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2015 MLS Season Preview: New England Revolution Push for Title

Duncan DayContributor IFebruary 26, 2015

New England Revolution's Lee Nguyen holds the MLS Eastern Conference Champion's Cup as he celebrates with fans at Gillette Stadium after the second soccer game against the New York Red Bulls of the MLS Eastern Conference final in Foxborough, Mass., Saturday, Nov. 29, 2014. The match ended 2-2 and New England advanced with a two-game aggregate 4-3. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola)
Elise Amendola/Associated Press

Devastation engulfed the New England Revolution in California last year when the LA Galaxy, formulating a storybook finish for retiring U.S. star Landon Donovan, defeated the Revs in the 2014 MLS Cup.

Robbie Keane’s goal in extra time snagged a 2-1 advantage for LA that even Revolution midfielder Teal Bunbury could not draw level with his late-match chip that soared and dipped off the crossbar.

New England, having now appeared in the MLS title game five times since the league’s inception, is still searching for its first crown. It will have the opportunity to begin another quest against the Seattle Sounders on Mar. 8—one of many regular-season openers.

The roster’s offseason outlook provides good reason to believe the reigning Eastern Conference champs will advance deep into the 2015 playoffs.

2014 MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen will return after anchoring the best statistical campaign of his entire career. He earned himself national team attention, getting his first call-up in seven years for November 2014 friendlies. He is ready to climb the ranks among the Stars and Stripes' best attackers.

The former PSV Eindhoven youngster revealed his yearning to become a key contributor at the international level.

“I want to keep pushing for better. I always feel like there’s another level,” Nguyen said in national team training earlier this month, per The Dallas Morning News' Jon Arnold. “Being on this national team, I don’t want to just be on the fringe; I want to be one of the guys being called up. I definitely think there’s another level I can strive for.”

Nguyen’s 18 regular-season goals signaled the highest sum of any midfielder in MLS, but one cannot attribute this outcome only to his performance, although the 28-year-old Texan emerged as manager Jay Heap’s cool-headed penalty kick converter early on.

The arrival of designated player Jermaine Jones in the summer came at the decisive moment, providing his toughness and playmaking ability to make Nguyen and the rest of the squad worthy of postseason prestige.

Players from the top to bottom of the roster began to step up. The current roster, barring the losses of standout defender A.J. Soares to Norwegian side Viking FK and Patrick Mullins to New York City FC, has managed to stay uniform.

Juan Agudelo, the burgeoning American talent who failed to experience a useful stint overseas with Stoke City, left Eredivisie club FC Utrecht and, after signing with New England in January, returned to the place where he delighted in former glory.

Agudelo signed with New England in January. His presence gives New England a strong, skilled man up top. Since performances shift year to year in MLS, it’s uncertain whether or not Charlie Davies can match his first-class efforts from the end of ’14.

Therefore, the inclusion of Agudelo, in addition to the his sheer upside based on familiarity with the existing Revs, grants Heaps depth and well-rounded talent able to combat scoring streakiness.

ESPN Boston’s Brian O’Connell laid out the numbers behind the forward’s previous triumphs:

But Agudelo isn't just a big-bodied target man with average shot. Consider that in his 14 games with the Revolution in 2013, he scored seven goals, an impressive goal/game ratio of 0.5. A closer look, though, reveals just how lethal Agudelo is in front of the net: Those seven goals came from only 11 shots on goal. In other words, he put away more than half (63.6 percent) of the shots he took.

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The re-signing of midfielder Teal Bunbury also strengthens the Revs’ offensive prowess. The speedy veteran overcame intermittent struggles to emerge as a crucial pace-pusher on the wing. He will certainly execute a similar role come opening day.

Let’s not forget the growth of defensive midfielder Scott Caldwell, who elevated his game alongside Jones, often utilizing tight spaces in midfield to properly control sequences in midfield. Will we see a greater improvement from him?

Even though elements of a championship team are firmly in place, consistency reigns supreme, and the Revolution will face remarkable tests from new expansion teams NYCFC and Orlando City in two upcoming matches versus each franchise. The Revolution will also battle playoff opponents New York Red Bulls twice and Columbus Crew once, and they host the LA Galaxy at Gillette Stadium in a late-May MLS Cup rematch.

The main area of concern for New England heading into game day will be the makeshift back line, which will have to cope without Soares, a consistent starter throughout the squad’s road to the championship. Switching Andrew Farrell to center back may occur, but it’s not his choice spot and would require acclimation; in this scenario, Goncalves will shoulder a burden too heavy.

However, we have yet to see the full squad in meaningful action. The Revolution are boasting an undesirable 1-2-1 preseason record in Tuscon, Arizona, while the larger context points to an MLS side prepped to vie for the big title once again. Expect the Revs to regain their triumphant ways, in the second half of 2015 at the latest.

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