The New England Revolution looked like they were trending up.
Midway into Brad Friedel’s first season at the helm, the Revs were fifth in the East and fourth in the conference in points per game with a healthy 7-4-6 record. They were seven points ahead of where they were at the same point in former head coach Jay Heaps’ final year in 2017, and were getting solid contributions from newcomers Cristian Penilla, Luis Caicedo and Wilfried Zahibo and holdovers Diego Fagundez and Teal Bunbury. They were far from a sure bet for the postseason, but New England looked like they’d at least be in the playoff picture at the end of the year.
Fast forward a few months, and the overall trajectory of the club is far more muddled. The Revs went into a lull in midsummer and never snapped out of it; their 2-9-5 record since the start of July is the fourth-worst second half mark in all of MLS. Penilla, Bunbury and Fagundez have slowed as the attack has ground to a halt; Zahibo’s form has fluctuated and Designated Player Claude Dielna and offseason signing Gabriel Somi haven’t played in months. No matter what happens in Sunday’s Decision Day presented by AT&T finale against Montreal, they’ll finish with fewer points and lower in the standings than they did in 2017.
There are plenty of reasons why the Revs have faltered down the stretch. Poor set piece defending, consistent issues at center back, a slump in front of net and an inability to hold the ball in midfield have certainly all been a factor. Just don’t expect GM Mike Burns to use any of them as excuses when evaluating his club’s 2018.
“I’m not going to make excuses. I’m not going to make excuses,” Burns told MLSsoccer.com on Tuesday when asked what he thought went wrong for the team in the second half of 2018. “We didn’t get the job done. Anything I say or could say will be construed as an excuse, and I’m not about making excuses. The bottom line is that we didn’t play well enough from the middle point on to warrant a playoff spot. That’s where the disappointment comes from, and obviously it’ll be a long offseason to try to address some of those areas and make the team stronger and get back to where we want to be.”
Burns didn’t go too deep on the roots of his club’s late-season struggles, but he did strike a similar tone to Friedel, who has consistently talked about the need for increased accountability among Revs players, when asked about his vision for the club moving forward.
“The conversations that Brad and I have, and frankly that everyone in the organization has, is we’re trying to bring in players that have a mentality and consistency to win every single day,” he said. “We lacked that this year.”
That search could lead to an active offseason in New England, though Burns said he doesn’t expect the Revs to have as much turnover as they did last winter and this spring. The team made some major changes in Friedel’s first few months on the job, parting ways with 11 players, including Lee Nguyen, Kei Kamara, Krisztian Nemeth, Xavier Kouassi and Benjamin Angoua.
They’ll have to decide this winter whether to exercise their purchase options on the on-loan Caicedo and Penilla. They’ll also have to determine whether they want to attempt to bring back attacker Juan Agudelo, who has three goals and four assists in just 12 starts this season and, according to a source, is out of contract after this season.
Dielna’s status is perhaps an even bigger question. Signed by New England last summer, the 30-year-old Frenchman was a regular starter for the first half of the season but hasn’t made the 18 since he started in the Revs’ 2-0 loss at the New York Red Bulls on July 21. Burns and the Revs don’t discuss the contract status of any player as a matter of policy, but Dielna is the club’s only current DP. According to the MLS Players Association, his 2018 total compensation of $909,861 is second-highest on the team behind midseason arrival and fellow center back Michael Mancienne. That’s a lot of money to pay someone who hasn’t played in months, particularly for a team that has the third-lowest payroll in MLS and, according to Burns, may not spend significantly more in 2019.
“It’s not really an area that I’m going to speak publicly about in terms of how much we’re going to spend on a particular player or players,” said Burns. “The bottom line is to make our team better and so that’s how we’re viewing this offseason. We’re not going into it saying, well, we have got to spend X number of dollars on this player or that player to get there, but we will address it as each signing comes.”
It’s unclear whether what New England's outlay for their roster will be next year, but the club will have at least one new toy to play with next season. The Revs broke ground on a $35 million training facility last week that is scheduled to open next summer. Burns said that the new complex will be on par with the best facilities in the league and sees it helping with player recruitment for both the first team and the academy. With talk about a soccer-specific stadium resurfacing recently, the training facility could theoretically be a first step into a new era for New England – provided the club's on-the-field fortunes improve.
“I think this is a fantastic step forward for this club. I’ve been here a very, very long time, first as a player at the beginning and now [as GM] and I’m as excited about this initiative as I’ve been about anything we’ve done in the history of the club,” said Burns. “I think it’s going to be a fantastic facility for both our first team and our academy program. From a player recruitment standpoint, to be able to show this off, so to speak, to academy players in the area and any first-team players that we’re hopefully on the verge of signing, I think it’s going to be a big step and a massive statement from the club.”