On June 15th, the New England Revolution announced they were parting ways with striker Jozy Altidore.
The former USMNT star and MLS Cup champion had a tough go during his time in New England, scoring just twice in 27 appearances.
Altidore arrived in New England under somewhat complicated circumstances. He was a rebuild casualty for Toronto FC when Bob Bradley arrived as head coach last winter. Toronto would end up buying Altidore out of his DP contract, and from there, New England and Toronto would work out an agreement in which the Revs would take the player (lessening Toronto’s buy-out cost) but that Toronto would pay a portion of his salary. New England made the signing under the (correct) assumption that Polish striker Adam Buksa would be making a transfer out of New England in the following months. Jozy Altidore was meant to be a replacement, or at worst, a gap-filler for Bruce Arena’s side.
In the end, it would be worse than either scenario. Altidore came in with significant fitness concerns, limiting his minutes. When he did make appearances, he often looked slow and disconnected from his teammates. He said last year that New England’s run-and-gun style took getting used to. A year and a half later, Bruce Arena decided to pull the plug.
The impetus for this move appears to be to free up funds for impending midseason signings. Altidore commanded a high salary for a non-Designated-Player.
While Toronto covered a portion, it should free up a good amount of allocation money for New England to use.
A source has told me that the Revolution have been in talks with a handful of players, and that talks with one player broke down a week ago.
They are set to make signing in the coming days — U22 Midfielder / Winger
Once I learn more, it will be posted. #NERevs
— Caleb Pongratz (@CalebPongratz10) June 20, 2023
There are already rumblings that a move may be imminent. There’s even a chance that the Revs will have already made their move by the time you read this article.
Nevertheless, I think it’s worthwhile to examine what parts of the roster New England could look to strengthen heading into the summer.
New England’s strength in the Bruce Arena era has never really been about tactics.
It HAS been about having the best players on the field and putting those players into good spots to succeed.
And, for a while, it looked like winger Dylan Borrero was on his way to staking a claim as one of the league’s most dangerous direct-attacking wingers.
— MLS NETWORK (@mlsnetwork) March 5, 2023
Borrero, unfortunately, suffered a season-ending injury on April 29th. Since then, New England has managed to get by. In replacement, they’ve gotten good production from veteran Ema Boateng. But the Revs have really missed his pace and on-ball ability.
Currently, New England’s offensive strategy is as follows: build from the back, swing the ball side-to-side, probe for attacking lanes in wide areas, and allow outside-backs or Carles Gil to carry the ball into the attack.
If everyone is locked in, and the passing is quick and crisp, this can be a very effective strategy. But if the build-up is slow, or touches aren’t as clean as they should be, it can be very predictable and easy to defend. This is what made Borrero so important. He had the confidence and ability to run at players and make something happen on his own.
In the summer window, the Revs could look to replace that skillset. Perhaps even more so than the position. Someone who isn’t afraid to take players on and who can be even marginally successful doing so would be a big boon to the attack.
It might seem strange for the Revs to be in the market for a striker. If only because New England already has 4 already on the roster. That includes 2 DPs, Bou and Vrioni.
Once again, this is a case of buying skillset more than position. That skillset? Being dominant in the air.
As I mentioned earlier, Altidore may have been brought in to replace Adam Buksa on the roster.
But he certainly never replaced the aerial threat that Buksa provided during his time in New England.
— Elizabeth Pehota (@pehota) May 8, 2022
The Revolution simply doesn’t have anyone who can replace what Buksa was able to do in the air.
New England has scored the 4th most goals in MLS, at the time of writing, with 31.
Just 2 of those have been scored by way of a header.
The #NERevs need an aerial threat.
In 2021 (first image), the New England Revolution scored 12 headers. The Revs haven’t scored on a header in 2023 through 13 games. pic.twitter.com/qFnywU9pFw
— Seth (@SethMan31) May 21, 2023
This lack of a consistent aerial ball winner has manifested itself in fewer crosses in 2023. Last season the Revs were 2nd in the league, sending in 21.4 crosses per match. This season it’s down to 18.7. The Revolution have made up for that lack of aerial presence by taking more shots from distance. The Revs have the 2nd most goals scored from outside the penalty area in MLS.
Bringing in someone with an air-dominant skillset would make the Revs more complete and harder to defend against.
For a third option, it was a tough choice between outside-back and center-back. Both are positions of strength for New England when the full team is healthy. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been the case for either position this season.
Which of those two positions most needs reinforcing requires an examination of the existing depth at each spot.
For center-back depth, there is: Andrew Farrell, Christian Makoun, and Omar Gonzalez behind starters Dave Romney and Henry Kessler. Andrew Farrell has gotten the nod, for the most part, in place of the injured Kessler.
This has worked out fine…mostly.
— Seth (@SethMan31) May 21, 2023
As far as Outside-Back depth, the Revs have: Ben Sweat, Ryan Spaulding, Christian Makoun, and Andrew Farrell behind starters Dejuan Jones and Brandon Bye.
You’ll notice that two of those players have already been mentioned. Makoun and Farrell are being asked to pull double duty this season, primarily because the Revs are so thin at the outside back. The other two options are Ryan Spaulding (who excelled at the USL level) and Ben Sweat (who didn’t excel at the MLS level).
It’s this lack of depth that makes full-back the priority.
So much of what the Revs do relies on fullbacks pushing high up the pitch and being able to recover when needed.
Bringing in a speedy wing-back in the summer window could help cover any absences, including the impending absence of Dejuan Jones for USMNT duty later this month.
Photo: New England Revolution