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Something a bit strange happened in New England last year. The Boston area sports team with the highest win percentage wasn’t the New England Patriots (58%). Nor was it the Red Sox (57%). It isn’t even the Celtics (50%) or Bruins (59%) in the middle of their current seasons. If you haven’t figured out where I’m headed with this yet, I’ll cut to the chase. For the first time in their history, the New England Revolution won a higher percentage of their games (65%), than any of the major 4 Boston sports teams. This accomplishment comes in a sport famous, or perhaps infamous, for its ties.  This isn’t to say the Revs are necessarily deserving of more attention than those other teams.  It seems reasonable to conclude, however, that with an excellent 2021 season and a rebrand taking effect in 2022, there may be a few more eyeballs thrown in the direction of Robert Kraft’s other team.

If you’re new to the Revolution, let me be the first to welcome you!  You’ll find a complimentary slice of welcome-to-the-team cake in the back of your fridge*. Before I hand out your membership card, however, understand that it’s ok to have some questions about the team and the league.

*promises of cake not legally binding

Major League Soccer isn’t run quite like other American sports, nor is it run quite like other soccer leagues.  There are designated players, and allocation moneys, and supplemental roster spots, and discovery lists.  It’s ok to not understand what these things are, to begin with.  I intend this article to provide you with enough information to help you hit the ground running as a new fan of the New England Revolution in 2022.  So, whether you’re new to the Revs, or to MLS, or even to soccer in general, here’s what you need to know.

Team History

Fans of the Patriots will be dismayed to hear that the Revolution have been given the nickname “The Bills of MLS“.  They earned that unfortunate title because, like the Buffalo Bills, they made it to the championship game multiple times in a short period and always came away second best.  Between 2002 and 2007, the Revolution made the MLS Cup Final 4 times.  They lost all 4, including back-to-back-to-back in 2005-7.  In 2014 they would add another MLS Cup loss to the list.

Of course, you don’t get to to play in the championship game without having some success.  The Revs are tied for second most appearances in the MLS Cup Final at 5. A whole slew of top quality players have come through the ranks over the years including, possibly, some familiar names.   Now a commentator and analyst with ESPN, the Revs current top scorer is Taylor Twellman with 101 goals in his 8 seasons in New England.  Clint Dempsey started his career in NE before going off to play in the EPL with Fulham and Tottenham.  The Revs have also hosted numerous international caliber players throughout the years including defender-turned-head-coach Jay Heaps, current academy coach Shalrie Joseph, Joe-Max Moore, Michael Parkhurst and Matt Reis just to name a few.

MLS is a league that values parity.  Roster rules make it very difficult for any team to remain dominant over long stretches.  The Revs have undergone a few cycles, oscillating between stretches of being playoff caliber or better and stretches of being nearly irrelevant in MLS.  At the current moment, the Revs are on the up-swing.  In 2021, they set the record for the most points ever earned in a single season.  In doing so, won their first ever league trophy in the process.  They also had 4 “Best 11” players on the roster, four “All-Stars“, and the league MVP.

Current Squad

Coach

Bruce Arena

Arena is one of, if not outright, the best coaches in league history.  As a coach, he has won MLS Cup (awarded to the team that wins the playoff bracket) 5 times.  He has also won Supporters Shield (given to the team with the best regular season record) 4 times.  He’s tied with the late Sigi Schmidt for most regular season wins as a manager in MLS history, and takes sole possession of 1st place when you include playoff wins.  He has had 2 separate stints as head coach of the United States Mens National Team.

Star players

Carles Gil

I’ve written extensively in the past about the Carles Gil (pronounced ‘car-less heel’), but it bears repeating.  He is good.  So good in fact that he won 2021 MLS MVP on the back of a 4 goal, 18 assist season.  He joined the Revolution in 2019 after having spent his previous years with such clubs as Valencia CF, Elche, Aston Villa, and Deportivo la Coruna.  In his first season with New England he contributed 10 goals and 14 assists, earning him the league “Newcomer of the Year” award.  He missed most of the 2020 season with an Achilles injury, before returning in time to help New England advance to the Eastern Conference Finals in the playoffs.  He is, I think, inarguably the Revolution’s best player.

Matt Turner

Turner is something of an oddity in modern soccer.  He grew up playing baseball and basketball and only got into soccer as a way to stay in shape for those other sports.  It wasn’t until he was 16 that he decided to make soccer his primary sport.  He walked on to the team at Fairfield University and went undrafted in the 2016 MLS SuperDraft before the Revolution gave him a contract. Even then it was another 2 years before he earned his first start.  Former US goalkeeper, Brad Friedel, gave him a chance at the beginning of his Revs coaching tenure.  Since then he has gone on to post some of the best shot-stopping stats in the history of the league.  In 2021 he earned his first starts with the US national team,  including a tournament best performance in the Gold Cup.  He also earned an All-Star game call-up helping the MLS All Stars defeat the Liga MX All Stars in penalties, and earning the game’s individual MVP award.  His performances with the Revolution have earned him a “Best 11” selection as well as Goalkeeper of the Year honors in 2021.

I hesitated to include Matt Turner here, only because he won’t be with New England for the full season.  His stellar play for club and country earned the eye of English giants Arsenal.  He recently signed a deal with the gooners and will be making his move to London in late June.

