But the way striker Teal Bunbury sees it now, Saturday's clash wasn't a complete hour-and-a-half's worth of wasteful soccer. Far from it.
"We know there (are) good things we can take out of that game, and some bad things we can take out of it (too)," Bunbury said. "So it was just really coming into training this week and working out those kinks, looking at some film, and figuring out what we did wrong."
The bad, of course, was the lethargic start. The Dynamo did the bulk of their damage within the first 23 minutes thanks to a pair of goals from Will Bruin and Boniek Garcia, both of whom grabbed goals in stunningly easy fashion.
On the flip side, Bunbury was encouraged by the way the offense responded in the wake of the Dynamo's scoring deluge.
"I thought, especially in the second half, we were moving the ball around," Bunbury said. "Making runs off the ball, and just moving the ball quickly, being alert, and being attentive -- and partly that was due to us being down as well."
With the Houston game in the rearview, the fourth-year forward is optimistic about the way he and his teammates will perform in Saturday's game at Philadelphia.
"We're going to be sharper, and I know the guys are feeling really sharper in training," Bunbury said. "I think that's just what we're focusing on now, because that (Dynamo game is) done with."
Farrell working his way back
If there's one player who's particularly anxious to get on the pitch for Saturday's interest against the Union, it's none other than right back Andrew Farrell.
The sophomore defender suffered a left leg injury during the preseason, and was forced to watch last week's defeat to the Dynamo on TV. And as you might expect, it wasn't a very pleasant viewing experience.
"It was tough to see the boys playing hard and (to see) it just didn't go our way," Farrell said. "We came out flat for the first couple of minutes."
Fortunately for all parties involved, the knock that kept Farrell out of last week's match is healing well --so much, in fact, that he appeared unhindered during Wednesday's training session.
"No limitations," Farrell said. "I jogged last week, just getting the fitness up. I'm still working on the fitness and getting back to full training now."
While Farrell would love nothing more than to return to the lineup against Philadelphia, he admits that the decision is not entirely in his hands.
"We got a deep lineup," said Farrell. "So we'll see how that works out. I feel fine for this weekend, but we'll see what Jay and the guys think."
Crisp start a priority at Philadelphia
After last week's trio of early-match setbacks, one thing that Bunbury hopes to see on Saturday against the Union is a renewed focus on starting the match with the right mindset.
Bunbury admitted that he and his teammates "just kind of started the game off slow" in Houston, and that the best way to atone for it is to come out focused and sharp right out of the gate at their next opportunity.
"It's very important coming off a loss like that," Bunbury said. "It's going to (mean) everything to come to this game prepared to play from the first whistle to the last whistle."
Following Saturday’s 4-0 season-opening shellacking, Revolution coach Jay Heaps made no bones about the way a potent Dynamo side ostensibly erased any measure of success the New England aimed to achieve in Week 1 of the regular season.
“I think they reset it for us,” Heaps told the media after the game. “These are games where we get tested and find out what guys are made of. We’ve got to find out what we’re made of.”
Whatever the Revolution were made of through the first 23 minutes of the game simply wasn’t up to snuff by anyone’s standards. And it wasn’t even close, for that matter.
Inside of two minutes, Will Bruin was given plenty of room inside the area to collect a Kofi Sarkodie pass before volleying it past the dive of Bobby Shuttleworth for the opening goal. While the camera focused on Shuttleworth, the guilty party appeared to be Jose Goncalves, who not only failed to intercept the pass from Sarkodie, but also fell victim to ballwatching as Bruin plotted his shot.
But Goncalves wasn’t the only Revolution defender who’d get burned by Bruin. Eleven minutes after his first strike, the fourth-year forward slipped the watch of Chris Tierney before slotting a Corey Ashe cross uncontested at the far post in the 13th minute. Making matters worse, lax defending by Patrick Mullins allowed Ashe the space and time to guide his cross to Bruin.
“One team that started great, and one team that started poorly,” Revolution center back A.J. Soares told the media after the game. “They punished us, and we couldn’t recover from there.”
The punishment continued in the 23rd minute when, this time, Bruin tried his hand as the distributor. After shaking off Goncalves and Scott Caldwell, he slipped a pass central to Boniek Garcia, who escaped Tierney and sent another past Shuttleworth to make it a Dynamo rout only midway through the first half.
To their credit, the Revolution, once they snapped out of their defensive funk, nearly found a way to climb back into it. Minutes before the interval, Soares pounded the post on a Tierney corner kick, while Teal Bunbury pick-pocketed a Dynamo defender deep inside the area before his shot was pushed away by Tally Hall and the rebound was cleared by David Horst.
“We had flashes of good stuff that we can build on going forward—some good play going forward, some good defending,” Soares said. “But overall, (it was) just not a good enough team effort.”
As if their form in front of frame wasn’t deflating enough, the Revolution managed to concede a fourth goal in stoppage time when Omar Cummings redirected a Ricardo Clark ball into the back of the net. Moments later, referee Jorge Luna Hernandez blew the whistle thrice, as the Revolution’s clock had been officially been wound in the wrong direction by a relentless Dynamo XI.
