Cristian Penilla group lineup 2018
Kurtis Burke

Davies: Four keys to the 2019 season as the Revs build towards a brighter future

The Revolution had a promising start to their 2018 campaign, collecting more points in the first half of the season than they had in any year in the past decade. They did so with an ultra-aggressive high press and by finishing their chances (30 goals in the first 17 games), as Teal Bunbury led the squad with 10 goals by the end of June.

Matt Turner earned his starting spot and quickly established himself as one of the brightest young American goalkeepers in the league. His improved distribution often sparked dangerous counterattacks and facilitated possession in the final third. Newcomers Cristian Penilla and Luis Caicedo hit the ground running and immediately made an impact, as Penilla terrorized defenders from the left wing with his speed and creativity while Caicedo provided stability as a true box-to-box midfielder, tirelessly tracking down players and breaking up plays. Meanwhile, the players confidently bought in to the “new culture” and professionalism surrounding Brad Friedel’s first year as manager.

Unfortunately, the Revs were unable to maintain that same ferocity as the season progressed and disappointingly missed out on the playoffs. However, this team has loads of potential and with the right improvements can be a force in this league in 2019.

Improved Home Form

Playing in front of the home crowd at Gillette Stadium is a huge advantage. The opposing side has to adjust to the artificial surface, lack of traveling away supporters, intimidating size of the stadium and the unwavering chants coming from New England’s supporting fans. The best teams win at home and the Revs need to make Gillette Stadium their fortress, much like they did in 2017 as they went 12-2-3 in Foxborough. With an 8-4-5 home record this past year, they’ll need to be more aggressive in converting those close draws into victories. By attacking more, pressing higher and harder, playing more penetrating balls in the final third, and being committed for the full 90-plus minutes, the Revs can improve their home form.

Strong Set-Piece Mentality

New England had the most corners in the league this past season with 224, but only managed to score three goals from them. While Chris Tierney’s career-ending injury undoubtedly played a big part in the drop off in execution resulting from these plays, they did hit a number of dangerous corner kicks.

To turn those opportunities into goals the delivery has to be hit with precision. There has to be a real dedication to beating the defender to the spot, winning the ball in the air, and putting it on frame. On the defensive side of the ball, they need to be tuned in while marking set pieces. This is where the leaders on the field can organize and dictate the responsibilities of their teammates.

Set pieces are a vital part of the game, and the teams that can implement them correctly and effectively typically have success.

Find another Difference Maker

With the midseason departure of Krisztián Németh and Juan Agudelo currently out of contract, there is a positional void that needs to be filled on the wing. This position demands a dynamic player who can complement Teal Bunbury and Cristian Penilla to form an attacking trio that can create for themselves as well as each other. By signing a dangerous winger it will give the Revs the option to attack both flanks, making them unpredictable. With the first-year success of Penilla – the 2018 JetBlue Team MVP – he will surely be targeted and heavily marked next season, so having another strong option across the field will pose problems for opponents and open up the field for others to be effective.

Maintain Possession

The Revs finished the 2018 season with their second-worst passing percentage in club history. If you don’t take care of the ball, you get punished. In order to be a multidimensional team, you need to connect passes and keep possession, as well as have a strong counterattack (which they showed throughout the year). This allows you to control the tempo, tire out and frustrate the chasing players, and make it difficult for opponents to build a rhythm. It’s crucial to having a confident team that can adjust in-game when needed, and understanding the flow of play whether you're sitting back and hitting on the counter or attacking and keeping possession in the opponent’s half.

As Revolution players depart for their offseason holiday there is a great deal to look forward to in New England. They have a solid core of talented and experienced professionals that now knows what is expected of them on a day-to-day basis under Brad Friedel. With an abundance of potential, there was an emergence of young, talented players in Isaac Angking, Zach Herivaux and Matt Turner, who will look to build off the valuable minutes they saw this past year. In addition, they have the brand new state-of-the-art training center that will be among the best in the country due to be completed this coming summer. There is no reason why this team can’t be serious contenders in 2019, and this club deserves a team that can hoist the MLS Cup trophy.