Thursday, January 16, 2014
Revs' draft addresses attack needs
By Brian O'Connell
In recent years, the New England Revolution used the SuperDraft as a vehicle for improving its defense. On Thursday, they changed course by drafting two goal scorers and a possession-oriented midfielder.
After their defense posted a franchise-best 14 clean sheets in 2013, the Revolution turned their attention to the offense by selecting Big East Offensive Player of the Year Steve Neumann at the fourth spot and two-time Hermann Trophy winner Patrick Mullins at No. 11. New England rounded out its board by taking Cal holding midfielder Alec Sundly in the second round (31st overall).
“Coming into this draft, we were looking to strengthen a couple areas, with the attacking third being our primary focus,” general manager Michael Burns said in a team release on Thursday. “We feel pretty good about coming out of today with both Steve and Patrick. We’re looking forward to getting them both in to camp next week, and then seeing how they adjust to MLS and our group.”
Many pundits predicted that the Revolution, who entered the draft in a need of a goal scorer, would take Mullins. But after trading up to the fourth spot earlier this week, it was clear that they were sold on Neumann - and with good reason.
During his collegiate career, the 22-year-old midfielder/forward reached double-digit goal totals in each of his four seasons at Georgetown. He was more than just a scorer; his vision and passing savvy also kept the Hoyas one of the most feared schools in the Big East, one of the strongest conferences in the country.
But there was a reason why many were shocked to hear his name called ahead of Mullins. A so-called “tweener” with no set position, Neumann was viewed as a player who lacked the polish to establish himself as a bona fide blue-chipper. Some questions exist about where Neumann fits into Jay Heaps’ 4-1-4-1. With Kelyn Rowe establishing himself as the attacking midfielder, it’ll be interesting where Neumann will play, especially in a midfield in which Rowe, Diego Fagundez and Lee Nguyen project to be starters. However, given the fact that the Revolution traded up to select Neumann, the consensus is that Heaps already has already has visions of where the Hoya goal scorer fits.
While Neumann’s exact role may be unclear at the moment, there’s no mystery where Mullins fits in. After Juan Agudelo bid Foxborough adieu to continue his career abroad, the Revolution will be counting upon the 6-1, 172-pound striker to mix it up with opposing center backs and, namely, score goals. But he can do more than just that.
He led the Terps with eight assists, a stat that suggests that Mullins also has the vision to create opportunities for teammates when a shot cannot be found. He combined often with fellow first-rounder Schillo Tshuma, and his efforts helped bring the Terps to the brink of a national championship last fall.
However, similar to Neumann, Mullins may face questions about his position at the pro level. He's a left-footed player with the vision of a midfielder, so some scouts project him as a winger –albeit a winger without elusive speed. Even so, history has shown that Heaps likes to have positionally flexible players at his disposal (see Agudelo, Saer Sene, Dimitry Imbongo, Chris Tierney and even the recently departed Chad Barrett). If there’s anyone who can get the most out of guys like Mullins and Neumann, it's Heaps.
While Neumann and Mullins were among the glamour picks on Thursday, the Revolution quietly tabbed Sundly in the second round. Overshadowed by Cal teammates Steve Birnbaum and Christian Dean – who went second and third, respectively – Sundly gives the Revolution a midfielder who can win aerial duels and distribute. The fact that he played in front of blue-chippers like Birnbaum and Dean also suggests that he’s at his best when surrounded by pro-level talent.
Of course, he's a second-round pick in a draft that many have categorized as shallow, so it’s uncertain just what Sundly can do in MLS. Whenever a scouting report is filled with terms like “winner,” “leader,” and “heart,” it often points to a player who doesn’t have enough tangible qualities to thrive as a pro. In fact, Sundly wasn’t even extended an invitation to the Combine.
However, he may just be the kind of player Heaps – who knows a little something about intangibles – could mold into a contributor with a little patience.
“We feel like we had a little bit of a steal there,” Burns said. “He wasn’t at the MLS Combine, which probably hurt him a little bit, but we’ve seen him play and heard a lot of good things about him, so we’re looking forward to getting him into camp, too.”
Although Revolution may have been quiet on the offseason transaction scene, the selections of Neumann, Mullins and Sundly suggest they came away from it all as clear winners.
“Every team prepares their draft boards and when we looked at ours, I don’t think we envisioned both Steve and Patrick being available to us when we just held the number 12 pick,” Burns said. “But when they ended up being available, we thought it was too good of an opportunity to pass up and drafted them.”