“We have to do a better job as a staff,” Heaps said. “We’ve got to do a better job as players preparing. We have to get ourselves ready for another big game.”
The New England Revolution suffered its worst season-opening loss in club history after the Houston Dynamo handed them a dreadful 4-0 defeat in Saturday’s First Kick clash at BBVA Compass Stadium.
Will Bruin terrorized the Revolution early with a pair of goals in the 2nd and 13th minutes, while Boniek Garcia made it a three-goal game in the 23rd minute. Omar Cummings padded the lead with a stoppage-time goal as the Dynamo coasted to victory.
The Revolution mustered chances in the latter stages of the first half and near the hour, with A.J. Soares and Diego Fagundez hitting the woodwork in the first and second half, respectively.
What it means: Well, it’s no stretch to say that this was not what Jay Heaps had in mind when he said he wanted to see his club get off to a strong start in the regular season after last year’s early-season woes. For the first time since a 4-3 loss at Vancouver on June 15, 2013, New England conceded three first-half goals, and despite some decent efforts before halftime, failed to file a response. The defense that had been so reliable last year was a shadow of its former self, and the midfield didn’t do them any favors either. Fortunately for Heaps, there’s still 33 games to correct the mistakes.
Stat of the game: Despite the scoreline, the Revolution managed to collect 18 total shots, only two fewer than the Dynamo’s 20. The difference, though, was accuracy: Nine of Houston’s shots went on target, while only one of New England’s was on goal.
Replacement referees in place: Jorge Luna Hernandez was the man in the middle for Saturday’s match after the league’s referees and on-field officials were locked out by Professional Referee Organization (PRO) on Friday. Prior to the lockout, Ismael Elfath was assigned to referee the match.
Shuttleworth gets start over Knighton: Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Revolution lineup was the inclusion of Bobby Shuttleworth, who got the start between the sticks. The fifth-year keeper battled Brad Knighton for the starting spot throughout the preseason, but Knighton, who posted two shutouts and only allowed one goal during the winter, appeared to be the favorite heading into Saturday’s opener.
Goncalves shakes injury, starts at center back: Captain Jose Goncalves kept his MLS ironman streak intact by taking his spot at center back. The 2013 Defender of the Year played every minute of every match last year, but was limited during the preseason by a right quadriceps strain. He was listed on the injury report as questionable ahead of the match.
Mullins makes MLS debut: 2014 first-round pick Patrick Mullins was given the starting assignment at right midfield. The 11th overall pick played in all seven of the Revolution’s preseason games and scored in a March 1 contest against Colorado. He went 45 minutes before he was subbed out for Jerry Bengtson at halftime.
Alston comes off early: Starting right back Kevin Alston had to exit the game in the 18th minute with what appeared to be a leg injury. Veteran defender Darrius Barnes was called upon to take over for Alston.
Next up: The Revolution will look to put Saturday’s performance behind them next Saturday when they take on the Philadelphia Union at PPL Park (4 p.m.). New England went 2-1-0 against Philadelphia last season, with the last meeting a memorable one for the Revolution, who romped in a 5-1 win on Aug. 25.
Kickoff is set for 8:30 p.m. ET, and will mark the start of the club’s 19th season in MLS.
Here’s what to watch for during the club’s 2014 debut:
Starting off on the right foot. The Revolution enter the 2014 season only months removed from their first postseason berth since 2009, and are favorites to make a return trip in November. But coach Jay Heaps wants to see more from his club this year -- most notably, a stronger start to the season. The Revs stumbled through a 2-4-4 record during the early part of the 2013 season.
“We’re looking at the first part of the season, and what points we need (in order) to gain a more blended season, so we don’t have to risk so much at the end of the year with every game meaning everything,” Heaps said earlier this week.
Ailing out of the gate. With every new season comes new challenges, as the Revolution’s injury report show. After staying remarkably healthy for much of last season, the club’s core of starters has been ravaged by injuries this winter.
Club captain Jose Goncalves (quadriceps strain), along with regulars Andrew Farrell (tibial stress reaction), Chris Tierney (hamstring strain) and Lee Nguyen are all listed on the injury report this week. Heaps will likely turn to newly acquired midfielder Daigo Kobayashi to man Nguyen’s spot, while veterans Darrius Barnes, Kevin Alston and Stephen McCarthy could all be called upon to start in the rear.
Grit and finesse rolled into one. If there’s one thing that Saturday’s clash is almost sure to deliver on, it’s a unique combination of physicality and inventive play. All three of last year’s meetings between the former playoff rivals featured a fair share bold tackles, high elbows, and quick shoves. But as gritty as these clashes were, they also featured some spectacular moments. Diego Fagundez scored a brilliant give-and-go effort on May 18, while Adam Moffat hit a pair of long-distance strikes on July 13. In essence, both clubs are capable of flipping the switch and going physical -- or playing pretty -- when the situation demands it.
“They can play both sides of the game, they are a physical team and they always bring it,” Nguyen said. “But at the same time, they have the guys who can change the game, like Will Bruin, Brad Davis, Giles Barnes and Boniek Garcia. So we have to be wary of all those guys. But we also have the same kind guys on our team, too. It’s going to be a fistfight.”
