Decision Day for the 2022 MLS season is upon us and more teams head towards the reckoning with their Audi MLS Cup Playoffs fate sealed, officially eliminated from contention. Focus shifts to the offseason and what's next.
Here, we'll be covering three questions for every team moving forward. 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 (New England Revolution version). Read that, too.
He has gifs. It’s tough to beat gifs.
From a record-setting, Supporters’ Shield-winning team in 2021 to missing the playoffs in 2022. MLS, as always, is chaos.
New England set a new league record for points (73) in 2021… then lost integral pieces Matt Turner (to Arsenal), Tajon Buchanan (to Club Brugge) and Adam Buksa (to RC Lens) on transfers abroad for a reported $24 million combined. Being a selling team and adequately replacing talent is very, very hard.
Bringing Djordje Petrovic in for Turner has been a success. He’s going to be on Allstate Goalkeeper of the Year ballots. But additions of Jozy Altidore and Omar González have been disasters (with Jozy in year one of a three-year deal, already loaned to Liga MX's Pachuca). Giacomo Vrioni was brought in to fill the DP spot vacated by Buksa, and Dylan Borrero is a U22 Initiative winger to replace Buchanan.
Relative to budget/cap restrictions, Buchanan and Turner were going to be the more difficult players to replace. Buchanan was on a Generation adidas deal, meaning he didn’t count against the cap, and he blossomed into a Canadian international. Turner was on a very modest deal. They had free reign with the DP spot to replace Buksa.
Vrioni missed time with minor injuries, but didn’t live up to expectations in limited minutes. There’s still time for the Albanian international No. 9 to hit. Borrero looked really dynamic… but missed extensive time with injury.
All of this occurred around Carles Gil, one of the very best players in MLS and the 2021 MVP. So, the core starts with Gil, Petrovic, Gustavo Bou, Matt Polster (signed to a new deal) and Andrew Farrell. Vrioni and Borrero will play key roles. DeJuan Jones and Brandon Bye, too, but there’s interest overseas, so their futures are a bit hazier. Assuming they return, that’s a strong group to build around… provided Vrioni/Bou/Borrero provide enough around Gil and the defense rebounds.
The Revs were undone in the 2021 playoffs by being overrun in central midfield. They started 2022 with a similar problem, playing a 4-4-2 wide diamond, but that was ultimately scrapped too. With summer moves that shipped out Sebastian Lletget (to FC Dallas) and brought in Ismael Tajouri-Shradi (from LAFC), it seemed to signal a shift to the 4-2-3-1 with ITS and Borrero on the wings.
I say “seemed to signal” because Tajouri-Shradi never made his Revs debut due to injury and Borrero spent two months injured. Bou and Vrioni were out for an extended time, too, leaving the attack to be “Carles Gil and The Boys”.
As constructed, I’d still bet on a 4-2-3-1 being the vision. Putting Gil at the No. 10 with runners on the flanks, two midfielders behind him and just letting him cook is an elite plan. He’s so good.
The fit up top is a little bit more awkward, though. Bou thrived while playing as a second striker next to Buksa rather than as a lone forward. It also means the only way to play DP strikers Bou and Vrioni together means putting one out of position on the wing.
Still, the midfield numbers and Gil's heliocentric nature means it could very well be the best option. Buksa didn’t have a clear role at times in his first year, but forced his way in with great form in 2021.
The Revs have all three DP spots filled. They’re all senior players above max-TAM, so they can only use one U22 Initiative slot, which is taken by Borrero. High-leverage roster mechanisms are in use.
Irrespective of what happens with Altidore and his max-TAM deal, the Revs should still have room under the cap to make a decent-sized move in free agency or the trade market. Lletget had a big cap hit and Arnor Traustason’s wasn’t insignificant either before he exited in August to play in Sweden.
If they do indeed intend to play a 4-2-3-1, they could use another winger for depth/competition/cover. Depending on what happens with further outgoing moves, fullback may be a position of need.
New England hit on Henry Kessler, Jones and Bye in the SuperDraft in recent years. Intra-league moves to add Tommy McNamara and Ema Boateng have been very useful. They’ll need a few more of those this winter to reinvigorate the squad.
A couple more thoughts…
- Is highly-rated 17-year-old USYNT midfielder Noel Buck ready for starter-ish minutes next year? Can Esmir Bajraktarevic (17) contribute or does he need another year of seasoning in MLS NEXT Pro?
- Will Christian Makoun be a starter on his third MLS team in three years?
- Is Nacho Gil back in 2023 or was he just a short-term safety valve?