FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – If Jerry Bengtson’s goal-scoring form with the New England Revolution mirrored that of his extraordinary production with the Honduran national team, everyone would be happy. Bengtson would be happy. The Revs would be thrilled. The fans would likely be through the roof.
But there’s little question that Bengtson has yet to translate his rampant success on the international stage to Major League Soccer, and the numbers bear that out. While he’s bagged 21 goals in 42 appearances with Los Catrachos – an impressive strike rate of one goal every two games – he’s only managed to find the net three times in 29 appearances with the Revolution.
Bengtson’s first season-and-a-half in New England has frustratingly provided more questions than answers. Is the 26-year-old forward simply not a fit within the Revolution’s free-flowing system, or have the Revs not done enough to play to the strengths of a player who clearly has superior goal-scoring abilities?
According to head coach Jay Heaps, the answer lies somewhere in between.
“It’s clear that he plays better for his country and we haven’t found the right rhythm for him,” Heaps said. “I think we’ve found our best way to attack and our best way to play, but Jerry’s got to adapt to that, as we have to adapt to Jerry.”
Reaching that happy medium which meshes the strengths of Bengtson with the players around him is one of the Revolution’s biggest tasks this preseason. While the Revs are actively searching for strikers on the international market and within MLS, they’re also working to unlock the ability which Bengtson quite clearly possesses.
Bengtson’s success with Honduras has come largely in a two-forward system, while he’s struggled to adapt to New England’s hybrid 4-1-4-1/4-3-3 setup, which complements a lone striker with a variety of attackers interchanging around him. There are those who’ve deduced that Bengtson can only thrive playing off another striker, but Heaps isn’t convinced the solution is quite so simple.
“People always say it’s a formation thing; that Jerry needs to be playing with another striker,” he said. “I look at it as he’s got two or three guys right around him helping create. It’s just a matter of finding what kind of balls Jerry likes (to receive). He does like more crossed balls, he likes more balls in the box. Do we make more of an effort when we can to get more balls into the flanks to get balls crossed into him?”
While Heaps contemplates ways in which the Revs can maximize Bengtson’s strengths, the player himself is working every day to fit himself into the Revolution’s system. Bengtson admits the lone striker role is different than what he’s accustomed to with Honduras, but he’s determined to make it work.
“Playing one forward up top, I’ve just got to adapt to it,” Bengtson said through a translator after Wednesday morning’s fitness session. “I have to adapt to where the coach wants me to play. I’m ready for whatever Coach Heaps asks of me, and whatever position he needs me, I’m going to play.”
There is much at stake for Bengtson in the coming months, both in New England and internationally. Success with the Revolution could lead to increased playing time and further cement his place with Honduras ahead of the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, set to kick off in June.
Bengtson has proven to be one of the CONCACAF region’s deadliest goal scorers, and his hope is to prove that once again on the world’s biggest stage in Brazil. But first, he’ll look to prove himself in New England, where success could prove mutually beneficial for both club and country.
“Right now I’m just working really hard to get a spot to be in the World Cup. I’m hoping that comes along,” said Bengtson, who spoke of a responsibility to perform for both the Revs and Honduras. “With New England, I’ve got to work hard and do well here so I can get that recall back on the national team.”