Banking on Bunbury. Teal Bunbury might be tall and technically sound like the departed Juan Agudelo, but that’s where the comparisons end. The 24-year-old forward is his own player, capable of creating opportunities with his speed and finishing abilities rather than locking horns inside the box and playing with his back to the goal. And that’s just fine with Heaps. Bunbury brings a skill set that, on paper, complements those of Nguyen, Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Scott Caldwell. After scoring twice during the preseason, all eyes will be fixated on the former Sporting Kansas City striker.
Go bold, or go home. If there’s one thing Heaps wants to see from his team on Saturday, it’s a relentless and unwavering approach from his front four. And with good reason.
The club will have proven commodities on the pitch with Fagundez, Rowe and Bunbury manning their respective areas, while Kobayashi adds another enterprising element to the bunch. Factor in Caldwell’s cunning passes, along with the smart runs and passes that rookie Patrick Mullins regularly showcased during the preseason, and you have a team that has no excuse not to press for success.
“We’re a bold group,” Heaps said. “I think we showed that last year. What I want us to be this year is bold and go after games, go after teams. it may not be the same group every week, but we’re going to use our depth to our advantage.”
Even though he became a league-wide sensation last year after scoring a team-high 13 goals and playing with undeniable swagger, Fagundez didn't just soak it all up and enjoy it during the offseason. Rather, he approached the winter months with one focus.
“I went into the offseason to train as hard as I can,” Fagundez said. “I wanted to be ready for this year. I hope I start (the 2014 season) where I ended off last year, and not have to start all over, so it’s a matter of hard work.”
If anyone can attest to the benefits of having to constantly wipe the sweat off your brow, it’s the 19-year-old midfielder. For evidence of that, just turn back the clock to last March.
Prior to the 2013 season, coach Jay Heaps and general manager Michael Burns had only one expectation for Fagundez: to arrive at preseason camp fit and healthy. They knew that even though Fagundez had just turned 18, he was capable of making a positive impact on the club’s fortunes if he focused on the simple things.
So Fagundez came to camp with his head down and his mouth shut. He did everything that was asked of him, and then asked for more. But when the season kicked off, he was often a spectator, with only one start afforded to him in the club’s first five games.
Frustration began to creep into his mind, especially as the club’s offense sputtered while he watched from the bench. Fagundez wondered silently: Hadn’t he worked hard enough to belong on the pitch?
Instead of sulking, though, he welcomed any opportunity to stay on the training pitch for extra practice. Anything to show that he meant business. The coaches took notice, and before long, he was in the lineup -- for good.
Many times last season, Fagundez made it look all too easy, but Heaps knows that the wizardry the teenager appears to play with is the byproduct of an insatiable appetite for improvement.
“He’s a player that, every day, is fighting for his time and working hard,” Heaps said. “He understands that every day, he has to get better, and every day he looks to get a little better in training.”
Because of that approach, Heaps isn’t worried about managing expectations for one of the best teenage players to ever set foot on an MLS pitch.
“It’s pretty easy because as a coach, to have that level of a player, the expectations are not what (the media) writes,” Heaps said. “We have our own expectations for Diego (and) when you take the picture, and you (see) it day-by-day, practice-by-practice, it becomes a lot easier (to manage those expectations).”
While Fagundez may indeed be on a higher level than most, even at age 19, he admits that being named a starter for Saturday’s opener in Houston is by no means a certainty in his mind.
“I wouldn’t say I’m going to be an opening day starter,” Fagundez said. “I see it as we’re all fighting for our spots. There’s not one player that knows they’re going to be playing every game. And that’s what I like.”
While Fagundez embraces the perpetual battle for playing time, one thing he’s not as keen on is personal statistics, specifically the impressive ones he put up last year.
“As far as scoring 13 goals and 7 assists, that means nothing to me,” Fagundez said. “It’s a new year, and (there are) new players. I just want to play better, try to help out the team and keep doing what I’ve been doing, and if I can do a lot more for the team, then I would love to.”
While the preseason may have already come and gone, the Revolution, like every MLS club in early-March, have plenty of questions surrounding them as they get ready to embark on their first meaningful match.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at the 10 biggest questions (in no particular order) surrounding the local XI going into the 2014 season.
Can teenage sensation Diego Fagundez follow up his sterling 2013 season with a similarly superb 2014? By any measure, Fagundez exceeded nearly everyone’s expectations for an 18-year-old last year. In his first full season as a starter, the Homegrown Player scored a team-high 13 goals and added seven assists, one shy of Kelyn Rowe’s team-best total. Now that he’s established himself as one of the league’s best midfielders, one of the most intriguing storylines this season is what Fagundez does for an encore. With much of last year’s regulars returning, the sky’s the limit for what he’s capable of in 2014.
What can Teal Bunbury offer the offense? In a perfect world, Bunbury, who was acquired two weeks ago from Sporting Kansas City, would slide right into the role that Juan Agudelo brilliantly filled, and the offense wouldn’t skip a beat. While the former No. 4 overall pick may have looked sharp (two goals) during the preseason, the regular season is an entirely different animal, and Bunbury’s skill set is different than Agudelo’s. Even so, the 24-year-old has plenty of speed, vision, and instinct to keep the attack lively this year.
