After a year of meticulously shifting culture, standards and personnel, the New England Revolution well and truly are Brad Freidel's team heading into his second season in charge.
Less than a month away from the Revs' season opener against FC Dallas on March 2, Friedel is encouraged by progress in preseason from a year ago to the day.
“The difference is not so much myself, the difference is we’ve had a year with the team and we know our players’ personalities a lot better than last year," Friedel told MLSsoccer.com. "We stepped into a changing room that was 90 percent someone else’s signings and we had to sift through who we wanted to keep and who we didn’t. This year has been a lot about the team spirit in the group. They know the required fitness levels, how we work, things of that nature. It made it a lot easier for me from the get-go to hit the ground running. ... It’s been a really good preseason so far.”
But that doesn't mean the Revs are done making key additions to the squad. In fact, it's quite the opposite.
When speaking at an annual season ticket holder event, Friedel teased another "elite overseas" addition to the squad.
“I’m not going to tell you the position, I hope you understand, but it’s going well," Friedel said when asked for an update on that search. "I have a lot of relationships over in Europe and hopefully we’ll see a player coming through the door very soon.
“We’re targeting as close to opening day as humanly possible,” Friedel added.
Meanwhile, the Revs haven't just been in the news by way of additions. In January, star attacking midfielder Diego Fagundez was heavily reported to be headed for the exit door with Uruguayan club Nacional the frontrunner for his signature.
Friedel gives Bunbury and Fagundez instructions | USA Today Sports
A move never materialized and the player with 217 appearances for the Revs will remain with the club that gave him his professional debut. Friedel, who said Fagundez's attitude has been "outstanding," reaffirmed the club never received a concrete offer for the player and wants to set the record straight.
“Diego made it very clear: If a transfer is ever to happen, it’d have to be right for all parties," Friedel said. "He’s very happy in New England and has two years remaining on his contract. He came in just like he did last year, giving it his all. He’s a really great kid. … You never know what will ever happen in soccer and the future, but he’s very happy right now. While he’s under contract with us, Diego will be a big part of our plans. He has a lot of quality, if it’s totally up to me then Diego is going nowhere."
With Fagundez back – alongside last season's leading scorer Cristian Penilla, Juan Agudelo and Teal Bunbury – the Revolution will return all main pillars of last season's attack.
The Revs also added striker Juan Fernando Caicedo and playmaker Carles Gil, with a clear intent to improve last season's offensive output.
“We want a lot more goals in our team this year," Friedel asserted. "Contrary to what some people may have thought or expressed, we were in the top portion of a lot of the stats with regards to corner kicks, attacking half entries, entries in the box and things of that nature, but we only scored 49 goals. I’m not making it a secret that we want to score more goals.”
All of a sudden, there are more players deserving minutes than places available in the starting lineup. With talented young players pushing those half-dozen attackers, earning a spot in the starting XI will be a weekly endeavor.
“We want the competition for places, no doubt," Friedel said. "We want the competition to be done in the correct manner with a high team spirit. That’s what I think we’ve established with this squad. ... The players will decide themselves with how they perform on who is going to pick the team. That’s how it happens a lot of times.
“We’ll have to see who grabs the limelight," Friedel added. "To me and the staff? We don’t care—as long as it’s someone or a couple people.”