Gustavo Bou

Bou (pronounced ‘bo’) has been creating highlight reel goals for the Revolution since the day he began playing for them midway through the 2019 season.  The Argentine forward spent time with River Plate and Racing Club in Argentina, and with Club Tijuana in Mexico.  Many players specialize in their finesse or creative abilities in the attack.  “La Pantera” is capable of those skills, for sure, but where he really shines is his ability to kick the ball so hard that it breaks the sound barrier before screaming into the back of the net.  He , along with Polish forward Adam Buksa (who perhaps also should have received a mention under star players), formed a potent Revolution attack that accounted for a league leading 65 goals last season.

New players

As with any successful team in a salary cap environment, the Revs have had a lot of interest in their players both from within the league and abroad.  A handful of players were out of contract at the end of 2021 and have since found new homes.  New England also recently sent Canadian winger Tajon Buchanan to Club Brugge in Belgium for $7M.  They’ve also reportedly received offers for Matt Turner and Adam Buksa. They have managed to offset some of those losses with a few additions.

Sebastian Lletget

Lletget is a midfielder most recently from the LA Galaxy. He has been a mainstay with LA and the USMNT for several years after transferring from West Ham United. He’s versatile, plays smart, mistake free soccer and is capable of scoring in all sorts of ways.

Omar Gonzalez

Gonzalez is a veteran centerback who has won almost everywhere he’s been. He played under Bruce Arena with the LA Galaxy, winning 3 MLS Cups in 2011, 2012, and 2014.  After that, he spent about 3 and a half years playing in Mexico with Pachuca and Atlas, winning 2 Liga MX titles in 2016 and 2017.  He also won the CONCACAF Champions League Title with Pachuca in 2016.

Jozy Altidore

Altidore is the newest signing in Foxboro, after 6 seasons north of the border with Toronto FC.  Before that he spent time in some of Europe’s biggest leagues.  He played with Villareal in Spain, Hull City and Sunderland in England, as well as with AZ Alkmaar in the Dutch Eredivisie.  US soccer fans will no doubt know the striker from his time with the USMNT, where he has scored the 3rd most goals in the nation’s history.

He’s been one of the highest paid players in MLS since 2015, and his production certainly earned that salary.  In Toronto, his 86 goals helped TFC to 3 MLS Cup appearances.  In 2017 he was an integral part of the TFC team that won the “domestic treble”, claiming victory in the Canadian Championship, MLS Cup, and the Supporters Shield race.

His injuries began to catch up with him in recent seasons.  Since 2018 he has participated in just under half of his teams matches, missing large stretches with injuryThis should mostly explain why Toronto FC was willing to let him go in the offseason.  TFC exercised their one offseason “buy-out” on Altidore, who remained under contract with them through 2023.  This means, essentially, they paid him a lump sum now in order to remove him and his contract from their books.  Furthermore, reporting indicates that they will continue to pay a portion of his salary with New England.

This works out well for Jozy (who likely gets paid higher than he would have under his previous contract), well for New England (who get a DP level player on a lower salary), and well for Toronto (who get to remove his salary from the books and make space for a roster rehaul).  If it works out on the field, remains to be seen.  He’s likely to serve as a backup for both Gustavo Bou and Adam Buksa, with a strong case to be a starter if Buksa gets sold over the summer.

Style of play

In 2021 the Revolution played a fluid, attacking style of soccer which resulted in a league leading 65 team goals. They played out of a 4-4-2 formation with a wide diamond midfield. This allowed them to make use of 2 strikers in the opposition box, while still allowing for fluid passing in possession. The outside defenders would often position themselves far up and wide into the attacking half. The downside of this formation is that it asks a lot of the lone defensive midfielder, in this case Matt Polster. He was tasked with snuffing out opposing counter attacks, sometimes with only the help of the 2 central defenders behind him. On the whole Polster was up to the challenge, but it did lead to a fair number of goals conceded.

This season, it’s not quite settled what the formation or tactics will be. I think it’s a good bet that if the Revs do not sell Adam Buksa, as is being rumored, they will roll out in a 2-striker formation, as they did last season. It may well be a 4-4-2 again. The addition of the flexible Sebastian Lletget makes this more feasible. That said, New England now arguably has the ability to use just 3 defenders, with the addition of Omar Gonzalez.  This would allow them to put an additional midfielder on the pitch.

However the Revolution line up in 2022, you can bet Bruce Arena isn’t going to want to talk about it.

Expectations for 2022

In some sense it’s really quite hard to gauge what to expect of New England this season. The Revs have already lost a key attacking piece, Tajon Buchanan, so some regression in goal scoring ability is likely. If Buksa also leaves it would further hurt the attack.

At the other end, if the Revolution agree to sell Matt Turner to Arsenal (or anywhere for that matter) it would be a huge hit to the defense. According to advanced stats, Turner allows a goal about 75-80% as often as an average goalkeeper.

Overall, I think it’s safe to say the Revs are due to take a step back this year. Without knowing who will or won’t be staying with the club until the start of the season, I’d put their range of outcomes somewhere between 3rd and 7th in the Eastern Conference, with a playoff berth being a realistic expectation.

Image Credit: New England Revolution
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