Will the defense be just as strong this year? With all four starters from last year’s backline returning, there’s plenty of optimism about the Revolution’s ability to blank opponents this year. Reigning Defender of the Year Jose Goncalves will be a strong presence once again, while Andrew Farrell should be better with his first season as a pro in the books. While things may look rosy in the back, the wild card, of course, is who will play behind them. With the goalkeeper situation far from settled, it’s unlikely that the defense will reach the franchise-high 14 clean sheets it collected last year.
Who will be the #1? It is a question that the club has had the luxury of avoiding for the better part of the last decade. But when longtime keeper Matt Reis retired, it became the topic of conversation from Portland to Providence. Bobby Shuttleworth has proven himself at times over the past two seasons, but when the club acquired Brad Knighton hours after Reis’ retirement, it was game on for the starting goalkeeper’s spot. Knighton looked like the stronger candidate during preseason fare, but Heaps acknowledged that the First Kick starter won’t necessarily be the No. 1 for the entire season. In light of that, the answer to who will man the spot between the sticks may change more than once.
Does the addition of Daigo Kobayashi mean fewer minutes for Lee Nguyen? The addition of “Player X” -- the moniker the Kobayashi was bestowed prior to his signing -- could very well spell a reduced role for one of the club’s most reliable players. While Nguyen was a solid, if not underappreciated, contributor last year, the addition of Kobayashi signals that coach Jay Heaps wants to see more spark in the middle of the park. Granted, it’s unlikely Nguyen has been stripped of his starting role going into the opener. But count on Kobayashi to push Nguyen for minutes as the season progresses.
How long will Scott Caldwell be called upon to man the No. 6 spot? One area the Revolution targeted for improvement during the offseason was at holding midfielder, a role that Caldwell filled as best as he could for much of 2013. But it was apparent by the end of the season that an upgrade was in order. But even though the club hasn’t yet added a veteran holding midfielder, they still have two roster spots at their disposal to do so. In light of that, it appears that it’s just a matter of time before Caldwell is moved to a different role.
How will Heaps utilize Andrew Farrell? After starting all 32 of the game he played last year at right back, the sophomore defender was assigned to holding midfielder and center back during the earlier part of the preseason. While a few eyebrows may have been raised at the thought of a talented right back being sent to a pair of new roles, it’s worth noting that Farrell saw minutes at holding midfielder and center back in college. So it’s not an entirely new experiment. Knowing how much Heaps values versatility, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Farrell get minutes -- maybe even a handful of starts -- at center back and holding midfielder this year.
Can Goncalves put the contract squabbles aside? Days before camp opened, the club captain gave an interview to a local writer expressing his displeasure over his contract situation. And just like that, the club entered the preseason with a considerable controversy on their hands. Goncalves addressed the situation with the media at on Day 1 of camp, but hasn’t said much else since. If the situation remains unresolved, and it stays that way as the season progresses, the club is counting on their captain to keep business on the backburner when he steps on to the pitch.
Can the Revs remain as healthy as they were last year? For all the accolades the Revs earned during their surprising 2013 run to the postseason, one of the most overlooked aspects of last year’s team was how healthy it stayed from start to finish. Key contributors like Nguyen, Goncalves, Fagundez, Farrell and Rowe all played 31 games or more, and their ability to stay healthy was crucial to the club’s success.
How do the Revs improve upon their surprising 2013? As good as the Revolution were last season, there’s plenty they can do better at this year. One improvement needed -- a stronger start to the season. Last year, the offense sputtered and the club slid to a 2-4-4 record in their first 10 games. Another area in which they can step it up: their form in front of frame. The club recorded a lethargic 11.7 shots/game, ranking them 17th in that category among the 19 MLS clubs. Should the team improve in those areas, and remain generally consistent on defense, the Revolution may be primed for even greater success this year.
With preseason camp drawing to a close, the club made three additions to its roster, acquiring the rights to midfielder Daigo Kobayashi from the Vancouver Whitecaps for a fourth-round pick in the 2016 draft, and signing defender Jossimar Sanchez and midfielder Alec Sundly to deals as well.
Kobayashi, a 31-year-old native of Fuji, Japan, spent the bulk of his career in the Japanese J-League, but also played in Greece and Norway prior to his arrival in MLS last year.
He scored two goals and added four assists in 30 games for Vancouver in 2013, but his contract option was declined after the season. Seeking a new opportunity, Kobayashi joined Revolution camp last week, playing in both of the club's first two Desert Diamond Cup matches.
After impressing the coaching staff, he agreed to negotiate a new contract with the Revolution in order to facilitate the trade. He will be officially added to the roster upon receipt of his International Transfer Certificate (ITC) and U.S. P-1 Visa.
"Daigo is a technically-gifted player who fits into our system well," Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a statement on Wednesday. "He assimilated well with our club when he was in Tucson with us, and we are looking forward to his return to the club soon."
While the club added some much-needed veteran savvy to the midfield, the front office didn't exactly turn its back on some of its younger players in camp.
Sanchez, a 2013 first-round supplemental pick (fourth overall), spent much of last year recovering from a serious leg injury suffered during his senior year at Connecticut. Though unsigned, he trained with the Revolution toward the end of the 2013 season before returning for camp this year.
