Angoua, Kamara, Kobayashi, Koffie, Kouassi, Watson, and Woodbury, all of whom had either considerable or at least decent playing time. The group brought in anew should at least address the Revs’ problems on the flanks, defensive and offensive. It remains to be seen whether or not success will ensue. My bet is this depends on future player acquisitions.
So, what’s the current state of the Revolution’s roster? I would guess that, as the season progresses, the Revs will prove to have done an above-average job of plugging the defensive and offensive holes that kept them from making the playoffs last year. But I’m also betting that their most important hole remains unplugged. Without an experienced generalissimo patrolling the midfield, bringing coherence to the team’s game plan, and bringing out the best in all the players around him , the Revs will almost surely continue to underperform.