Print and Go Back ESPN.com: New England Revolution [Print without images]

Tuesday, November 26, 2013
Five offseason questions for the Revs

By Brian O'Connell

The floodlights on the 2013 season may have been shut off weeks ago, but Revolution general manager Michael Burns will be the first to tell you that there is no offseason for him and the coaching staff.

Whether it’s making difficult roster decisions, scouting NCAA action, or drafting the preseason schedule, Burns and coach Jay Heaps already have an eye toward 2014. And it’s easy to see why.

For all the success the squad enjoyed en route to a surprising third-place finish, both men know there are plenty of pressing questions ahead of them this winter. Questions that will need to be addressed before the club returns to the training pitch in late-January.

But before the team kicks off preseason drills at the Dana Farber Fieldhouse, let’s take a look at the top five questions surrounding the local XI this offseason.

1. How will the Revolution fill the void left by Juan Agudelo’s departure? Now that the services of captain Jose Goncalves have been secured for 2014, the most pressing question is how to replicate what Agudelo brought to the table. Despite seeing action in only 14 games last season, his impact was impossible to ignore. The offensive production shot up nearly a full goal per game when he saw the field, and as a result, the Revolution attack was a force to be reckoned during the summer. Although players like Agudelo aren’t easy to come to by, the front office may want keep their eyes trained on talent available within MLS. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to look at players like Ryan Johnson (Portland) or even Eddie Johnson (Seattle) rather than looking abroad, where the Revolution have consistently struck out at the striker’s spot.

2. Will designated player Jerry Bengtson finally live up to the hype in 2014? Speaking of striking out up top, the latest swing and miss in that department has been the acquisition of Bengtson. Brought in during the 2012 summer transfer window, the Honduran striker has been a disappointment during his two seasons in Foxboro. In 29 games between the 2012 and 2013 season, Bengtson only found the back of the net three times, while squandering many more opportunities in the process. But it appears the front office still has faith in their pricey forward, as his option was picked up last week. Perhaps it was a move made with next summer’s World Cup -- and subsequent transfer window -- in mind. Perhaps indeed when taking Bengtson’s prolific form with the Honduran National Team. Or maybe the Revolution have seen enough from Bengtson to believe that 2014 could be a breakout year.

Bobby Shuttleworth
Bobby Shuttleworth started 22 games for the Revs in 2013.
3. Can Bobby Shuttleworth claim the starting goalkeeper’s spot for an entire season? For the second straight year, the Revolution head into the winter with the hope that Shuttleworth can call the starting role his own. Last year, the job was essentially his after a strong finish to the 2012 season. But after a lukewarm performance during the preseason, he was beat out by veteran Matt Reis, and would’ve likely remained the backup for much of 2013 had an injury not felled Reis shortly after the season opener. That opportunity gave Shuttleworth another crack at the job last season, and to his credit, he performed well enough to warrant All-Star game discussion. Then, by midsummer, his form had dipped and not long after, Reis reclaimed his job and helped guide the Revolution to the postseason. After the club declined the option on Reis after he suffered a career-threatening quadriceps injury in second leg of the conference semis, all eyes are back on Shuttleworth, who may be looking at his last chance to take the reins.

4. Is the 4-1-4-1 a temporary fix or a permanent solution? After injuries rendered high-priced holding midfielder Kalifa Cisse an unreliable option in the 6 spot, Heaps was forced to undertake some serious improvisation with his formation. Without Cisse, the Revolution were embarrassingly weak in the midfield. To address that weakness, Heaps decided to go with a five-man midfield, a risky move that cast rookie Scott Caldwell and winger Lee Nguyen into unfamiliar roles. The move worked for the most part, but as the season crawled into autumn, deficiencies were exposes. Caldwell’s propensity to push forward left acres of space behind him, while Nguyen’s struggles in the air allowed opponents to dominate the middle. It’s hard to believe that the front office won’t be looking for a strong and experienced holding midfielder during the offseason. But given what Caldwell, a gifted distributor, brought to the midfield, it’ll be interesting to see if Heaps sticks with the five-man midfield, or whether he has visions of a refurbished four-man unit.

5. Have we seen the last of Charlie Davies? In the club’s final official meeting with the media, Davies spoke with great certainty that he’d be back with the club next season. He told the press that his midseason acquisition was made with an eye toward the future, and that a full preseason with the squad would help him find the form he struggled to discover in the waning stages of the 2012 season. That may be true, but after the club announced on Friday that it had declined its option on Davies, a second season in Foxboro doesn’t seem as certain as Davies painted it earlier this month. However, the decision to decline an option doesn’t necessarily mean that a player won’t be re-signed under different terms (i.e. lower cost) later on. In light of that, it wouldn’t be surprising to see Davies back in camp come January, with the hopes that a full preseason will unlock the potential of a player who’s only two seasons removed from an 11-goal campaign with D.C. United.