The 22-year-old defender played in five of New England's first six preseason matches, collecting 297 minutes at fullback. He has also been used on throw-ins, an area the Revolution have not been particularly good at in recent years.
"Jossimar is a young player who will provide depth for us," Burns said in a statement on Wednesday. "He worked hard to return to full fitness after his injury in college, so we're pleased he's earned a spot on our roster this year."
Another player who earned a spot was Sundly, the Revolution's 2014 second-round pick (31st overall). The 21-year-old midfielder has played in all six of the club's preseason matches to date, primarily featuring at holding midfielder.
The former California Golden Bear was invited to the 2014 MLS Combine, but an illness prevented him from competing. While it may have hurt his draft stock, the Revolution were more than happy to claim him in the second round.
"When we drafted Alec in the second round of the draft, we felt like we had a little bit of a steal there," Burns said in a statement. "He's been a nice addition to camp and will provide us with some depth and versatility in the midfield this season."
The additions of Kobayashi, Sanchez and Sundly put the Revolution roster at 28 currently, with two available slots remaining. The club will conclude its slate of preseason games on Saturday against the Colorado Rapids at 5:30 p.m. ET before opening the regular season on March 8 against the Houston Dynamo at BBVA Compass Stadium.
But after a trio of interesting names recently popped up on the roster sheet, Heaps knew he couldn’t avoid the topic entirely -- especially when it came to a certain ex-Revolution skipper.
While the arrivals of Belgian international Marvin Ogunjimi and former Whitecaps creative midfielder Daigo Kobayashi certainly piqued the interest of many, neither carried the cache of former fan favorite Shalrie Joseph, who made an unexpected return this weekend.
Joseph, who spent nearly 10 seasons in New England (2003-2012) before he was traded to Chivas USA in Aug. 2012, was invited back to train with the Revolution after his current club -- the Seattle Sounders -- effectively erased him from their plans. With an opportunity to lend his experience to a club whose average age is 24.5, Joseph couldn’t say no, even if his role at this juncture is undefined.
“Shalrie is just someone that we have a lot of respect for,” Heaps said via conference call on Sunday. “We brought him into camp to see where he is. (We’re) having a dialogue with him going forward, but at this time, we’re just kind of in a reconnecting phase.”
But what can a 35-year-old defensive midfielder who played less than a third of his club’s games last season bring to a team with a talented young core already in place? And perhaps more importantly, why bring back a player -- even if it’s on an interim basis -- who reportedly had a fractured relationship with his coach prior to the surprise trade to Chivas USA?
With the latter question at the forefront, Heaps is intrigued to see how Joseph interacts with the younger players, especially behind the scenes. Can the former skipper embrace the role of mentor while conceding minutes to those he’s mentoring?
The answers will come to forefront soon enough. But while those storylines unfold, Heaps is satisfied with allowing Joseph sufficient time to get his fitness back up.
“We don’t want to rush him into the full contact right now,” Heaps said, “when, really, this is his first couple of days of preseason (training).”
While Joseph will have to wait until Wednesday’s preseason clash with the Chicago Fire at the earliest to give the coaching staff an idea of what he’s got left in tank, Ogunjimi has already showcased his abilities in front of the coaching staff.
The 26-year-old striker joined camp early last week, and has played in both of the club’s first two Desert Diamond Cup clashes. In 90 combined minutes of action, Ogunjimi hasn’t found many opportunities inside the area, but Heaps has nevertheless kept an eye on how the Belgian international has meshed with his teammates for the time being.
“I thought Marvin assimilated well, and I liked how he was with the group,” Heaps said. “He’s a very smart soccer player, so he’s someone that we’re continuing to look at.”
Last, but not certainly least, is Kobayashi, who arrived in time to play against Real Salt Lake last Wednesday. In his 45-minute debut, the Japanese international immediately flashed his skill on set pieces, and came close to scoring on his first free kick in a Revolution jersey.
Heaps didn’t go into great detail about how the 31-year-old midfielder specifically fits into group, though it appears that the midfielder’s veteran savvy is something that the Revolution coach believes his club could stand to benefit from.
“Experience is a good thing to have,” Heaps said. “So I think we look at a couple of the players that we’re speaking to right now and (that) we’re getting to know better, and they have some experience (which) can help us in some tough situations.”
Granted, it’s still too early to tell which, if any, of the veteran trio will be offered contracts. Even so, Heaps may not like to talk aloud about the likes of Ogunjimi, Kobayashi and Joseph, there’s no doubt he enjoys having all of them around.
“(With) every player that we bring into our camp, we want to add a different dynamic,” Heaps said. “I think the players we’re bringing in enhance the current group that we have.”
Sure, Diego Fagundez (13 goals, 7 assists) and Kelyn Rowe (7 goals, 8 assists) would still find their share of chances, and thus, the offense wouldn’t be rendered completely helpless. But without Agudelo around, uncovering those opportunities wouldn’t come as easily for the dynamic duo.
