2011 record and finish: 5-16-13 (Ninth place in Eastern Conference)
Additions: M Clyde Simms; D John Lozano; M/F Fernando Cardenas; M Kelyn Rowe; F Jose Moreno; D Tyler Polak; F Saer Sene.
Losses: F Milton Caraglio; D Ryan Cochrane; M Franco Coria; M Pat Phelan; F Kheli Dube; F Rajko Lekic; F Alan Koger; D Otto Loewy; M Andrew Sousa; F Monsef Zerka.
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New England will look to build around the technically proficient Benny Feilhaber.
Key questions facing this team
1. How will the Revs adapt to life after Steve Nicol?
After four MLS Cup finals and 10 seasons in charge, manager Nicol was let go during the offseason and replaced by long-time Revs defender Jay Heaps. While deferential to Nicol and all that he achieved, Heaps hopes to, well, revolutionize the team. "We want to change the way we play and that takes time," he said. "We want to attack differently and be more of a high-pressure team as opposed to sit back. We want to put pressure on them and win games with our technical ability as opposed to just grinding them out."
2. Will the turnover frustrate progress?
The Revs have a long ways to go. In 2011, they ended dead last in the putrid Eastern Conference, winning the fewest games of any team in the league and conceding the second-most goals, scoring the third-fewest and tying for fewest points. The club has put a rookie coach in charge of a side that will look very different for a third consecutive year. The player transactions the Revs have made are not cosmetic, they are structural. Can the team mesh quickly enough to compete? And can it shore up a deeply dysfunctional defense at last?
3. Is Shalrie Joseph on board?
Ever since Taylor Twellman was forced to retire from the Revs because of sustaining one too many concussions, holding midfielder Joseph has been the club's icon and best player. Yet his recent seasons have been dogged by substance abuse and behavioral issues, not to mention a steady diet of rumors that Joseph wanted out. As New England tries to rebuild once more, Joseph will be badly needed to settle the midfield down. "He's very on board," said Heaps. "When you're looking at a player of Shalrie's caliber, you have to know where to reach in and push the buttons. I've known him a long time and he knows what to expect from me."
Biggest X factor: Benny Feilhaber
Heaps intends for his new-look Revs to control play and build the attack on technical players. Last year's midseason pickup, Feilhaber is as pure a playmaker as anybody in MLS, and the rare American whose technical ability allows him to control the pace of games. He was slow to assimilate into the team last season, given that it played a style that didn't suit him. Now that the philosophy seems written with him in mind, Feilhaber will be the linchpin to success. "We need Benny to really make the midfield go with penetrating balls to get us forward," agreed Heaps.
Breakout player to watch: Kelyn Rowe
One other such technical player who could play an outsized role for the Revs in 2012 is Rowe, the team's third-overall draft pick and a playmaker out of UCLA. The knock on Rowe in the run-up to the draft was that he was too small to function in the center of a professional midfield and too slow to play on the flanks. Yet he possesses a deft touch, passing ability and vision that could more than make up for those deficiencies. There will be opportunities aplenty on the Revs, and Rowe could be the surprise of this draft class.
Like last year, this is very much a rebuilding year for the Revs. It's hard to judge how the team's three Colombian imports will change its fortunes, but with no other additions more notable than a pair average MLS veterans like Clyde Simms, the odds of the Revs getting better any time soon are slim. Add to that the change in playing style and philosophy and it appears that New England is destined for another year in the cellar.