The 2018 season will be the beginning of a new dawn for the New England Revolution, but as the regular season approaches there’s already a black cloud over the team.
The Revs fired longtime coach Jay Heaps toward the end of a disappointing 2017 campaign, and handed the reins to former U.S. national team goalkeeper Brad Friedel for his first managerial gig.
But the biggest talking point around the Revs is the status of star midfielder Lee Nguyen, who began training camp by holding out as he looked for a trade.
Nguyen has since reported to camp, but his status moving forward is unclear. Any ongoing standoff would cause early-season drama at a time when optimism around a new manager should be the order of the day.
How did New England perform in 2017?
2017 finish: Seventh in the Eastern Conference (13-15-6), missed the playoffs.
Almost every MLS team is better at home than on the road, but the Revs took this trend to the extreme in 2017, posting a 12-2-3 record at home and an abysmal 1-13-3 mark on the road.
Despite several defensive additions last season, the Revs still conceded 61 goals — the second-worst total in MLS. The club’s defensive deficiencies were the main reason it missed the postseason for the second season in a row, and why Heaps was fired in September.
New England's key offseason losses
Though he never seemed like a good fit in New England, Kei Kamara still managed 12 goals in 2017 and that production will have to be replaced after he was traded to Vancouver in the offseason.
Benjamin Angoua was a regular starter in defense but his option was declined after an up-and-down campaign, while key holding midfielder Gershon Koffie ’s loan expired and he returned to Swedish club Hammarby. Injuries and ineffectiveness meant Xavier Kouassi never lived up to his designated player status, and the holding midfielder saw his contract option declined.
New England's key offseason additions
Ecuadorian striker Cristian Penilla joined on a season-long loan from Pachuca with a purchase option, and the 26-year-old is expected to become an immediate contributor and help make up for Kamara’s departure.
The club is optimistic that Wilfried Zahibo , signed from the Spanish second division, will help fill Koffie’s void in defensive midfield, while Gabriel Somi will add an option at left back and left midfield.
Full New England roster entering 2018 season
Goalkeepers: Cody Cropper, Brad Knighton, Matt Turner
Defenders: Jalil Anibaba, Brandon Bye, Antonio Delamea, Claude Dielna, Nicolas Samayoa, Andrew Farrell, Mark Segbers, Gabriel Somi, Chris Tierney
Midfielders: Isaac Angking, Scott Caldwell, Diego Fagundez, Zachary Herivaux, Cristian Penilla, Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Wilfried Zahibo
Forwards: Juan Agudelo, Teal Bunbury, Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Krisztian Nemeth, Brian Wright
New England's projected starting lineup
There will be plenty of competition for spots all over the field for the Revolution, with no clear starter at several positions and a new coaching staff in place.
Cropper had an up-and-down season in 2017, and could face a challenge from Knighton in goal. Newcomer Somi and longtime incumbent Tierney should also be in a competition for the left-back position.
Zahibo and Caldwell should fight for minutes in defensive midfield, though they could eventually be paired together as well.
The Revs have enviable depth in attack, and will have the luxury of multiple starting-caliber players available off the bench most games. The versatile Rowe appears set to play a central role in 2018, and could partner with Nguyen as long as the 31-year-old is still in New England.
Agudelo has staked a claim for a starting forward spot, but will be pushed by Nemeth and Penilla, both of whom can play midfield or forward.
New England's national TV coverage
D.C. United vs. New England Revolution - Sunday, Aug. 19, at 6 p.m. ET on FS1
Atlanta United vs. New England Revolution - Saturday, Oct. 6, at 3:30 p.m. ET on Univision Deportes