By Jason Davis - WASHINGTON, DC (Aug 28, 2013) US Soccer Players - Pardon the painfully obvious pun, but there’s a Revolution happening in New England. Thanks to the influence of a slew of young talent, New England’s Major League Soccer club is turning into a swashbuckling attacking side full of fun and goals. They’re threatening to grab a playoff spot in the Eastern Conference for the first time since 2009. Jay Heaps has a program. A program that is paying obvious dividends.
On Sunday, the Revolution thrashed Eastern Conference rivals Philadelphia 5-0. Four different players scored goals, the peach of the bunch coming off of the right foot of second year midfielder Kelyn Rowe. Rowe’s pair of tallies earned him Player of the Week honors, a just reward for his efforts and an indication of his potential stardom. While Rowe grabbed the headlines for New England this week, he is just one of several dangerous attacking types collected by the Revolution as they attempt to regain their position as one of the league’s better clubs. Backed by key defensive reinforcements, the Revolution are rounding into a real threat in the East.
New England used every mechanism available to build their new-look roster. Rowe, a US youth international, arrived through the 2012 SuperDraft after spending two years at UCLA. Fellow midfielder Lee Nguyen joined New England via the waiver draft, after a short stint in Vancouver as an allocation signing. Phenom Diego Fagundez is a homegrown signing, a local kid nurtured in the Revolution’s burgeoning academy. Another homegrown player, Scott Caldwell, lined up in a defensive midfield spot against Philadelphia. The Revolution picked up forward Juan Agudelo through a trade with Chivas USA for a small bundle of allocation money, and though he’ll leave for England after the season, Agudelo brings skill and bravado to New England’s front line.
Last week Agudelo stunned Chicago with a backheel flick over an onrushing Sean Johnson to start the scoring in a 2-0 win over the Fire. Rowe doubled the lead in added time to provide an exclamation mark. Agudelo’s goal was flat out fun, one of those unique moments of soccer ingenuity that stand out even in a season filled its share of fantastic goals. Against Philadelphia, the Revolution added quantity to that quality, sending a strong statement that they’re rich in players who can create similarly fun goals. Thanks to the back-to-back wins, New England sits--perhaps temporarily--above the Eastern Conference playoff line.
Despite the amount of attention Agudelo’s reverse backheel flick received, and the notable score line they put up this weekend, it’s worth wondering if the Revolution are underappreciated. Consistency remains somewhat elusive for Jay Heaps and co., but it’s difficult to shake the perception that New England is not getting the attention they might deserve. The Eastern Conference is a battle, with even the top teams unable to convince anyone that their credentials make them an obvious favorite. New York can’t get it together on the road. Montreal is showing its age. Sporting Kansas City seems unable to maximize their potential.
As for why the rest of MLS ignores the Revolution, it seems fairly simple. In a league bursting with “authentic” soccer environments and purpose-built stadiums, the Revolution are still stuck in MLS 1.0. Like a time traveler snatched from his own time and brought forward to the present, so much about New England seems antiquated, anachronistic, and awkward. The club still plays in a massive NFL stadium that dwarfs even a respectable crowd. The Revolution cling to a look that has changed little over the course of 17 while many original clubs revamped and re-branded. In a world that is quickly passing them by from an image standpoint, it’s easy to miss that New England has the potential to be a very good team at some point in the not-too-distant future.
Plaudits are also due for Jay Heaps, one of just a few young American coaches finding success and directing his team to play an attractive style of soccer. No former MLS player hired around the same time as Heaps has managed much. Ben Olsen is struggling through a disastrous season in DC and Ryan Nelsen is doing the same in Toronto. Jesse Marsch lasted one season with the Montreal Impact. Only John Hackworth can compete with Heaps from the new wave of young coaches, though there’s reason to separate the Union’s top man from the rest of the bunch (mostly due to his stepping in after the contentious firing of Peter Nowak last season and his previous coaching experience). Heaps is learning on the job, and on the evidence of the Revolution’s growth, looks to be a quick study.
In many ways, the Revolution and DC United are the last of the original MLS franchises. Due to circumstance and/or a deficit of effort, a rapidly evolving league has made the two clubs obsolete. In D.C., the reality of a terrible team and the possibility of a stadium deal deflect focus away from the field to the detriment of no one. In New England, with the same name, logo, and color scheme, and with no immediate plans to move away from Gillette Stadium (where the vast stretches of empty seats and artificial turf serve as visual time warp to 1996), it’s a shame so much what is happening on the field gets lost.
If the Revolution keep putting up five-goal tallies, or keep scoring amazing goals of the quality of Agudelo’s chip or Kelyn Rowe’s long blast, they’ll be impossible to ignore. If they manage to keep winning and sneak into the playoffs, some MLS team will have the unenviable task of shutting down their multitude of weapons. If they get the type of attention they probably deserve, it will be because they’ve given the rest of MLS little choice but to sit up and take notice.
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