New England Revolution 2014 Season Preview: 4 Things to Watch for This Season
Replacing Juan Agudelo will be the New England Revolution's story to watch in 2014, but what additional storylines will complete your season preview?
In part 13 of our 19-part series, we will take an in-depth look at the most intriguing plots surrounding the Revolution this season. The number and player to watch, as well as the match that should immediately be circled on your calendar, will be delved into with great detail.
Read on for your comprehensive guide to 2014.
Note: Unless otherwise mentioned, credit all statistics to Squawka. All data collected is licensed from Opta Sports.
Before we preview the coming year, here is MLS's complete list of offseason acquisitions and departures that helped mold this season's version of the club.
|M||Paolo DelPiccolo||Waiver Draft|
|GK||Brad Knighton||Trade from Vancouver|
|F||Charlie Davies||Transfer from Randers|
|M/F||Steve Neumann||MLS SuperDraft|
|F||Patrick Mullins||MLS SuperDraft|
|F||Teal Bunbury||Trade from Sporting KC|
|D||Jossimar Sanchez||MLS Supplemental Draft|
|M||Daigo Kobayashi||Rights from Vancouver|
|M||Alec Sundly||MLS SuperDraft|
|F||Chad Barrett||Option Declined|
|M||Ryan Guy||Option Declined|
|D||Tyler Polak||Option Declined|
|M||Clyde Simms||Option Declined|
|M||Juan Toja||Option Declined|
|F||Juan Agudelo||Out of Contract|
The Story to Watch: Juan Agudelo's Replacement
He was worth more than seven figures.
The Revolution acquired forward Juan Agudelo from Chivas USA last May in exchange for the proverbial undisclosed amount of allocation money. Two months later, the 20-year-old would sign a pre-contract with English outfit Stoke City. The Potters, however, refused to wait, offering New England close to a $1 million offer to land Agudelo overseas during the summer transfer window.
MLS and the Revolution rejected.
It's easy to see why.
The American's impact extended way beyond his seven goals in 2013. In his 11 starts with the club, the Revolution were a solid 7-1-3. In the other 15 matches that didn't feature Agudelo as a starter, New England was a much less consistent 5-7-3.
That's an MVP-type impact.
The season ended with the club's first playoff appearance since 2009.
Fast forward to today. European aspirations were finally achieved, but what's left behind is now a desperate search for a suitable replacement.
Is it Patrick Mullins?
The two-time MAC Hermann trophy winner was selected 11th overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. His stellar collegiate career was highlighted by 47 goals and 35 assists in 92 matches. But anyone who's distraught and remorseful for using his hand to score a crucial goal lacks the tenacious instinct necessary to succeed as an elite striker at the professional level.
Kyle Franko carried Mullins' quotes in the Trentonian following a 2-1 loss to Notre Dame:
I'm very disappointed in myself for doing that. In the heat of the moment, I hit it down with my hand and like any good forward, I put it in the net. That's not who I am and I'm very disappointed in how that play resulted. All I can control is my actions and I'm not happy with that action. It's definitely hard for me to swallow because that's not the type of player or person I am.
Those are humbling words you'll never hear from Thierry Henry.
He sings a different tune in Mark Ogden's piece in the Telegraph following a 2009 World Cup qualifier against the Republic of Ireland:
I will be honest. It was a handball, but I'm not the ref. I played it. The ref allowed it. That's a question you should ask him.
Say what you want about "dignity" and "self-respect," but your fandom wants that goal at any cost. Luis Suarez bit someone. There's no way you're not taking his 23 goals, no matter how holier-than-thou you try to come off as. Does Mullins have that killer instinct his counterparts confidently boast?
Is Agudelo's replacement Steve Neumann?
The 22-year-old was selected fourth overall in the 2014 MLS SuperDraft. The 2012 Hermann trophy finalist finished his collegiate career with 41 goals and 34 assists in 86 appearances for the Georgetown Hoyas.
And what about Teal Bunbury?
The 24-year-old was acquired from Sporting Kansas City in exchange for the Revolution's first-round pick in the 2015 MLS SuperDraft and—you guessed it—allocation money. But a torn ACL in 2012 limited him to just one regular-season start in 2013.
With what it cost to acquire him, the Revolution are betting on his weakened ligaments.
Those bets will have to pay off if New England hopes to return to postseason glory in 2014.
The Number to Watch: 386
Clearly, he's replaceable.
