The Revolution’s 2023 season is less than two weeks away from kicking off in Charlotte.  As such, I thought it made sense to put together a primer for the season ahead.

If you’re new to the Revolution, welcome!  I hope to lay out everything you need to be an informed member of Revolution Nation in 2023.

If you’re an old fan, welcome back!

There’s a lot to cover, so let’s get right to it.

A Brief Recap of Last Season

I wrote at length about the Revs 2022 season in a recent ‘year in review’ article, so check that out if you want all the details.  For our purposes here, I’ll try to be brief but informative.  If you asked the average Revs fan to describe the 2022 season in one word, they word they might choose is “disappointment”.  That’s because the Revolution entered the 2022 season with insanely high expectations.

They earned a league record 73 points in 2021, winning a Supporters Shield and earning a berth in the CONCACAF Champions League in the process.  It was indisputably the best Revs season in recent memory.  As a result, hopes were high headed into 2022.

As you may have already guessed, New England failed to live up to those high expectations, missing the playoffs and earning an early exit from both the CONCACAF Champions League and the US Open Cup.

Revolution 5-Game PPG Rolling Average in 2022

In my mind, there were three major reasons for New England’s shortcomings last season.  The first was that… well… maybe the Revolution weren’t actually as good as their record said they were in 2021.

Bruce Arena essentially said as much in 2022, saying “I thought last year we played well over our heads and I think some of our players never understood what made them successful last year”.

While they may have overperformed in 2021, I think may also be fair to say they underperformed to their talent in 2022.  Especially early in the season when a tough collapse against Real Salt Lake lead to the longest losing streak of Bruce Arena’s career.

The second reason for the disappointing 2022 campaign was related to roster turnover.  The aforementioned record setting 2021 campaign brought with it significant European interest in multiple players from the squad.  Eventually the Revs would sell their leading scorer to France, their GKotY winning keeper to England, and their most intriguing young talent to Belgium.  All of this to say, New England needed to replace those players on the fly.  Sometimes more successfully than others.

The last, and possibly most impactful reason, was injures.  New England, after some early struggles, seemed to be back on track by mid season.  For much of the summer the Revs were averaging close to a whopping 2.0ppg across a rolling 5 game average.  Then injuries started to pile up.  During the stretch run of late summer/early fall games the Revolution were missing Gustavo Bou, Dylan Borrero, Henry Kessler, Maciel, Giacomo Vrioni, Ismael Tajouri-Shradi, Brandon Bye and Wilfrid Kaptoum.  All 8 of those players were arguably starters and all of them missed time during a critical stretch of the season.

This isn’t to totally excuse New England’s poor performances, but it certainly played a part.  There’s no telling how injuries will go this season, but the hope is that with some better luck, and a new head athletic trainer, the team will be in a better place to compete this year.

So… what’s different?

The Revs made many of their moves for this season over the summer of 2022, so it was a fairly quiet offseason for New England.  At least in terms of the number of transfers.  I go into lots more detail on these transfers here.

Players Out

PlayerPositionReason
Clement DiopGKOption Declined
Brad KnightonGKRetirement (current U17 coach)
AJ DeLaGarzaDRetirement
Jon BellDSelected by St Louis in Expansion Draft
Emmanuel Boateng*MOption Declined
Wilfrid KaptoumMOption Declined
Edward KizzaFOption Declined
Ismael Tajouri-ShradiFOption Declined

No major losses here, and worth noting that while officially out of contract, Ema Boateng is training with the Revs in preseason.

Players In

PlayerPositionMethod Acquired
Bobby WoodSTRe-Entry Draft
Joshua BolmaMMLS Super Draft, Generation Adidas
Latif BlessingMTrade with LAFC for $400K
Dave RomneyCBTrade with Nashville for $525K
Nacho GilMFree Agent, Re-Signed
Jack PanayotouMAcademy/Homegrown Signing

The biggest signings here are midfielder Latif Blessing and center back Dave Romney.  Both of whom are starting caliber players at positions of great need for the Revolution.

#FormationTalk

Head coach Bruce Arena famously doesn’t like to talk about formations.  To hear him tell it, formations are merely a starting point and not something to get too hung up on.  To some degree, he’s right.  The players on the field will need to adjust how and where they play throughout a game to best suit their opponent and their teammates.

Where formations are more informative is when they give insight to what style of play a team wants to strive for.  This will tell us what sorts of players are likely to be in the lineup, as well as which sorts of players could see the field as substitutes.  In that spirit, here are some formations that I think suit the Revs roster as it stands today.

