An MLS Cup champion has been crowned, the 2021 season is officially over and focus shifts to 2022 for all 28 (!) clubs as Charlotte FC also enters MLS.
Here, we'll cover three questions for every team as the offseason begins in earnest. With clubs already announcing their roster decisions, the depth charts will look lighter than the first crop of 13. Think of it as an exit interview, if you will. Matt Doyle, as always, has you covered on his preeminent season-in-review for each club. Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
The New England Revolution may have fallen short in the Audi 2021 MLS Cup Playoffs, but their phenomenal season still delivered the club's first-ever Supporters' Shield. It was a historic year, setting a new single-season league points record (73).
As such, the Revs dominated year-end awards.
Carles Gil was named Landon Donovan MLS MVP (and Comeback Player of the Year), Matt Turner was Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year and Bruce Arena was dubbed the Sigi Schmid Coach of the Year. Tajon Buchanan finished second in Young Player of the Year voting, while Gil, Buchanan, Turner and Gustavo Bou were all Best XI picks. Gil had the most assists in the league, Adam Buksa was tied for fifth in goals, finishing just three off the Golden Boot presented by Audi mark. Along the way, the Revs agreed on a winter transfer for Buchanan to join Belgium's Club Brugge for $7 million.
Most of the record-setting core is locked in and Arena remains at the helm. The Revolution are going to be very good again in 2022 and a legitimate threat in the Concacaf Champions League.
The future of Buksa is a good starting place for the Revs' offseason.
Buksa was awesome for New England after a bumpy debut season in 2020. He had 16 goals and four assists in 31 appearances (21 starts), averaging a goal contribution in little more than every 100 minutes (he played 2,075 mins over those appearances). He launched himself back into the Poland national team picture and shined alongside superstar Robert Lewandowski in World Cup qualifiers.
His stock is way up. European clubs have taken notice – though they never stopped looking, with reports suggesting a few clubs looked to take him on loan last winter despite his less-than-ideal first season in MLS. Reportedly the likes of Leicester City, AS Monaco and more are seriously interested in him, while Buksa himself has given interviews stating he wants a European return at some point, maybe even this winter.
The Revs acquired him for around $4 million ahead of the 2020 season. They are likely to double that investment – at least.
If Buksa goes, New England will have another DP spot open. If they want to use up to three U22 Initiative slots they would be limited to either keeping it open or signing a Young DP, though in 2020 they didn't utilize any of those slots. In the Arena era, New England's roster spend has gone up and they've maximized their return on DP investment.
What position they target for that third DP spot in the event Buksa is transferred could be fluid. A like-for-like replacement with a target man-style center forward makes sense, given how well Buksa, Gil and Bou worked together. But a different position to change formations could be in the cards. Which leads us to the next question...
There is no replacement for Tajon Buchanan, let's just get that out of the way straight up. He was a SuperDraft selection on a Generation adidas contract. New England had a breakout star/key Canadian international/$7 million transfer to a Champions League club on a supplementary roster spot. That means he did not count toward their salary budget.
Again: There is no way to replace his combination of quality/value on the cap.
Lletget, 29, has thrived under Arena with the Galaxy and with the national team. There's a reason he's in all of Gregg Berhalter's USMNT camps these days, even if a portion of the internet seems to scapegoat him when things don't go well. He's a very good player in MLS and could see his goal contributions increase alongside the Revs' attacking talent.
During his introductory press conference, he talked at length about playing just one position in New England, what he called attacking central midfield.
“As far as positionally, I’ve always been an attacking central midfielder," Lletget said. "That was part of some issues that I had at my previous club, that I bounced around from position to position, and I’ve never been given that chance to master one position. That’s always been something that I’ve never really understood, but it’s always kind of panned out that way. Maybe because I can play other positions, but it’s always been my goal to master one. I think that’s one of the biggest conversations that I’ve had with Bruce is, ‘Is that the type of role that I can play on this team?’ and his answer was, ‘Yes.’ That’s kind of what he was already thinking. We definitely saw eye to eye on that."
Will that be a No. 10 or as a No. 8 ahead of Matt Polster holding as a d-mid? A midfield trio of Polster sitting behind Lletget and Gil would be among the very best in MLS. Or, if Lletget plays a bit further forward with a more defense-minded partner for Polster, that would push Gil to the right wing.
If Buksa stays, Arena will have to figure out the best way to put all of Gil, Buksa, Bou and Lletget on the field. The tight 4-4-2 diamond they finished the year in seems to make the most sense. But Doyle floated the idea of a 3-5-2 in his season review for the Revs which certainly has me intrigued, even if I'd be surprised if we see it.
The CCL draw was probably middle-of-the-road for the Revs. It's not the most difficult (like CF Montréal starting off with Santos Laguna then if they win, they'd likely face Cruz Azul), but it's also not the easiest. The Colorado Rapids/NYCFC have a path in which they definitely can't face a Liga MX side until the semis and possibly wouldn't until the final.
New England face Cavaly AS (Haiti) in the Round of 16 then would see the winner of Saprissa (Costa Rica) or Pumas UNAM (Mexico). Pumas finished 11th in Liga MX's Apertura this year, so they aren't lighting the league ablaze (though we'll see what their Clausura form looks like as CCL gets closer). It's not like running into juggernauts Tigres or Monterrey of recent years. The Revs could even be favored (admittedly looking through my MLS-tinted lenses).
Will Arena prioritize this competition at the start of the year? He didn't particularly talk much about the Supporters' Shield until the Revs won it, so that wouldn't likely be a huge priority on his list. MLS Cup remains the ultimate goal, but being the first MLS club to win CCL would be pretty damn sweet, too.
New England have a genuine chance to do so. They have all the ingredients:
Why not go for it?
- No clue what the formation will be. New England ended in a hybrid 4-4-2 diamond to get the best of Bou/Buksa/Gil together but they still have natural wingers.
- Gil can play wide, too, thriving in half-spaces as an inverted right winger.
- Can year two show more from Wilfrid Kaptoum and Arnor Traustason?
- The striker depth chart gets real thin, real quick if Buksa is transferred. Assume movement there regardless.