2016 MLS season preview: New England Revolution

Despite the departure of Jermaine Jones, the Revs go into the new season as one of the league's most intriguing teams.

2015 regular season: 5th Eastern Conference (11th overall)

2015 playoffs: Knockout Round; 2-1 loss to D.C. United

MLS Cup odds: 33/1

Players in: Sambinha (Sporting CP, loan), Jordan McCrary (SuperDraft), Gershon Koffie (Vancouver Whitecaps, trade), Xavier Kouassi (FC Sion, free – joins team in July)

Players out: Trevor Spangenberg (option declined), Kevin Alston (option declined), Jeremy Hall (option declined), Timi Mulgrew (option declined), Tyler Rudy (option declined), Jermaine Jones (out of contract), Andy Dorman (out of contract), Sean Okoli (waived)

After losing their fifth MLS Cup final in 2014, the New England Revolution hoped that a full year of Jermaine Jones and the return of Juan Agudelo would help guide them to an elusive first title last season. Instead, Jay Heaps’ men were decidedly streaky throughout the campaign, as Jones managed just 18 regular season appearances due to injuries and international call-ups and Agudelo provided only seven goals in 32 games. After faltering during the run-in, they entered the playoffs out of form and promptly fell at the first hurdle to D.C. United.

There haven’t been many big changes over the offseason, aside from former Vancouver Whitecaps stalwart Gershon Koffie replacing Jones in central midfield, but Heaps will need the likes of Agudelo and Lee Nguyen to step up if they are going to avoid losing ground to the Eastern Conference’s other top teams.

Reasons to be positive

As inconsistent as they were in 2015, there were also times when the Revs looked like the best team in MLS – a run of six straight wins between August and September proving the high point in their season. Heaps’ youthful side is loaded with danger men like Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury, Agudelo and the more experienced Nguyen and Charlie Davies, and they can be near impossible to stop when everyone is firing on all cylinders.

Much has been made of how Jones’ departure will affect the balance of the line-up given his influence on both sides of the ball when fully fit, but Koffie should prove a more than capable replacement. The 24-year-old Ghanaian has quietly been one of the league’s best box-to-box midfielders over the past few seasons, while 2015 team MVP Scott Caldwell will have few problems fulfilling the defensive duties alongside him.

The midfield could potentially be reinforced late in the season by Designated Player signing Xavier Kouassi, too. Set to arrive from FC Sion in the summer, the Ivorian was recently ruled out for six months with a knee ligament injury, which prompted the Koffie trade, but there is still an outside chance he could be back in time for the run-in if his recovery all goes to plan.

What would be an even bigger boost, though, is if Agudelo finally fulfils the potential he’s been teasing since bursting onto the MLS scene as a teenager in 2010. The 23-year-old striker returned for his second stint with the Revs in 2015 after failing to land a move to Stoke City due to work permit issues, but injuries and inconsistently made it a campaign to forget for the most part. Nevertheless, his wonder goal against D.C. in the playoffs reminded everyone of his game-changing ability, and if he puts it all together this term, there is no reason why he can’t be one of the league’s elite forwards.

Trouble on the horizon?

The Revs’ backline has three solid starters in Chris Tierney, Jose Goncalves and Andrew Farrell, but the lack defensive depth behind those three names is an obvious concern. First-round pick Jordan McCrary will hopefully fill the hole at right-back over Darrius Barnes and London Woodberry, but there could be big problems if injuries strike.

Key man: Lee Nguyen

After hitting 18 regular season goals in 2014 to make the three-man shortlist for the MLS MVP award, it was always going to be hard for Nguyen to live up to expectations last season. Nonetheless, while he wasn’t as productive in front of goal, the 29-year-old midfielder still proved the Revs’ standout player, wowing with his flair and creativity in the final third. A late-season tear saw him finish the campaign with seven goals and 10 assists, and having recently made a big impression at the US national team’s January training camp, he’ll be expected to be the catalyst for his side’s playoff push once again this term.

One to watch: Zachary Herivaux

Herivaux was a highly-rated member of the Revs’ academy for four years before signing a homegrown deal last May, but the 20-year-old central midfielder has so far only made one appearance for the club in the US Open Cup. There are big expectations for him at Gillette Stadium, though, and having been getting extended minutes in preseason, we should be seeing a lot more of him this term.

Predicted regular season finish: 6th Eastern Conference

New England pulled off a masterstroke by trading for Koffie in the wake of Kouassi’s injury, ensuring that they go into 2016 with all guns blazing. They certainly have players capable of inspiring a deep playoff run, but much will depend on whether they can smooth out the dips of inconsistency and keep the defence from cracking.

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