4-2-3-1

This is the formation that New England ended up landing on after transfers and injuries made their preferred 4-4-2 diamond less feasible.  If I had to guess, I think this is how the Revolution will line up in week one.  As a formation, it’s something of a compromise.  It’s not likely to produce a dominant league winning team, but it has few down-sides and checks enough boxes.

For starters, it will get your 4 best attacking players on the field all at the same time, though not always in their preferred positions.  It provides good width in attack and defense and, with 2 defensive midfielders, enough defensive cover to use the outside backs in the attack and on the overlap.  Where it falls a bit flat is that it asks Gustavo Bou to play wide, as a winger, which is not his best spot on the field (he’s typically best as a second striker or center forward).

4-4-2 wide diamond

This is the formation that brought New England much success just 2 years ago, highlighted by a whopping 65 goals scored.  The crux of this formation was having a match-winning attacking midfielder, in Carles Gil, to play quarterback and 2 high quality center forwards to direct his passes on frame.  It made especially good use of Tajon Buchanan (now with Club Brugge) and his ability to beat defenders on the dribble from wide areas.  In the current iteration of the lineup, that role would be played by U22-initiative signing Dylan Borrero.  The wide midfielders and the outside defenders bring lots of width to this formation leading to lots of crosses and pullbacks.

Where this formation has some drawbacks is that it leaves the central midfield a bit exposed, often leaving those players to deal with multiple opponents at once.  In the attack, it’s less of an issue with Carles Gil being phenomenal on the dribble.  In defense, however, it leaves Matt Polster with a lot of ground to cover.  He’s mostly been excellent at covering that ground, but opponents with quick technical midfields were able to do significant damage to this formation.

3-4-1-2/5-2-1-2

The signing of Dave Romney from Nashville SC gives the Revs a third starting caliber central defender.  The benefit to having three is that if you put them on the field at the same time, you can afford to push other players further forward into the attack.  This formation would still make use of outside backs Brandon Bye and Dejuan Jones, but in a more advanced wingback type of role.  The additional defensive safety of 3 center backs would let those wingbacks provide the depth while retaining a central presence in the midfield.  Furthermore it puts New England’s 2 DP forwards into their best spots, while also allowing Carles Gil to control the offense in the middle of the field.

Where it may fall a bit flat is that in adding a third center back, you necessarily need to remove a more attacking minded player from further up the pitch.  In this case, it’s likely to be either Dylan Borrero or Latif Blessing as the odd-man-out.  In order to match the offensive output of the other formations, Dejuan Jones and Brandon Bye will need to be consistent contributors to the attack.

Who to Watch

Carles Gil

I say this even if you’re not a Revs fan.  Watch Carles Gil.  The 2021 MLS MVP is so delicate with his movements and touches that he regularly leaves defenders wondering where their lives went wrong.

He’s smooth on the dribble, can place a ball nearly anywhere with a pass, and is constantly thinking 3 steps ahead.  He’s the Revs best player and well worth keeping an eye on even as a neutral fan.

Dylan Borrero

We didn’t get to see as much of Dylan Borrero as we would have liked in 2022.  After signing in April as a nominal replacement for Tajon Buchanan, he missed about 2 months with an injury.  He ended up only playing for about 600 minutes in 2022, but in those 600 minutes he certainly looked the part.

His quick acceleration and and strong shooting foot lead to the Colombian contributing 3 goals and an assist in just 12 appearances.  With health, and a full preseason with the team, he’s a safe bet as the Revs breakout player in 2023.

Jack Panayotou

This one is a bit of a bold choice since there’s no guarantees that Jack even sees the field for the Revs in 2023.  He’s the latest in a now steady stream of talented young players rising through the Revolution academy and earning a place with the first team.  Others include Justin Rennicks, Damian Rivera, Noel Buck, and Esmir Bajraktarevic.

Honestly any of those players deserve a close watch because they represent the future of the club.  Buck, in particular, impressed in limited minutes last season.  I’ve picked the newcomer Panayotou, however, because the Revs social media team kind of won’t shut up about him.

With the new TV deal in place (more on that below) we haven’t gotten to watch any preseason games online.  As a result, we only have sporadic twitter updates from the team to go off of.  And if we’re going to use those tweets as our barometer, it certainly sounds like Jack Panayotou has made quick work of adjusting to his teammates and adjusting to the pace of MLS play.  Minutes for a young player are never a guarantee but if he gets on the field, look for him to make an impact.

Also he can do this.

Which Games to Watch

Season Opener at Charlotte FC

New England opens their 2023 campaign with a clash against last season’s new kids on the block, Charlotte FC.  The North Carolina side joined MLS as an expansion franchise in 2022 and after some early tumult, they finished the season with 42 points.  That’s a respectable first season and put them level on points with the Revs last year.

