Luis Caicedo is out for the season after undergoing successful surgery in March. Playing in 61 games during his first two years with the New England Revolution, the center midfielder was a presumed starter heading into 2020.
Caicedo’s usual partner Wilfried Zahibo is good to go, but who will play alongside him? Here’s a look at Bruce Arena’s options.
The Favorite: Diego Fagundez
Fagundez started both games this season, pairing first with Scott Caldwell then with Zahibo. The Homegrown works well in the middle because he can make the simple pass that keeps the game moving as well as the killer pass that disrupts the back line.
Fagundez’s defensive efforts have improved, though he’s sometimes off with his positioning. He can also be culpable for fouling in dangerous spots.
Right now, Fagundez is the odds-on favorite to start next to Zahibo.
The Contender: Scott Caldwell
Once referred to by Jermaine Jones as a pit bull, Caldwell does all the dirty work you want from a center midfielder. He always seems to be in the right spot and can help maintain possession with his passes.
The biggest criticism of Caldwell is that he can sometimes be pushed off the ball due to his small frame (5’8”, 150 lbs). The local product makes up for this with his relentless spirit.
Caldwell started the first game of the season but was pulled after 45 minutes. This isn’t a good sign for him, especially since he didn’t get a lot of time once Bruce Arena became head coach. This could mean that Caldwell is more likely to be used as a late sub.
The Tactical Option: Carles Gil
The modern game doesn’t require the No. 10 to play in the center of the park. In fact, I like Gil coming in from the right because it unsettles opponents, especially with Brandon Bye staying high and wide.
Although he’s most known for his creativity in the final third, Gil is more than willing to contribute defensively. This might translate to Arena moving midfield maestro to the center.
The Dark Horse: Kelyn Rowe
Rowe returned to the Revolution after unsuccessful stints with Sporting KC and Real Salt Lake. Now reunited with the man who gave him his first US National Team cap, I thought we’d see rebirth for the Washington Native. That hasn’t happened yet, as Rowe didn’t appear in either regular season game.
Rowe has the potential to be a starter as a box-to-box midfielder since he’s a decent passer and can shoot from outside the box. That said, he’ll have to show more than he did during preseason if he wants to unseat his competition.
Maybe the wild hair and beard will give him the edge he needs.
The Wildcards: Isaac Angking, Damien Rivera, and Nicolas Firmino
Given that the first three games count towards the regular season standings and the tournament has some nice rewards, I doubt Arena opts for a young option in the middle.
Angking, Rivera, and Firmino can play there though, with Firmino being the most natural fit. If one of them shows well in practice during these next few weeks, we could see a surprise inclusion in the starting XI. It’s more likely, however, that they will be coming off the bench.