New England Revolution: The bandwagon starts here

A CORUNA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09: Carles Gil of Deportivo de La Coruna looks on prior to the La Liga 123 match between Deportigo de La Coruna and Sporting de Gijon at Abanca Riazor Staidum on September 9, 2018 in A Coruna, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images)
A CORUNA, SPAIN - SEPTEMBER 09: Carles Gil of Deportivo de La Coruna looks on prior to the La Liga 123 match between Deportigo de La Coruna and Sporting de Gijon at Abanca Riazor Staidum on September 9, 2018 in A Coruna, Spain. (Photo by Quality Sport Images/Getty Images) /

New England Revolution will be the greatest riser in the MLS Eastern Conference during the 2019 season and will be a playoff team. The bandwagon starts here.

Welcome to The Bandwagon Starts Here. TBSH is a feature that gives you the opportunity to get in on the bandwagon at the ground floor. The teams featured in the TBSH are destined to outperform the 2018 versions of themselves, and leap into the playoffs. In a few months every expert and fan is going to be jumping on the bandwagon, but remember, it started here. I’m beginning the 2019 MLS season by firing up the bandwagon for the New England Revolution.

The New England Revolution finished the 2018 season with 41 points. They recorded 10 wins, 11 draws, and 13 losses. New England were eighth in the Eastern Conference and nine points behind sixth place, the Philadelphia Union, which is the mark they needed to make the playoffs last season. It is important to remember seven teams will make the playoffs from each conference in 2019.

The New England Revolution seemed to perform well at home, winning eight matches, drawing five times, and only losing on four occasions. However, their 29 points at home were just eighth best in the conference. Meanwhile, New England won two matches on the road, drawing six and losing eight. Their points total was only 12, but that mark turned out to be sixth best in the Eastern Conference (home teams have an incredible advantage in MLS). New England will need to improve both at home and on the road this season. More specifically, they need to turn some of those home draws (there were five of them) into victories. No team in the Eastern Conference drew more at home than New England.

MLS teams averaged a total of 54.2 goals for and against during the 2018 MLS regular season. New England were below average scoring, as they scored only 49 goals over the course of the season. Defensively, they were average, allowing 55 goals. To break this down, New England scored just 1.4 goals per match and allowed 1.6 goals. They need to improve on both ends, but it is of the upmost importance that they score more goals in 2019.

There were a couple of key departures from last year’s Revolution team. Midfield mainstay, Kelyn Rowe, has been traded. Rowe had been demoted to rotation status last season. He started 18 matches, and played just over 1600 total minutes, both of which were the fewest of his career with the Revolution. New England traded former designated player, Claude Dielna, to Portland. Dielna had been phased out of the squad and had not played since July 22, 2018. Finally, left back, Chris Tierney, retired. Tierney is a Revolution legend, but he played just 309 minutes last season. The Revs seemingly lost three key pieces of their team, but none were actually starters under Brad Friedel. The names are bigger than the roles they played.

(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
(Photo by Fred Kfoury III/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images) /

The New England Revolution need to be more threatening in their attack than they were last year. They scored just 49 goals, five below the MLS average. Good news, then, that the Revolution have added two important players to their front-four. Carles Gil was signed as a new designated player to be the team’s number 10. Gil is a player I have tracked since his time at Aston Villa. Some may question his ability to be a difference-making player in MLS — Gil has never scored more than two goals in a season (going back to 2013) and has not recorded more than four assists in a season; bluntly put, he’s been a miserable disappointment everywhere he has gone. But despite Gil’s lack of production, he is a very talented playmaker and will be playing in his best position for the Revolution, central attacking midfielder. Gil has often been positioned on the wings, but he lacks the physical gifts necessary to excel there. Gil’s ability on the ball and range of passing will make everyone around him better. With the weapons that will be around him in New England, I can see Carles Gil — and not Marco Fabian — being the MLS newcomer to make a Borek Dockal kind of impact in the league.

