Overview: Entering the 2013 season, there were plenty of questions surrounding all four positions for the Revolution. But the one with the fewest appeared to be the forward corps.
Juan Agudelo's presence in the lineup made a huge impact on the Revolution's offense.
After all, last year's leading scorer -- Saer Sene -- was back, even if he'd have to spend the first few weeks rehabbing the ACL injury he suffered the previous August. So was Jerry Bengtson, the man who couldn't stop scoring for Honduras during World Cup qualifying. For depth, the Revolution brought in proven veteran Chad Barrett and added Matt Horth, who was coming off a 10-goal campaign with the Atlanta Silverbacks (NASL). And with Imbongo, a raw but talented striker returning for a second season, it appeared that the most settled roster situation was up top.
Or so it seemed. After Bengtson scored in the 62nd minute of their season-opening 1-0 win at Chicago, the Revolution offense promptly proceeded to go silent for the next 539 minutes. During that time, Bengtson failed to put away chances, while Diego Fagundez, Chad Barrett and Juan Toja, who all saw minutes in the withdrawn forward's role, only succeeded at becoming nonfactors. Suddenly, the stability the club thought it had up top was quickly crumbling into uncertainty.
By mid-April, it was clear something needed to be done. Sene was slowly getting back to fitness, but it was obvious he wouldn't be operating at full capacity until the summer, while Bengtson kept watching chances fall by the side of the road. Recognizing this, the front office pulled the trigger on a trade it hoped would reverse their fortunes up front -- and fast.
Agudelo arrived in Foxboro shortly after he was acquired by the Revolution on May 2, but a groin injury delayed his debut. That debut, however, was worth the wait: After coming on in the 35th minute of a May 18 contest in Houston, Agudelo scored in the 86th minute to help lead the Revolution to a hard-fought 2-0 win.
With Agudelo in the mix, the offense flourished. In their next two games, the Revolution outscored their opponents 7-0 and lit up the defending champion Los Angeles Galaxy for five goals on June 2. By all accounts, New England's scoring woes seen in the opening weeks were a thing of the past.
But Agudelo found himself back on the shelf for much of the summer when he sustained a knee injury in a June 26 Open Cup contest. Bengtson, Barrett and Imbongo all filled in during his absence, but replicating what the talented 20-year-old brought to the table -- toughness, strength and class -- proved difficult. While the midfield picked up some of the slack on offense, it was obvious the attack wasn't firing on all cylinders.
There was no question Agudelo was an impact player -- the kind of player who drew European interest even before the May 2 trade. And on Aug. 9, EPL side Stoke City signed Agudelo to a pre-contract that would send the striker to England after the conclusion of the MLS season. The news was bittersweet for Revolution fans: While they were proud to say that one of their own was going to play in one of the best leagues in the world, they had to accept that their star striker wouldn't stick around for another season.
Nevertheless, Agudelo returned to the pitch in time to help send the Revolution to a 4-0-2 finish down the stretch, reminding peers and opponents alike why he was destined for a bigger stage. By season's end, the Agudelo effect was a real phenomenon: In the 14 games he saw the field, the club averaged 2.14 goals per game. In the 12 games he was forced to watch, the club averaged 1.25 goals per game.
Agudelo wasn't the only one scoring, either. Imbongo found his stride late in the season and became a regular by season's end with him and Agudelo rotating between the lone-striker and right midfielder roles. Barrett provided muscle up top and in the midfield, and was called upon to pound rather than poach more often than not.
Meanwhile, Bengtson's inability to find the back of the net plagued him all season. His opening-week goal stood as his lone strike in 16 regular-season games. Horth spent the season on loan to Rochester, where he incidentally recorded the same striker ratio for the Rhinos. Davies, acquired via loan in August, saw only 16 minutes of action as he tried to acclimate to a new role: winger.
Outlook: With Agudelo on his way out, and Bengtson's return unlikely, the Revolution might as well be back at square one up top. Imbongo provided glimpses of his potential, but doesn't yet have the quality to become an impact player. Davies' return appears to be a given, though it appears head coach Jay Heaps has visions of the former BC Eagle out on the wing rather than at center-forward. Horth and Barrett could both be searching for jobs in the offseason, as neither made strong cases for another year in New England. While the Revolution won't be as reliant on their forwards as they were in 2012 given the talent in the midfield, they're going to need a strong presence up top to allow the likes of Diego Fagundez and Kelyn Rowe to find the back of the net as often as they did this season.
Bottom line: The trade that sent Agudelo to New England was a masterstroke, and it appears another one will be necessary to avoid another forward crisis. While it might be tempting to look overseas to fill Agudelo's shoes, a case should be made for trading within MLS. After all, one need only look at Bengtson to see that an overseas signing is hardly a guarantee. The MLS trade market for strikers is difficult to gauge (see Golden Boot runner-up Mike Magee, who was traded to Chicago in May), but the Revolution would be wise to find out what it would take to get an Ryan Johnson, Eddie Johnson or even a Steven Lenhart to add the muscle and ability Agudelo showcased this season. In the alternative, Sene, who suffered a gruesome ankle injury late in the season, could be called upon to reclaim his role as striker. Either way, there's a sizable question mark hovering over the 9 spot. And the Revolution front office will be actively seeking the answer during the winter.