FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Friday afternoon’s announcement that the New England Revolution has exercised 2013 contract options on 15 players – and declined options on four others – marks a significant step in the process as the club continues to shape its roster ahead of next season.
Determining which options to exercise and which to decline is a painstaking process which reaches its crescendo late in the season, but according to General Manager Michael Burns, it’s actually part of a year-round discussion.
“It’s an ongoing process which starts at the beginning of the year and concludes at the end of the year,” Burns said. “You’re constantly evaluating roster decisions and player decisions at the conclusion of the season, but it’s ongoing. Some of it is performance-based and who’s playing and who isn’t playing, and then there are also salary budget considerations that we have to think about, as well. It’s not always easy.”
Potential exists for players with options declined to return in 2013
Fernando Cardenas, Benny Feilhaber, Blair Gavin and Tim Murray are the four players who had their 2013 contract options declined, but that doesn’t necessarily spell an end to their Revolution careers. Burns emphasized that the Revs would continue discussions with some of those players to see if new, mutually beneficial agreements could be reached ahead of next season.
“I think it’s important for people to understand that just because a player’s option is not picked up, does not mean that under no set of circumstances will that player return to us,” said Burns. “Some of the players whose options weren’t exercised are eligible for the Re-Entry Draft and some of them aren’t. In some cases, we’ll have discussions with certain players to see if it makes sense for them and for us to have the player return.”
Based on age and tenure within the league, both Gavin and Murray are eligible for the Re-Entry Process, which will take place in two stages on Friday, Dec. 7 and Friday, Dec. 14. Cardenas and Feilhaber – because they have fewer than three years MLS experience – will not be eligible for the Re-Entry Process.
Salary budget implications and playing time factor into decisions
The Revolution’s decision to decline the 2013 contract option on Feilhaber will likely receive the most attention considering the player’s stature and history within the U.S. National Team setup. The 27-year-old World Cup veteran came to New England via the Allocation Process last April, registering five goals and nine assists in 52 appearances.
Feilhaber started 23 games in each of the past two seasons, but Burns admitted salary budget implications were a major factor in the decision to decline the midfielder’s 2013 contract option.
“What I can say with regard to Benny is that it was certainly not an easy decision not to exercise the option,” said Burns. “He’s a very talented player, there’s no question about it. But like I said earlier, in certain cases you have to look at salary budget implications. That certainly factored into the decision we had to make.”
In the case of Gavin, a lack of playing time – both on the training field and in game action – factored into the decision to decline the 23-year-old’s option. The former first-round SuperDraft selection was acquired midseason in the trade which sent Shalrie Joseph to Chivas USA, but a series of ailments hindered Gavin’s progression and prevented the Revs from being able to fully evaluate the midfielder.
“When he came to us as part of the trade, he was injured for a good portion of time which kind of kept him out,” Burns said of Gavin, whose only two appearances came in the final two games of the season. “All of that factored in. Where we are right now in our central midfield, we felt that to pick up his option right now not having seen him play as much, we just weren’t ready to make that decision on December 1 for all of next year.”
Reis set to return for 11th season in New England
When 25-year-old Bobby Shuttleworth started the final five games of the 2012 season, naturally questions were raised about the future of veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis. Any lingering questions have been answered, however, as the Revs picked up the 2013 contract option on their longest-tenured player.
“After long discussions with our coaching staff, the consensus was that we’re better in the goalkeeper position with both Bobby and Matt than with only one of them,” said Burns.
Changes to continue throughout offseason, but another overhaul not forthcoming
The Revolution kicked off the 2012 season with a new coaching staff and 13 new players, changes which were required after finishing with a club-record low five wins in 2011.
Kalifa Cisse and Andy Dorman have already been brought in to shore up the squad ahead of the 2013 campaign, but the Revs have no plans to undergo another massive overhaul. Instead, they’ll focus on improving a few key areas while building around the young core which gained valuable experience this past season.
“Twelve months ago when we were sitting here, we had made so many changes and declined so many options,” said Burns. “Because of the season we had in 2011, we really were in a position where between 50 and 60 percent of our roster was turned over from 2011 to 2012.
“Although all the results didn’t show it, we felt like we were a much more competitive team in 2012 than 2011 and certainly had a better nucleus in 2012 than we had in 2011. So we don’t feel like wholesale changes are required to get where we want to be.
“But having said that, we still only won nine games, so certain changes have to be made and have been made, and we’ll continue to kind of tweak it over the next few months as we get into next season.”