Over the next two weeks, MLSsoccer.com will preview each of the 19 teams in Major League Soccer, beginning with the clubs that brought up the bottom of the table in 2012 and ending with the Supporters' Shield-winning San Jose Earthquakes. This is part two of two previewing New England's 2013 season. You can find Part 1 here.
2012 record: 9-17-8 (35 points); 39 GF / 44 GA (-5 GD)
Depth Chart: 1. Bobby Shuttleworth; 2. Matt Reis; 3. Luis Soffner
Strengths: Shuttleworth emerged as a viable candidate to start in 2013 after receiving an extended run in the team to close the season. Reis remains a potential starter as well and supplies the sort of experience necessary to offer additional stability to the situation.
Weaknesses: The internal competition for the place could obscure the quest to define a consistent number one. Any sort of shuffling between the sticks would only serve to undermine the defensive efforts for a back four that already has plenty of moving parts.
Wild card: OK, so if Shuttleworth wins the job outright, what then? How does Reis react? We've seen veteran 'keeper embrace the "mentor" role, and we've seen them reject it outright. Head coach Jay Heaps will have his work cut out making sure Reis finds that balance if it's Shuttleworth who's in the starting XI every week.
Depth Chart: RB: 1. Andrew Farrell, 2. Kevin Alston; CB: 1. José Gonçalves – A.J. Soares; 2. Stephen McCarthy, 3. Darrius Barnes; LB: 1. Chris Tierney; 2. Kevin Alston
Strengths: Heaps increased the depth across the back four during the offseason and now has the luxury of accounting for form as he selects his starting XI. Gonçalves adds experience and strength in the middle with Soares poised to assume a more vocal role alongside him. Farrell offers a robust defensive option on the right, while Tierney supplies ample industry and precise service on the left. Alston could earn a starting nod or supplant either of those players quite easily depending on his form and the challenges presented by a particular opponent.
Weaknesses: Width remains a bit of an issue when both of the full backs push into the attacking half. Opposing wingers can beat Tierney around the corner or on the counter if the Revs lose possession in the middle third. Alston and Farrell must show they can deliver accurate crosses on a regular basis.
Wildcard: Alston returned to his college home on the left back in the latter stages of last season and his displays improved significantly after the switch. If he can continue to push onwards, then Heaps could face a real selection issue at both full back slots.
Depth Chart: LM: 1. Lee Nguyen, 2. Chris Tierney, 3. Juan Toja; CM: 1. Kalifa Cissé – Clyde Simms; 2. Andy Dorman; 3. Juan Toja; RM: 1. Andy Dorman, 2. Kelyn Rowe, 3. Ryan Guy
Strengths: No fewer than eight players will vie for one of the four available spots in midfield. Cissé injects some strength in the middle of the park as the nominal replacement for Shalrie Joseph. Simms covers more ground than many would expect and tidies up when others err. Nguyen creates plenty of opportunities when he tucks inside from the left. Dorman might have to settle for a reserve role in central midfield, but his penchant for arriving in the penalty area at the perfect time could implore Heaps to squeeze him into the lineup on the right. Rowe and Toja (when fit) would likely start for more than a few other MLS teams.
Weaknesses: Even with the surplus of options available, Heaps lacks speed and width in the middle third. Opposing teams closed down the avenues through the middle and punished the relatively frail Revs last year. Cisse's presence should stop some of the robust treatment, but the congestion issues remain a significant concern.
Wildcard: Former Akron star and Homegrown addition Scott Caldwell has impressed during training camp. He could contribute at some point this year if he can navigate the tricky path to regular first-team action.
Depth Chart: 1. Saër Sène – Jerry Bengtson; 2. Diego Fagundez; 3. Chad Barrett; 4. Dimitry Imbongo
Strengths: Two established goalscorers – Sène in MLS last season and Bengtson with his country for the past several years – lead this diverse group. Bengtson's ability to slide into the right spots inside the penalty area will prove particularly useful if the midfield establishes steady supply lines to the front two. Fagundez introduces more guile as a potential accompaniment to either Bengtson or Sène. Barrett is a selfless runner capable of making other players better. Heaps can mix and match as he pleases with several different looks available depending on the circumstances.
Weaknesses: Bengtson's presence as a poacher essentially forces the Revs to play two up front to build the necessary platform for his success. His frequent absences to tend to his duties with Honduras will force more shuffling than preferred, too. Sène's recovery from an ACL tear suffered last year may limit his influence in the early stages of the season.
Wildcard: Fagundez improves year after year as he continues to adapt to the professional game. This season could present him with a chance to establish himself as a fixture and force Heaps to include him more regularly.