It’s that time of year again. When Dunkin’ runs out of their pumpkin spice coffee and replaces it with (the far inferior) peppermint mocha. You know…that special time of year when car companies try to convince you to put a large red bow on the $50,000 truck you didn’t tell your spouse you were buying.
Yup, it’s the holiday season.
In reality, holidays mean something different to everyone. I recognize that many celebrate the holidays differently, or not at all. So please don’t take this flimsy premise for an article as anything other than it was intended: a cheap excuse to tie a few disparate topics together. The offseason is a tough time for those of us who don’t break news.
With that out of the way, what I’d like to do is to imagine what the Revs would put on their holiday wish-list. An MLS Cup trophy, certainly. But failing that, I’ve come up with a few (somewhat more easily attainable) items for the Revs to scrawl onto a sheet of printer paper, and drop into their nearest mailbox.
#1: A Unifying Voice at Head Coach
The Revs head coaching search is both well underway and also seemingly behind schedule. Bruce Arena resigned in September. The MLS SuperDraft takes place tomorrow. Despite all that, the Revs didn’t officially start looking for a head coach until 18 days ago with the appointment of Curt Onalfo to the role of Sporting Director.
Several candidates have been mentioned, including Bob Bradley and former Timbers coach Gio Savarese. There do appear to be, however, 3 frontrunners at the moment.
I’m told that Caleb Porter, Robin Fraser, and Dominic Kinnear are strong candidates for the New England Revolution’s head coaching vacancy.
The club is looking for a goalkeeper and winger but any transfers will likely happen after a coach is named.#NERevs
— Seth (@SethMan31) December 12, 2023
Picking the right head coach is about as important a decision as the Revs will make this year. I have my opinions as to who may best fit the bill. For more on each candidate, check out my last article.
At the end of the day, however, simply having a head coach in place may be more important than which specific figure ends up with the job.
Nowhere is the need for a singular leader more apparent than in Omar Gonzalez’s post-season interview with Seth Macomber, Tommy Quinlan, and Sam Minton.
Omar Gonzalez speaks for over six minutes about the 2023 New England Revolution season.
— Seth (@SethMan31) November 9, 2023
Gonzalez had the following to say (around the 3:30 mark in the above audio) about what went wrong after Arena left.
“I think what was the most apparent was, you know, with Bruce you had a single voice. And you know that it’s his way – and that’s it – you move forward. But after his departure it became… this void, it started to fill up with a lot of voices and there wasn’t that much clarity. And we didn’t know who to listen to…there was no clear direction… We didn’t know who was making decisions, we didn’t know anything.”
Whatever new coach gets the gig, may provide a tangible benefit, just by merely being there. By being in charge, and making the decisions. The players, staff, and fans may not always agree with those decisions, but there will be no second guessing who is calling the shots.
#2: For Injuries To Heal Quickly
Another reason who the head coach is, may not be that important? There’s very little wiggle room in the roster.
The #NERevs currently have 28/30 roster spots filled. Only 2 senior roster spots open. This was just a quick look, so may have some errors.
All 10 supplemental spots currently filled, so I'm not necessarily expecting a 1st team signing in the SuperDraft tomorrow. pic.twitter.com/P6ye3qfxl0
— Andy From Revs Nation (@AndyRevsNation) December 18, 2023
They’ll certainly be able to implement their own philosophy and tactics, but they won’t really be able to re-shape the roster in any major way. At least not without making use of trades, transfers, mutual terminations, or their one buy-out.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. The Revs actually have a fairly well constructed roster. When everyone is healthy they have the makings of a very competitive roster. Their attacking group consists of 3 DPs and 1 u22-initiative player. Their spine looks good as well with the likes of Polster, Kaye, Harkes, Romney, and Kessler in the middle. Brandon Bye and DeJuan Jones are often cited among the best outside backs in the league.
The key part of that previous paragraph, however, lies in the words “when healthy”.
New England has had a rough few years dealing with injuries to key players. Kessler, Harkes, Bye, and Borrero all missed significant time last season. The latter 2 players suffered season ending injuries, that will extend into the 2024 slate.
That’s important because, while the Revs-at-full-strength look like a contender, starting the year without their preferred lineup (and a new coach implementing a new system) may make for a slow start. Picking up early points is crucial for playoff seeding later in the year. From 2012 to 2022, the average PPG pace of eventual Supporter’s Shield winners was 1.87 through the first 5 games of the season.
Borrero tore his ACL in May of 2023, while Bye tore his ACL in August. That type of injury can take 9-12 months to heal, meaning both players could miss time into the summer. The Revs will cross their fingers it’s sooner.
#3: Clarity at the Goalkeeping Position
Per Seth Macomber’s tweet above, it seems like the Revs may look to use their limited roster spots on a winger and a goalkeeper. With Borrero’s injury, bringing in more depth on the wings is probably a good idea. And there’s already a name being thrown around to fill that position.
— Caleb Pongratz (@CalebPongratz10) December 13, 2023
Julian Gressel recently played for MLS Cup winning Columbus Crew and his skill set makes him versatile enough to fill multiple positions. My thoughts are that it’s unlikely that he joins, but it makes sense.
What makes less sense, perhaps, is looking to add a fourth goalkeeper to the squad.
If you’ve been following the Revs for any length of time I’m sure I don’t need to recap New England’s GK drama from 2023.
If you’re uninitiated here’s the gist.
New England had a really good goalie (like a really good one). He was so good, in fact, that Chelsea offered the Revs an obscene amount of money to buy him in the middle of the season. This sale also came at a time shortly after former head coach Bruce Arena was placed on administrative leave (eventually resigning). This left the Revs without their star goalkeeper and without a permanent head coach/sporting director who could make the call as to who was the next-man-up. The Revs would cycle through their backup goalkeepers. They would also purchase Serbian goalkeeper Tomas Vaclik, a goalkeeper with champions league experience. BUT, probably owing to that “didn’t know who was making decisions” thing Gonzalez talked about, it seems as though goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock wasn’t consulted on that signing. Or he was consulted and his objections to the signing were ignored. To hear Vaclik tell it, he’s been essentially black-listed by Hitchcock, who has chosen to roll with the other two (less experienced) keepers.
In any case, the Revolution find themselves in a place where they currently have 3 keepers.
Arguably the best one, if salary figures correlate, is disliked by the GK coach. The other keepers, Edwards and Jackson, have been mostly reliable, but a large step down from Petrovic. This leaves a fair bit of uncertainty.
Without a head coach, it’s hard to see what the Revs will do. They could sign a 4th goalkeeper to the roster. Someone of a fringe-starting-caliber, in that case, and have him compete for minutes with Vaclik. They could, as has been rumored, use their contract buy-out on Vaclik, and bring in a true starter. Or a new coach could decide that there’s enough talent already at the position, and force Vaclik into the starting lineup (even at the objection of Hitchcock).
I’m in a place where, given the roster congestion, I think that last scenario may be the one they choose.
Whichever way they go, the uncertainty we have now isn’t helping anyone.