Sneak Peek: New faces renew the outlook for Revs

Fitting all the attacking pieces into an effective system has long perplexed Revs head coach Jay Heaps, who has utilized various alignments and personnel to accommodate an array of players seldom seen on an MLS roster.
 
Opening Day …
Projected XI – Cropper; Tierney, Angoua, Delamea, Farrell; Kouassi, Fagundez, Rowe, Agudelo, Nguyen, Kamara.

Rather than part with any one of them, Heaps has juggled them in and out of the lineup and around various slots; in 2014, he added swashbuckler extraordinaire Jermaine Jones, who helped drive the Revs to their first MLS Cup appearance in more than a decade.

When Jones balked at a drastic pay cut and moved on, the sporadic showings recurred. Since losing to the Galaxy in the 2014 final, the Revs have finished fifth and seventh in the Eastern Conference, and have lost their only playoff game.

But during the 2017 preseason, the Revs solidified a diamond midfield formation they tinkered with last year and, on the eve of the regular season, have installed Lee Nguyen as the forward partner for Kei Kamara, and delegated Juan Agudelo as the attacking tip of the diamond.

“It’s great, I mean this obviously gives me a chance to be more around the box which is where I like to be, and where I feel like I’m most dangerous,” Nguyen told mlssoccer.com. “So that gives me the opportunity to get the ball in the areas where I feel like I can be most effective.”

The swapping and interchanging of positions will continue. Nguyen has served as a de facto playmaker during much of his time in New England and Agudelo has played a lot as a forward. Kamara, Nguyen and Agudelo tallied a combined nine goals and nine assists in seven preseason games.

New England needed the preseason to better know holding mid Xavier Kouassi, who missed the entire 2016 season with a knee injury suffered in his final game for Swiss club SC Sion a year ago. Scott Caldwell will share anchoring duties and will see spot duty on the outside.

As he was last year, Kamara is the focal point, but with Kouassi as the anchor and clearcut roles for Nguyen and Agudelo, Heaps may get the consistency necessary to avoid the barren runs of 2015 and 2016, assuming his defensive changes can also take root.

Offseason acquisitions Antonio Mlinar Delamea and Benjamin Angoua are the first-choice centerbacks, if Heaps elects to play Andrew Farrell at right back. Cody Cropper takes over in goal for Bobby Shuttleworth, traded to Minnesota United for forward Femi Hollinger-Janzen after playing 107 games the past four seasons. Cropper, 24, played one MLS game last year after signing as a free agent in August. Brad Knighton, who has played 53 league games the past seven seasons, provides cover in case Cropper stumbles.

All that change, especially in the zone in front of goal, might make for a rocky start. The Revs never recovered from a miserable start -- one win in the first 11 games -- last year and five times in the past two seasons have lost at least three straight games. They labored through winless spells of four, six, and seven games last year and despite missing the playoffs Heaps kept his job.

He needs the newcomers to jell fairly quickly for a less stressful start to his sixth season, which is the third-longest tenure of current MLS head coaches.

“It was a pretty extensive offseason in terms of trying to find pieces we think can help us,” he told the Boston Globe. “Hopefully, the pieces will help and make us better.”
 
Who’s in…
GOALKEEPERS: None. DEFENDERS: Benjamin Angoua (Guingamp/FRA. Loan), Antonio Mlinar Delamea (Olimpija Ljubljana/SVN, Transfer). MIDFIELDERS: None. FORWARDS: Femi Hollinger-Janzen (Minnesota United, Trade), Brian Wright (Univ. of Vermont, SuperDraft).
 
Who’s out …
GOALKEEPERS: Bobby Shuttleworth (Minnesota United, Trade). DEFENDERS: Darrius Barnes, Jose Goncalves, Jordan McCrary. MIDFIELDERS: Gershon Koffie (Hammarby/SWE, Free Agent), Steve Neumann (Retired). FORWARDS: None.
 
First five games …
March 4 -- at Colorado Rapids.
March 11 -- Orlando City.
March 18 -- at FC Dallas.
March 25 -- Minnesota United.
April 2 -- at Portland Timbers.
 
 
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