Just two years removed from an MLS Cup final appearance, the New England Revolution missed the playoffs last season for the first time in four years. As disappointing as 2016 was, the Revs did make it to the U.S. Open Cup final but could not add to their trophy case.
An overhauled back line featuring two new center-backs and the long-awaited debut of designated player Xavier Kouassi gives the Revs a lot of hope this season. The attacking and midfield core remains largely the same, with Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara, Lee Nguyen, and Kelyn Rowe all returning. If New England's new additions can stabilize a leaky and oft-rotating defense that was an issue for all of last year, at a minimum the Revs should be a playoff team once again.
2016 record: 11-14-9, seventh place in the Eastern Conference
2016 playoffs: Did not qualify
Head coach: Jay Heaps
Key additions: Xavier Kouassi, Antonio Delamea, Benjamin Angoua, Brian Wright
Key losses: Jose Goncalves, Gershon Koffie, Darrius Barnes, Steve Neumann
Projected starting XI (4-4-2 diamond): Cody Cropper; Chris Tierney, Benjamin Angoua, Antonio Delamea, Andrew Farrell; Xavier Kouassi; Scott Caldwell, Kelyn Rowe; Lee Nguyen; Juan Agudelo, Kei Kamara
Major trophies won, all-time: 2007 U.S. Open Cup
What we think of our team: As five-time MLS Cup finalists with no wins in the big game, someday the Revs will win an MLS Cup and then no one can call them the Buffalo Bills of MLS anymore.
What outsiders think of our team: “A club whose owner doesn't really think about them much, but is generally consistent enough to make the playoffs. Five MLS Cup runner-up finishes is impressive, but the Revolution are never overwhelming in matches that matter the most.”
The Revolution’s biggest rival: New York Red Bulls — Honestly, this is a really tough call. More than maybe any other team in MLS, there’s no stone-cold choice, and no opponent would consider the Revolution their biggest rival. That said, the proximity, natural NY-Boston rivalry in all sports and fierce games in recent years would make the Red Bulls the biggest rival from a New England perspective.
Best social media follow: Kei Kamara — The Revolution locker room is known for having pranksters and guys who just like to have fun. Kamara is no different and you'll never know what shows up on his Twitter feed, but it's usually good for a laugh.
Our season hinges on … building chemistry. The Revolution lineup in 2017 could feature two new center backs, a new holding midfielder and a new starting goalkeeper. Throw in a new formation and there's a lot of change happening for New England. If it clicks, the Revs could be a force in the East.
Why this year won’t be like last year: Depth. Last season the Revs finished with just 20 healthy outfield players on the roster and relied on utility players like Je-Vaughn Watson at multiple positions throughout the year. A retooled back line and a full preseason working on the diamond midfield that was successful at the end of 2016 should get New England started on the right foot this year.
Key player: Kouassi was supposed to join the Revolution last summer but tore his ACL while finishing the European season with Swiss club FC Sion. After a year of rehabbing, the holding midfielder is in line for a starting role when he's fully fit and the Revs will need him firing on all cylinders and be the engine in the midfield to help New England on both sides of the ball.
Projected finish in 2017: 10th in the Eastern Conference.
Wild prediction: New England will return to a cup final. Could be U.S. Open Cup, might be MLS Cup, don't want to jinx it any more than we already have.