Defender Jose Goncalves joined the Revolution last season on a one-year loan from Swiss outfit FC Sion. They would eventually exercise their purchase option and 2014 option on Goncalves' contract in November of last year. The money was well spent for New England considering he was the only player to feature in every single minute the club played in the 2013 season.
So, why was there such a rush for Goncalves to return to Europe?
He explained in an interview with the A Minute in Sports! blog last January:
There is some interest [from Europe] and, of course, for any player in the world to play in Europe is very interesting. It is the highest league and that's why I am thinking to be back in Europe very soon...I was on loan last year. It is a difficult situation and you never know where you are going to end. That it would develop so good for me and the team and that I would feel so comfortable was not sure before last year. But my family is in Europe and I need a plan for my future life, definitely. I am also fighting for a spot in the [Portuguese] national team and that has always been my goal.
Surely, the Revolution would be in dire straights to assure that doesn't happen:
After the MLS season ended last year, there have been a lot of discussions and meetings with the Revs… a lot of promises have been made, but nothing came at the end and the club also gave me the feeling that I am easy to replace, so for me it is a very simple answer and that's it.
Someone wasn't paying attention then.
Goncalves finished with 386 defensive actions last season—enough to rank him sixth among all MLS defenders. The 196 duels he won, however, only ranked him second behind Sporting Kansas City defender Aurelien Collin. It should come as no surprise that the Revolution only conceded 38 goals in 2013, tied for third-best in the league.
So, no, a player with the quality of Goncalves isn't "replaceable." His 386 defensive actions last season mirror that sentiment.
Regardless of his current circumstance, the 28-year-old remains a consummate professional. According to MLS's official website, he isn't backtracking nor interested in damage control.
But he isn't going to abandon his teammates, either.
I think that, in the next few days, we will sit down and discuss the situation. But for now, I think that the most important thing is that the group gets back in training. When we find a time to speak about this, then we will do it.
If the numbers weren't enough, try replacing leadership qualities like that.
The Player to Watch: Diego Fagundez
This one, admittedly, is a personal favorite.
Diego Fagundez, the 19-year-old breakout Uruguayan, finished the 2013 season as the club's leader in goals scored (13) and second in assists behind midfielder Kelyn Rowe (eight) with seven. Among MLS players who took at least 20 shots last season, his 67 percent shot accuracy ranked him second behind Chicago Fire midfielder Dilly Duka (68 percent).
Did we mention he's only 19?
Don't think he's forgotten. Fagundez, though currently raking in a six-figure salary, still lives and has very little interest in moving out of his parents' basement.
Kevin Koczwara of the Boston Globe had the exclusive:
I've thought about it a bunch of times, but I'm so close to my family. Why move when I can be with them every day? My mom makes good food, and I don't have to do everything.
He later added that he would move out "someday." But with the departure of 20-year-old Juan Agudelo, Fagundez will have to do everything, if not more, to refrain from being the next young starlet to fizzle out in MLS.
Just ask Freddy Adu what that's like.
To ratchet up the pressure, there will be little surprise from the opposition in 2013. An offseason to prepare and study what was once an unknown commodity will test the mettle of the player not old enough to celebrate a championship with a bottle of champagne. Fagundez will be the focal point of his competition.
His hype has grown exponentially. It's on him to live up to it.
The Match to Watch: New England Revolution vs. Sporting Kansas City
Sporting Kansas City's road to the promised land wasn't as effortless as some revisionists will paint it as in the years to come. The club was pushed to the limits in the first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against New England. A 2-1 loss at Gillette Stadium had the eventual champions on the ropes. The young, upstart Revolution upped the ante in the 70th minute of the second leg after Dimitry Imongo delivered a set-piece header.
The dreams of advancing only lasted nine minutes.
But a young nucleus and a plethora of dynamic talent carried an optimistic tune into the offseason.
Diego Fagundez. Andrew Farrell. Kelyn Rowe. Dmitry Imbongo. Now add to that the acquisitions of Bunbury, Mullins and Neumann, and there is a core of dynamic attacking talent at the club that carries an average age of 22. The opportunities to grow into an electrifying championship contender is there and extends beyond this season.
But it starts with a rematch at home against the reigning champions on April 26, 2014.
Eduardo Mendez is a Bleacher Report Featured Columnist and analyst for Opta Sports. Follow him on Twitter for more insight on a variety of sports topics. Follow @Mendez_FC