Jay Heaps will be afforded fewer excuses in 2013.
Last season, the Revolution head coach, along with general manager Michael Burns, ostensibly built the 2012 Revolution from scratch. Youth was served, mistakes were made (and made again), and in the middle of it all, one of the best players in club history packed his bags for the West Coast. Not unpredictably, New England fell well short of the postseason.
With year one under his belt, rising expectations are on tap for year two. Success will not be determined by the number in the win column, but rather, where they stand in the playoff picture. Which begs the question: Are the Revolution ready to make a playoff run?
Before we touch upon that topic, let's take a quick glance at where they've made improvements, and where more might be necessary.
In an effort to strengthen their spine, the Revolution brought in a trio of seasoned Europeans. Kalifa Cisse gives the midfield the bulldog it needed, while the addition of Andy Dorman injects the creativity and vision the attack severely lacked last year. In the rear, Jose Goncalves is a ball-winner and set piece threat, and gives AJ Soares an experienced defender to lean on.
The European trio is also expected to bring some welcome leadership. Following the midseason Shalrie Joseph trade, the club predictably sputtered to the finish, winning only three games in the final three months. Though Clyde Simms brings a steadying presence to the pitch, he won't have to do it alone this season, thanks to likes of Cisse, Dorman and Goncalves.
Another area that's already looking brighter in 2013? The back four. Sure, last year's unit cut the goals against total by nearly a quarter from 2011. But mistakes and mental errors constantly plagued the defense. So the club traded up to draft Andrew Farrell, a versatile back who's proven his pedigree during the preseason. Tyler Polak and Donnie Smith may be young, but both give Heaps intriguing options at left back, where veterans Chris Tierney and Kevin Alston figure to get the most minutes.
While the front office certainly addressed its most glaring blemishes, some key concerns still remain.
For starters, leading scorer Saer Sene, who suffered an ACL injury last August, is likely to miss the first two months. Making matters worse, strike partner Jerry Bengtson is on call with the Honduran national team, and will be summoned for World Cup qualifying throughout the year. So the Revolution have to find a way to spread the scoring wealth.
Despite the veteran signings, the Revolution struggled to find cohesion on the pitch during the preseason. Yes, the first few games were used to raise the fitness levels. Yet, the first-teamers rarely found themselves on the same page.
Then there's the issue of consistency. Last year, the Revolution earned an admirable 6-7-4 first half record before slumping through a 3-10-4 second half. Clearly, the team must find a way to establish an identity -- and keep it from start to finish.
On the whole, this edition of the Revolution is stronger than their predecessor. The renovations in the rear and central midfield should give the club its first double-digit win total in four years.
Yet, the entire conference has gotten stronger as well. The competition in the East is sure to be fierce. Given that, it'll take a lot of outside help for the Revolution to sneak into the postseason.
Nevertheless, the expectations of the Revolution faithful are only escalating. While a climb up the conference table may satiate some, anything short of the postseason won't be tolerated inside the locker room.
Excuses? They'll be in short supply around Gillette Stadium this season.