With that in mind, the Revolution braintrust set their sights on a striker this winter, and after weeks of searching, they pulled the trigger on a trade that brought Teal Bunbury to New England for a 2015 first-round pick and an undisclosed sum of allocation money.
“We’ve been very open about our desire to add some additional attacking players to our roster ahead of the season,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a team release on Wednesday. “We believe Teal is a player who can make the sort of impact we need.”
Through his first four seasons in MLS, Bunbury, 23, has scored 19 goals and collected seven assists in 89 games for Sporting Kansas City, who selected him fourth overall in 2010. While those stats won’t “wow” many, the hope is that Bunbury, like Agudelo before him, will benefit from a change in scenery and showcase the skills and abilities that made him an intriguing National Team prospect not too long ago.
Bunbury was drafted out of perennial NCAA powerhouse Akron -- dubbed “MLS University” by many -- in 2010 projected as a “can’t miss” pick, a talented striker brimming with potential at the pro level.
He didn’t exactly set the nets on fire in his first year, a season in which he collected five goals and three assists in 26 games for Kansas City. Even so, Bob Bradley, who was U.S. Men’s National Team manager at the time, saw enough to give Bunbury a run at the international stage. Before 2010 concluded, Bunbury earned his first cap with the U.S. in a friendly at South Africa -- coincidentally, a game in which Agudelo scored his first international goal.
The young striker’s star grew brighter in 2011 when he scored nine goals and added three assists in 29 games. And 2012 brought even more promise when he tallied five times by August.
But on Aug. 26, 2012, he suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in a game against New York. After 10 months of recovery, he returned to the pitch in June 2013, only to re-emerge as a shadow of his former self. He struggled to find playing time with designated player Claudio Bieler above him on the depth chart and C.J. Sapong taking the reins when Bieler slumped. Bunbury managed to find playing time in only 12 games in 2013, and it appeared his future with the club was in serious doubt.
Enter the Revolution, who were looking to fill the gaping hole left by Agudelo’s departure. Like Agudelo, Bunbury is a big-bodied (6-foot-2, 175 pounds) target man, though few would consider him a battering ram by any means.
Even so, Bunbury’s experience within a single-striker formation -- the formation of choice for Peter Vermes in Kansas City -- should make the transition easier. The Revolution, who use the 4-1-4-1, were looking for a pure target man in their hunt for a new forward, and appeared to have found him Bunbury.
What Bunbury lacks in physicality he makes up for by flashing sound attacking instincts and deceptive speed. He’s a finisher, but can just as a well find a teammate when the walls close in. And with Fagundez and Rowe buzzing nearby, he’ll find plenty of opportunities to score and set up goals in New England.
“He’s a talented, young player who can add a dynamic element to our system,” Burns said. “We’re looking forward to getting him into camp and integrated into our group as soon as possible.”
Sporting Kansas City traded forward Teal Bunbury to New England on Wednesday for allocation money and the Revolution's first-round pick in next year's MLS SuperDraft.
Bunbury took to Twitter to say he was excited to join the Revolution.
— Teal Bunbury (@TealBunB) February 19, 2014
He also tweeted that he was thankful to the fans in Kansas City for embracing him during his time with the team.
That being said I am so thankful and blessed for the time I had in Kansas City. All the fans showed me nothing but love through everything….
— Teal Bunbury (@TealBunB) February 19, 2014
Bunbury was the fourth overall pick in the 2010 draft and has scored 21 goals with seven assists in 94 MLS games. Bunbury tore his ACL two years ago and returned to the field last season, helping Sporting KC win its first MLS Cup championship since 2000.
Bunbury, who enters his fifth MLS season, is expected to join the Revolution in Tucson later this week.
The 23-year-old, who was born in Canada, was drafted by Sporting KC fourth overall in the 2010 MLS SuperDraft. He made 48 starts (89 career appearances) and had 19 goals, seven assists.
“We’ve been very open about our desire to add some additional attacking players to our roster ahead of the season and we believe Teal is a player who can make the sort of impact we need,” Revs general manager Michael Burns said. “He’s a talented, young player who can add a dynamic element to our system, and we’re looking forward to getting him into camp and integrated into our group as soon as possible.”
With Sporting KC, Bunbury won the 2012 Lamar Hunt U.S. Open Cup and MLS Cup 2013.
Bunbury’s father, Alex, played for the Canadian National Team (1986-1997) and the Kansas City Wizards (1999-2000, now Sporting KC).
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Nearly a full decade has passed since the New England Revolution have entered camp with a bona fide goalkeeping battle on their hands. Not a minor rivalry or mild controversy. A true, mano-a-mano battle.
After longtime keeper Matt Reis retired in December, the local XI didn't go out and acquire an expensive replacement. Rather, it placed its bets on the winner of an intriguing duel between two of Reis' former apprentices: Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton.
With the gloves -- or, in this instance, the mitts -- off after three preseason games, Revolution general manager Michael Burns is keeping a close eye on the proceedings.
"Both Bobby and Brad want to be the No. 1 extremely badly," Burns said. "It's a very healthy competition, and they've both proven at times -- with Bobby here and Brad with other clubs -- that they are capable."
The operative phrase, of course, is "at times." After all, if either Shuttleworth or Knighton had put together a complete and solid season in the past, well, there would be no battle between the sticks this winter.
