The New England Revolution experienced one of the club’s most turbulent years in its history in 2019. Going from last place in May to a playoff appearance by October was a roller-coaster ride for fans and players alike.
Looking to the 2020 season (which gets underway on Feb. 29 in Montreal against the Impact), Revolution fans can have reasonable expectations that the club will contend for a second consecutive playoff appearance.
With the preseason underway, it’s time to take stock of some of the offseason events. Arena, who is head coach as well as sporting director, continued a process he began in 2019 to reshape the roster. Several other recent developments have hinted at new potential for the club as a whole.
New training facility added
A major boost for the entire Revolution organization came online during December when a new $35 million training facility opened.
Built on 68 acres of land located behind Gillette Stadium, it gives the club something it’s never actually had before: a completely separate space to call its own.
Along with a practical, soccer-focused design, the facility allows for longer term benefits. Player recruitment, for example, has received a boost (more on this later).
Of course, the seemingly perpetual saga of trying to build a Boston-area stadium continues. Still, the new facility in Foxborough is undeniable progress for the current team.
Adam Buksa signed as the Revolution’s third designated player
The other major piece of Revolution news from December was the signing of a promising goalscorer.
Adam Buksa, a 23-year-old center forward, was signed from Pogon Szczecin in his native Poland on a $4 million transfer fee. It’s the second most expensive transfer in team history, trailing only fellow forward Gustavo Bou (Arena’s first major signing, which he made last July).
In broad terms, it’s another signal that Robert Kraft is willing to spend money on the Revolution. In the past, Kraft’s commitment has been questioned on multiple occasions. Yet along with the new training center, Revolution ownership has given Arena greater license to pursue more ambitious transfer targets.
Buksa is the team’s third major signing in a year, with Spanish midfielder Carles Gil arriving last offseason and Bou following in the summer.
In that trio, the club now has three “Designated Players.” In Major League Soccer, a designated player distinction means that a club can exceed the salary cap with what it pays in salary or fee for a particular player. Having used designated player contracts sparingly over the years, New England is finally spending closer to the league’s limit.
In specific terms, signing Buksa gives the Revolution lineup another threatening option going forward. At 6 feet, 4 inches tall, he will provide something different from Bou (a versatile forward) and Gil (a playmaker).
“I will be a target man, a No. 9 who scores goals,” Buksa told reporters in December. “I will have a fantastic player [Carles Gil] next to me who will help me, so I am sure we can do fantastic things as a team next season.”
New and returning faces
Along with Buksa, Arena added a few other signings.
Left back Alexander Buttner was brought in for a trial with the team at the end of the 2019 season, and signed officially in November. The 30-year-old is most known for his short time with Manchester United (he scored a goal in Sir Alex Ferguson’s final game).
Seth Sinovic and Kelyn Rowe, two players who were originally New England draft picks, returned to the club as MLS free agents. Sinovic, a 33-year-old defender, is a 10-year veteran, and was a part of Sporting Kansas City’s 2013 MLS Cup triumph.
Rowe, 28, was selected third overall by the Revolution in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft. The midfielder played in New England for seven seasons (scoring 29 goals) before being traded. After being involved in several additional trades over the past 12 months, he returned to the Revolution in December in free agency.
In the draft, center back Henry Kessler was selected out of Virginia with the sixth pick. And after the prospective transfer of fellow center back Samba Camara fell through due to a failure to obtain a P-1 Visa, Kessler could see a decided uptick in first team minutes in 2020.
Revolution II opens new possibilities
The offseason addition that could have the largest impact in the long run for the club was the creation of a USL League One team. The new team, Revolution II, will play in the third division of North American professional soccer.
The purpose of Revolution II is to provide a more direct path for young players (whether from the club academy or the draft) to develop and eventually break into the first team. Previously, younger players had to be loaned out to other USL teams, creating a more disjointed system that only a few successfully navigated.
Clint Peay, who helped Arena win the inaugural MLS Cup as a player for D.C. United in 1996, was hired in late 2019 to be the new team’s first head coach.
“This team is an opportunity for guys to get experience and exposure to a higher level,” Peay said in a Boston.com interview after being named coach. “I believe that in order to do that, you’ve got to be able to encourage them to play brave soccer. Sometimes it doesn’t always pull off with younger players, but being patient, sticking with them, and continue to encourage and motivate them is going to be important.”
Revolution II will play its first game on March 28 at Gillette Stadium against Orlando City B.