In what has been far from a perfect season so far, the Revs have looked to entirely revamp not only their front office and technical staff, but the players in uniform as well. The big money acquisition of Spanish attacking midfielder Carles Gil in the Winter, and the firing of Mike Burns and Brad Friedel, combined with the addition of Bruce Arena as the Head of Operations for the club have begun to change the identity of the franchise’s current state. While it’s only the end of June, the Revolution have a crucial few months ahead of them as they attempt to reach the playoffs for the first time since 2015.
Alright, for this report card, let’s look at three areas of the team: The players and their play, The Coaching Staff, and the Front Office decisions.
First off, The Players: B
For the first time in their existence, the Revolution looked overseas and were actually able to acquire a big name talent in Carles Gil, as well as Juan Fernando Caicedo and drafting DeJuan Jones and Tajon Buchanan has added an entirely new shape and form to the team’s on the field play. Gil, who had played for Aston Villa and RCD Deportivo slotted into a no. 10 role that Lee Nguyen had held up until the 2018 season when he was dealt to LAFC, and has been one of the brightest spots for the team this year, bagging 4 goals and 4 assists through 17 games. Juan Agudelo has been a totally different animal this season, after new manager Bruce Arena put Juan into a midfield role, where he sprang to life, and since has scored 3 goals and earned an assist, and been one of the best players for the team in the final third. Teal Bunbury was able to somewhat shake off the bad spell he was under, and awoke in the team’s open cup match against the Red Bulls by scoring a brace that included the game-winning goal in extra time. Brandon Bye’s versatility on the outside in both a defensive sense and on the attacking end has been palpable. Bye has been a model of consistency, with 2 goals to his name, both being crucial, as he scored a game winner against Minnesota United, and grabbed a goal early on against Philadelphia that secured a point for the Revs. Both Jalil Anibaba and Andrew Farrell have thrived under the new management, and have formed a great defensive wall to protect any of the team’s three goalies, who still work in rotation. Cristian Penilla has shown the form he had last season, and up until the recent injury he’s been dealing with, had been integral to the Revs’ attack. The only reason I can’t necessarily give an A here is that many of the players on the team who should be able to perform have just seemed subpar, such as Diego Fagundez, Michael Mancienne, and Edgar Castillo. With 1-2 new players joining the fray in the upcoming transfer window, the fortunes of the squad can hopefully turn around, and with some fresh legs on the Gillette Stadium turf, a playoff berth could be around the corner.
The Coaching Staff: A-
The day I was moving out of my dorm room at the University of Maine, as me and my mother were driving to grab food in Bangor, the news came in that Brad Friedel had been sacked, which already signaled a massive change was ahead. Interim head coach Mike Lapper did an absolutely fantastic job with the club and the position they were in, and left his role with the club undefeated. The news lead to me writing a whole article inside of a Buffalo Wild Wings, and just a few weeks later, Mike Burns was removed as general manager of the club, a position that he should have vacated after the 2016 season. Shortly thereafter, the club announced former L.A. Galaxy, D.C. United, New York Red Bulls, and USMNT manager Bruce Arena had been hired as new head coach and sporting director of the club. The move was monumental, as Mike Burns had been involved with the club practically from the day he retired from professional soccer and onward. In hiring Arena, his technical staff joined him in New England, along with Curt Onalfo, and Richie Williams joining the team from Loudoun United to serve as an assistant on his staff. The new management has already done more than Friedel and Burns had done in their tenures, gaining the trust of the locker room, and promising the fans 1-2 new signings during this summer transfer window. Arena is still undefeated in league play, and looks to keep that same momentum rolling against the Houston Dynamo on Saturday. While it’s early on, the A- is fair when considering how stout the front office has been about keeping their own group together, and refusing to make the signings necessary to compete in the modern-MLS. The firing of Mike Burns had been demanded by fans for years, and both Robert Kraft and Brian Bilello coming together to make the decision is certainly a welcome sign for the future of the club.
Front Office Decisions: A+
The way this season has played out internally within the infrastructure of the club has been perfect following the early season managerial moves. Firing Brad Friedel was clearly a necessary move, with his lackluster excuses for failure, poor results both home and away, and the players clearly abandoning and refusing to buy into his program lead to the former Spurs keeper’s downfall. With Friedel out, the appointment of Mike Lapper could not have worked out better, with the team going undefeated in his short tenure, but heaping loads of praise on the interim manager’s tactics. Firing Mike Burns is easily the biggest move in the entirety of the franchise. Burns, who had been with the club since 2005 and became general manager in 2011, had created a bubble around the team, that hadn’t truly seen competition without his upper-level influence on the day-to-day operations of the squad. The ineptitude began following the 2015 season where the Revs lost Jermaine Jones, whose play, paired with MVP candidate Lee Nguyen, practically lead the Revs back to the playoffs following their magical 2014 MLS Cup run. 2016 saw the team miss the playoffs for the first time, and the departure of 2013 MLS defender of the year Jose Goncalves, and club legend Charlie Davies. The loss of the two stalwarts in the club ultimately lead to the Revs’ downfall, culminating with a 7-0 loss to Atlanta United later on in the 2017 regular season. Head Coach Jay Heaps was removed from his position and replaced by Tom Soehn, before being replaced by Brad Friedel at the beginning of 2018. The hire was clearly more for show than fit, as Friedel had never managed football before, and served as an anchor on both ESPN and Fox Sports programming. The calling for the firing of Mike Burns had been demanded from fans for years even before this point, and finally, in the 2019 season, the team made the decision to get rid of Mike Burns, and replace the overstayed manager with Bruce Arena, who has already been more productive in terms of improving the roster than Burns had been in 8 years as a GM. The Krafts themselves have also clearly devoted much more of an eye towards the Revolution, actively exploring and collecting investors to purchase land outside of Boston in the quest to bring a soccer-specific-stadium to the urban public, and increase attendance at home matches, compared to the trek that is driving to Gillette Stadium. The front office has also promised a rebranding of the club’s crest, and possibly name following a future move into Boston or the surrounding neighborhoods. With these announcements, and the commitment to spend that had been given by Arena and Kraft shortly after his arrival have already inspired me, as well as many other fans, to look forward to the future, rather than continuing to wallow in the mess left behind by Mike Burns.
Overall, the team is clearly in a much better position than they were back in April, and genuinely have a shot at sneaking into the playoffs as one of the final seeds, now that the playoffs have expanded to include 7 teams from each conference, as opposed to 6. Not to mention, the Revs are only 5 points behind the current 7th place team, Toronto FC. If the new signing(s) that Arena has announced will be coming to New England pan out, and the roster is able to continue this undefeated run, this season just might be saved, but these crucial mid-summer games will showcase us what this new-look Revs team is actually capable of.
Mike’s Mid-Season Team Superlatives:
MVP: Carles Gil
Best Attacker: Carles Gil
Best Defender: Jalil Anibaba
Biggest Surprise: Juan Agudelo
Most to Prove: Cristian Penilla
Most Excited to see get Minutes: Justin Rennicks
Best Rookie: DeJuan Jones
The Revs will take on the Houston Dynamo this Saturday at Gillette Stadium, only 3 days after drawing to the Philadelphia Union on Wednesday.
Photo: (USA Sports Today/AP)