In one corner, you have Shuttleworth, the incumbent who has shown flashes of what it takes to be an elite keeper in MLS over the last two years in particular. While coming in to spell Reis, who battled injuries last year, the 26-year-old has commanded his area well, and has made a number of heady, highlight-reel saves. During the course of his five-year career, Shuttleworth has posted a 1.39 GAA, and has collected 13 clean sheets in 43 contests.
In the opposite corner, you have Knighton, the proverbial prodigal son who started his career in New England in 2007 before leaving after the 2009 season. He served as Joe Cannon's backup in Vancouver during the last two years. Like they did for Shuttleworth, injuries opened the door for Knighton to showcase his skills, which include dazzling athleticism and a knack for making some enterprising decisions inside the area. His career stats over his six seasons in MLS include a 1.34 GAA, with seven clean sheets in 35 games.
Making the duel even more intriguing is the fact that Knighton was re-acquired via trade only hours after Reis called it a career -- a sign that, perhaps, Shuttleworth didn't have the full confidence of those in the front office.
While both have shown the potential to become top-choice keepers, Burns is looking for the one quality that has eluded both Shuttleworth and Knighton over the course of their careers: consistency.
"The question is, are either of them, or both of them, capable to do it from Game 1 to Game 34?" Burns said. "Matt had been here for so long, and it's [always] kind of been 'Matt's in goal.' This year, it may be a situation where one beats out the other, or it may be a situation frankly where they're both seeing games this year."
Through the first three preseason games, that's exactly what has transpired. Shuttleworth started and went the full 90 in the opener, while Knighton followed suit in the following match. Knighton also came on for the final 30 minutes of the third match, spelling third-stringer Luis Soffner. The results? Both Shuttleworth and Knighton have conceded only a single goal so far, and based on their preseason form to date, it's tough to tell who has the edge.
Either way, Burns isn't concerned about the situation between the sticks. He's confident that, despite the sizeable shoes that'll need to be filled in the wake of Reis' retirement, the goalkeeping battle is sure to sharpen both contestants.
"We feel like we have two goalkeepers that are capable of being No. 1s in this league," Burns said. "It's really up to them to show Jay [Heaps] who deserves to be the No. 1 from the get-go."
But on Thursday, Simms, 31, was forced to draw the curtains on his nine-year MLS career after he revealed that the disease he'd privately battled since high school will prevent him from playing top-flight soccer any longer.
"I've never really talked about this because I always chose the mind over matter approach, but my health has gotten to a point where I can no longer do that," Simms said in a team release on Thursday. "When I was a freshman in high school, we discovered that I suffered from Focal Segmental Glomerulosclerosis (FSGS), the same kidney disease (that) Alonzo Mourning (has)."
According to the National Kidney Foundation and the NephCure Foundation, FSGS is described as a rare disease that attacks the kidney's filtering system (glomeruli) and causes serious scarring. However, many adults afflicted with the disease can achieve partial or complete remission with immune-suppressing medications.
Simms, who spent two seasons with the Revolution (2012-13), came to New England after a seven-year career with D.C. United, where he helped the squad win a U.S. Open Cup Championship and a pair of Supporters' Shields.
During his time in the nation's capital, the savvy defensive midfielder played 182 career games for D.C., a figure which ranks seventh all-time in club history. He scored three goals and added seven assists during his D.C. career, and became one of the most reliable players in the club's storied history.
In 2005, he was called up to the U.S. Men's National Team for a friendly against England. Although it was the only cap of his career, it was a remarkable accomplishment for a player who, not long before, was playing second-division soccer with the Richmond Kickers (USL).
After a successful run with United, Simms came to New England via the Re-Entry Process. He quickly became an important piece of a midfield that needed the calming presence Simms brought to the pitch. In 2012, he started all 29 games for New England, wearing the captain's armband for many of those matches, and became a fan favorite in the process.
"We're disappointed to see Clyde end his career, but want to wish him the best in the next stage of his life," Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a statement on Thursday. "Clyde was a true professional in his time with us and was a model player for our squad to emulate."
Yet, while he may have looked like the picture of health on the pitch, Simms quietly fought FSGS behind the scenes. He knew that, eventually, he would no longer be able to outrun it. And that realization only became clearer during the 2013 season.
"When I started playing with D.C., my kidney function was around 50 percent," Simms said. "And (in) the last three years of my career, it has gotten down to about 20 percent."
With the disease catching up to him, Simms is stepping away from a sport that demands so much from its players.
"I made sure for as long as I could I would still fight for my dream, my passion," Simms said. "I was very lucky to have had such a great run, but now it's time to fight another battle."
The classy and widely respected midfielder also took a moment to recognize those who supported him along the way.
"Thank you to all the fans, teammates, and coaches that supported me and helped me along my journey," Simms said. "To the Richmond Kickers, D.C. United and the New England Revolution, thank you for allowing me to be a part of your families. I will always be a fan. And to my family and people closest to me, thank you for allowing me to follow my dream."
All told, Simms made 221 appearances (185 starts) while scoring three goals and adding nine assists during his nine seasons in MLS. And while FSGS may have prompted him to hang up his boots prematurely, there's no denying that Clyde Simms never let anything stop him -- not even a serious disease -- for quite a long time.