Gil joins a line of attacking midfielders that already includes Diego Fagundez and Cristian Penilla. Fagundez and Penilla are both plus attackers in MLS and the line of Fagundez, Penilla, and Gil could be one of the most dynamic in the Eastern Conference. They will be every bit as dangerous as Columbus’ trio of Pedro Santos, Federico Higuain and Justin Meram, for example. New England holding onto Fagundez this offseason was key. Fagundez finished last season with nine goals and 10 assists; he will most certainly be a 10 & 10 player this year. The Uruguayan attacker had an impressive 2.8 key passes per game. To put that into perspective, only Maxi Moralez (3.1) and Frederico Higuain (2.9) had more key passes per game (while, Borek Dockal also had 2.8). Fagundez is underrated. With the introduction of Gil, Fagundez will have even more opportunities to score goals. Opposite will be Penilla, who was the team’s best player in 2018. He finished his debut season in MLS with 12 goals and seven assists. He will have every chance to duplicate if not surpass those numbers this season.

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The New England Revolution will have three players who will share in spearheading the attack this year. Teal Bunbury is the incumbent starting striker. He scored 11 goals, which was a personal best, taking 2.1 shots per game. Bunbury is a strong forward and is good at holding the ball up and combining with his attackers. He is never going to be an elite scorer, but he works hard and showed last year that he can be a ten-goal striker when given the opportunity.

The Revolution also brought in Juan Fernando Caicedo this offseason to push Bunbury for the starting striker position. The Colombian arrives from Independiente Medellin. He scored 11 goals in 42 appearances last season with the club.

Juan Agudelo is still around and will serve as a back-up at any of the front-four positions. Agudelo was once thought to be one of the most promising young forwards in the USMNT pool. However, he’s now 26 and is coming off an injury-riddled season where he made just 13 starts, scoring three goals with four assists. Agudelo is still a talented player and can be a solid MLS starter. At worst, he’s a very good bench player who can fill in at a variety of positions and roles.

The New England Revolution have also spent the offseason accumulating some great young players. They drafted Generation Adidas forward, Tajon Buchanan, out of Syracuse. I’m very familiar with Buchanan from his time at SU and love his combination of speed, skill, and size. He is not ready to contribute right now, but he is one to watch. They also drafted DeJuan Jones. Jones is a speedy winger who can come on late and stretch defenses. Justin Rennicks signed as a homegrown from Indiana. The Revolution have a deep stable of young attackers coming up the pipeline.

In the midfield, New England should look much the same as last season. Luis Caicedo will start in one of the two holding roles. He played very well for New England last year, featuring in over 2500 minutes. The other midfield spot will go to either Wilifried Zahibo or Steve Caldwell. Zahibo is a little more defensive and physical, while Caldwell is a slightly better passer. 19-year-old Isaac Angking should also be in the mix, as he looks to have a breakout season.

(Photo by Timothy Nwachukwu/Getty Images) /

The backline is also better than it was a year ago. Former first-round draft pick Andrew Farrell is still out at right-back. He led the team in tackles last year and has been a crucial player for the Revolution for years. Opposite him will be new left-back, Edgar Castillo. Castillo is an improvement over Gabriel Somi and Brandon Bye. He should be given plenty of freedom to get forward. Castillo was acquired from the Colorado Rapids in exchange for Kelyn Rowe. That was a good trade for the Revolution. Castillo is an above-average full-back and Rowe was not being utilized. Brandon Bye will serve as the backup, probably on both sides, although Somi is still on the squad, for now, to fill in on the left.

Center-back is the only questionable position for the Revolution. It is a group that failed to find consistency last year. Michael Mancienne will be one of the starting center-backs. He was acquired late last season and should benefit from a full preseason with the team. The other center-back position will be filled by either Jalil Anibaba, who surprised by starting 29 games last year, or Antonio Mlinar Delamea. Delamea has shown glimpses of being a league average center-back, but needs to find consistency. New England clearly do not have the best group of center-backs in the league. However, they did pretty well, allowing just 55 goals, with a rotating door of defenders last season. It is easy to project them being just as good, if not better this season. Plus, they have a pair of above-average full-backs and a high-pressing midfield in front of them.

The New England Revolution have a pair of solid if unspectacular goalkeepers. Matthew Turner started for much of the year and was a surprise success. He later lost the job to Brad Knighton.

The biggest reason the Revolution will take a leap this season, however, and be one of the five best teams in the Eastern Conference is that of manager, Brad Friedel. Friedel has now been at the helm for over a year. He will have molded this team into his own. He will take a step forward as a manager and that will help the team be better at every facet.

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The Major League Soccer season kicks off in two weeks. You can be sure the New England Revolution are going to be a playoff team this season. They made important additions both in the attack and in defense. They have both dynamic players and depth. It is best you jump on the bandwagon sooner rather than later; remember. For the New England Revolution, the bandwagon starts here.