With a quarter of the season already gone we’re beginning to see how the contenders are faring in MLS. Alongside early front-runners FC Dallas, Vancouver Whitecaps and DC United are last season’s MLS Cup runners-up New England Revolution. Having bounced back from an injury-ravaged start to the season, head coach Jay Heaps has been quietly building one of the best teams in the league.
New England were the surprise package of the 2014 MLS season. A promising start had been wiped out by a franchise record eight losses in a row but, despite being sixth in the Eastern Conference in late July, the Revolution stormed the league in the second half of the campaign eventually winning their way to the MLS Cup final.
They lost out to LA Galaxy on that occasion but current form suggests they might not be waiting too long to have another crack at the MLS Cup. Winning the trophy this year would represent only the second piece of silverware lifted in the club’s history, having been one of the founding members of MLS in 1996.
Their first trophy was the US Open Cup in 2007 during the team’s golden years when they finished MLS Cup runners-up three years on the bounce. Heaps was a mainstay in the Revolution’s defence during that time but, as he came to the end of his career, the foundations of the current side were beginning to be laid.
The 2009 MLS SuperDraft provided a number of future stars for the league with the likes of Omar Gonzalez, Graham Zusi and Matt Besler joining. New England picked up defensive duo Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes, who both featured frequently alongside Heaps in his final year before retiring. Young goalkeeper Bobby Shuttleworth was signed on a free transfer while versatile midfielder/defender Chris Tierney had been brought in the season before.
With previous coach Steve Nicol’s 10-year reign unravelling, New England turned to Heaps to oversee the team’s transformation. From the start, Heaps recruited wisely with future stalwarts AJ Soares, Stephen McCarthy, Andrew Farrell and Kelyn Rowe coming in successive SuperDrafts. Even more encouraging was the emergence of academy prospects Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell.Embed from Getty Images
In his first season, the Revolution finished bottom of the Eastern Conference just as they had done under Nicols the year before. In 2013 however, with a teenage Fagundez firing 13 goals, they finished 7th overall in MLS and reached the playoffs for the first time since Heaps’ last season as a player.
Another improvement last season, 5th overall as well as the playoff success, has seen New England emerge as one of the best sides in the league.
A squad that has been gradually built up over the course of several seasons, capped off by the signing of Designated Player Jermaine Jones last summer, has proven to be greater than the sum of it’s parts. The loss of Soares, McCarthy and 2014 MLS SuperDraft pick-up Patrick Mullins has done little to slow the progress of the Revolution, whose strength in depth has come to the fore after a rocky start.
Losses in the season openers away at Seattle Sounders and New York City, combined with a disappointing 0-0 draw with Montreal Impact, gave New England a poor start to the season, albeit without the talismanic Jones. Five wins in their next seven matches has emphatically answered any critics with Heaps’ well-balanced side and options off the bench proving a formidable challenge for any side in the league.
Jones has been paired up with youngster Farrell at the heart of a sturdy defence with the team conceding just four goals since the US international came back into the side, having missed the start of the campaign with injury. In front of them, a midfield engine consisting of any two from Caldwell, Andy Dorman and Jose Goncalves provides protection whilst allowing the array of attacking talents Revolution have to go forward with freedom.
Arguably the signing of the close season was the capture of Juan Agudelo after his failed European adventure and the US international striker has teamed up effectively with a rejuvenated Charlie Davies. That’s not to mention 2014 MLS MVP candidate Lee Nguyen, who has yet to hit his sensational heights this season, and the fast-improving Rowe, who has relished the chance to take on a more attacking role.
A steely defence combined with a productive attack makes New England one of the most formidable teams in the league. They are the joint third highest-scoring side with 14 goals, and boast seven different goalscorers. They already have ten different players with an assist to their name too. The ominous signs for the rest of MLS are that for Heaps’ well-built team the best is yet to come.