Heaps, a well-known proponent of slicing the schedule -- or even an individual match -- into quarters, thirds, or halves, hasn’t deviated from that approach during the club’s six weeks of preparation for the regular season.
And after the club concluded its stay in Bradenton, Fla. for two weeks’ worth of training and scrimmages, the third-year coach is already looking forward to the next task at hand.
“I think, for us, these first 12 days (was) an important first step for us fitness-wise,” Heaps said via conference call on Friday. “We’ve worked really hard, and now we are moving to phase two, which is going to be back in Boston, and that has to be elevated again.”
That will be easier said than done. With the team back in Foxborough this week, gauging fitness may prove to be tricky for the coaching staff. Wintry conditions will likely confine training to the Dana Farber Fieldhouse, which does not feature a standard-size pitch.
Nevertheless, Heaps is expected to ramp up the intensity of training. The last time the Revolution were in Foxborough, the order of the day detailed light passing drills, jogging and agility exercises.
But those days have come and gone. With three games under their belts, the objective this week -- i.e. phase two -- is to bring the club closer to regular season fitness, especially with next week’s Desert Diamond Cup on tap.
Phase two also entails getting injured players up to speed. No fewer than four players missed all three games during the Bradenton trip, most notably Chris Tierney (foot), Charlie Davies (calf) and fourth-overall pick Steve Neumann (ankle).
“It’s difficult when you come into preseason with an injury,” Heaps said. “They didn’t pick them up in preseason; they picked them up before they got here.”
As a result, the challenge presented to the coaching staff becomes even greater. While Tierney -- whom Heaps hopes to have back in time for the Desert Diamond Cup -- will likely jump right back into the fold without incident, the likes of Davies and Neumann may find it difficult to assume new roles once they return to health.
Davies, a striker by trade, is expected to see increased playing time on the wing, a transition only made more difficult by his injury setback. Meanwhile, Neumann’s ankle sprain makes his assimilation a tougher task during his first professional preseason camp.
Even so, Heaps knows he can only control so much. While injuries have limited key contributors, it’s also opened the door to others.
“We played three games that were very beneficial, in not only progressing the group, but also seeing some players,” Heaps said. “We feel that we know where a lot of our guys are.”
That may be the case, but there’s no doubt Heaps is looking for more. As phase one gives way to phase two -- then phase three (i.e. the Desert Diamond Cup) -- the expectations Heaps has for his squad are only going to rise.
“We have to make sure we push through that and get better physically,” said Heaps.
In a teleconference with the media on Friday morning, coach Jay Heaps hinted that he and general manager Michael Burns intend to make more moves in the not-so-distant future.
"We are actively searching for at least two pieces and I think that we feel really good where we are, but we want to be better," Heaps said. "I think we've identified where we can get better and we are going to continue to try to move along in those areas."
Heaps didn't specify which players -- or their positions, for that matter -- the club intended to secure, but it's hardly a mystery where the Revolution need help the most.
The most glaring area of need: striker. Although Jerry Bengtson and Dimitry Imbongo are currently the top candidates to fill the role, neither has distinguished himself as a go-to goal scorer during the last two seasons.
But after Juan Agudelo showed how beneficial a bona fide striker can be to a young offense, there's no doubt that the Revolution believe the answer to the question mark up top isn't currently on the roster.
Another area in need of an upgrade: defensive midfielder. Scott Caldwell admirably manned the engine room as a rookie, and the coaching staff helped him do so by asking Lee Nguyen to assume a more defensive posture last season.
Even so, the truth became clear. Caldwell and Nguyen, both attacking players by trade, weren't particularly well-suited to disrupt and dish out punishment in and around the most critical part of the pitch.
While Heaps made no secret of addressing areas of need, he wasn't about to discredit his current charges, many of whom helped the club reach the postseason for the first time in four years last season. In fact, the continuity established by the core of last year's roster is something just as integral to the club's success in 2014.
"It's also important for us to continue on the path we set from the middle of last year to the end of last year of how we are going to play (as far as) everyone's role (goes)," Heaps said. "That is something I am really, really happy with in where we are -- everyone's understanding of the system we want to play in, the tactics we want to use and how we want to play."
That understanding of the system -- as well as the confidence within that system -- is, perhaps, the most notable difference between this year's camp and last year's edition. Each returnee has a firm grasp of what his role is, as well as what else may be asked of him by the coaching staff.
The result: a sense of cohesion that's been largely absent since the likes of Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph all made the Revolution one of the best teams in the East. It's a luxury that's taken the past two years to cultivate, and one that Heaps believes will be crucial to a return trip to the postseason in the autumn.
But Heaps realizes that no team improves by staying stagnant. Changes won't be made just for their own sake. Not at all. For even if the Revolution hadn't lost Agudelo to Europe, or Matt Reis to retirement, upgrades would've been necessary nonetheless.
"You are always looking to improve, and you're always looking to see how you progress," Heaps said. "I think we want to continue to add our group. I think it's going to be important over the next three-and-a-half to four weeks to add attack depth and add players to help us."