There will be a somber tint to this matchup, as it will be the first MLS match for Charlotte after the passing of defender Anton Walkes.

Big Early Test At LAFC

Just two weeks later the Revs will have, perhaps, their biggest test of the season.  They will travel to Los Angeles to take on the defending MLS Cup and Supporters Shield Champs, LAFC.  The black-and-gold destroyed teams last year racking up 67 points (6 shy of New England’s record) and a commanding +28 goal differential.  Only the Philadelphia Union scored more goals last season.

There’s some recent behind the scenes drama between these two clubs, which involved a trade for forward Ismael Tajouri-Shradi from LA to New England.  Despite costing the Revs $400K in trade money, Tajouri-Shradi never saw the field for New England.

Bruce Arena indicated that LAFC had failed to disclose the extent of his injury during the trade negotiations and the Revolution organization filed a grievance with the league.  Through some digging around, we’ve found information suggesting that LAFC was able to get New England to drop this grievance by offering a discounted transfer rate in their recent trade of Latif Blessing to the Revs.

Any Game Vs Philly

2020 was a weird year.  I think we all know why.  The way COVID impacted MLS was that it made travel less feasible.  Therefor teams were forced to play against a more limited subset of clubs within a closer radius than they normally would.  This would mean that the Revs and Philadelphia would face off 6 times in 2020, including once in the playoffs.  They played one another 3 times in 2021.  All of that familiarity bred some contempt and (maybe?) the beginning of a rivalry.

Due to the close score lines and the physical nature of the games, it became apparent that these clubs might not like each other very much.  The most (in)famous incident took place in 2021 in Philadelphia. The Revs were playing with 10 men and nursing a 1 goal lead when…

There are some early indications that that animosity may have carried into the new season as well.

How To Watch

In 2022, MLS and Apple signed a deal to make Apple TV the official broadcast partner of MLS for the next decade.  That comes with some benefits and some drawbacks.  Others have done excellent work breaking down how the deal could affect the league, so let’s focus on how to physically watch the games.

For starters, there will be a select number of matches broadcast through more traditional TV partners.  Fox sports will be showing a limited number of MLS matches throughout the season.

For most matches, however, you will need to go through Apple TV.  Reports are that about 40% of matches each week will be offered free of charge.  To watch those matches you will simply need a phone, computer, smart tv, or gaming system.  You will also need an Apple ID login (free to create an account).

The teams that will be available for free streaming each week will be random, but you will be able to view which games are free on mlssoccer.com

If you’re looking to watch the Revs week-in-and-week-out, here’s what you’ll need.

  1. An Apple ID.  Apple users will likely already have an account.  You can make a free account at appleid.apple.com.  You can also create an account within the Apple TV app if that’s more your speed.  If you only want to watch the free matches, you can skip ahead to item #3 on our list.
  2. An MLS Season Pass subscription.  Note: you will NOT need an Apple TV+ subscription in order to access MLS Season Pass.  If you already subscribe to Apple TV+ you will get a discount on MLS Season Pass, which will bring the price down from $99 per year to $79 per year.  You can also pay monthly at a rate of $15, or $13 with an existing Apple TV+ sub.
  3. A screen.  This is to your preference.  If you are ok watching on your phone or computer, the games will be accessible via Apple TV mobile app or in any web browser.  If you want to watch on your television, you will need a smart-tv or a TV with an HDMI port.  Basically any TV made within the last 15 years.  From there you can use any number of plug-and-play devices.  Gaming systems will work, as will any of the small streaming sticks/boxes.  If you don’t have any of these yet, they can run anywhere from $20-$75.  I personally use a roku stick and it works great with the Apple TV app.
  4. Locate the MLS Season Pass page.  They’ve been doing a good job of putting it front and center.  Once you’re there, find the game you want to watch and hit play!

Standings Prediction

I tweeted out a poll asking where people thought the Revolution would finish in the regular season and the consensus seemed to be a lower playoff seed in the 5-7 range in the Eastern Conference.

I think that’s a reasonable guess, assuming the Revs can stay healthy.  They overperformed in 2021 (1st in the East), but I think they underperformed last year (10th in the East).  My predicted Eastern Conference rankings are below.

Eastern Conference Rankings

  1. Philadelphia Union
  2. New York Red Bulls
  3. FC Cincinnati
  4. Toronto FC
  5. Orlando City SC
  6. Columbus Crew SC
  7. New England Revolution
  8. NYCFC
  9. CF Montreal
  10. Atlanta United
  11. Nashville SC
  12. Charlotte FC
  13. Inter Miami CF
  14. DC United
  15. Chicago Fire
Photo Credit: New England Revolution
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