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New England Revolution: plenty of challenges lie ahead in 2018

New England Revolution forward Teal Bunbury celebrates his goal with midfielder Kelyn Rowe during the second half of their 1-0 win over the Vancouver Whitecaps at Gillette Stadium. (Winslow Townson-USA TODAY Sports)

New England Revolution head coach Brad Friedel has plenty of challenges and unknowns awaiting him in his first season at the helm.

The biggest is the future of Lee Nguyen, who is stuck on the team’s fringes due to a contract dispute. Nguyen wore the captain’s armband for most of last season but did not make an appearance in preseason and continues to seek a transfer out of New England.

Though Friedel has indicated he has no interest in trading Nguyen, the club may actually be in some position to accommodate the player’s desire to move elsewhere, with the Revolution bolstering their already-talented attack by acquiring Ecuadorian playmaker Cristian Penilla on loan from Pachuca in the winter.

Penilla had two goals and two assists in preseason and, at least for now, appears to have emerged as Nguyen’s replacement in the starting XI.

Meanwhile, New England also have concerns on their back line. They conceded 53 goals last season, the third-most in the league and the most in the Eastern Conference.

Despite adding some depth, particularly at full back, it remains to be seen whether Friedel has the tactics and personnel necessary to improve his side’s misfortunes at the back, let alone snap a two-year streak of missing the playoffs.

The New England Revolution open the 2018 season at Philadelphia Union

When: March 3, 7:00 p.m.

Where: Talen Energy Stadium

Broadcast: TV — myTV38 (WSBK) Radio — 98.5 The Sports Hub HD2, Nossa Radio USA (Spanish)

Live stream: MLS Live, NBC Sports App

Brad Friedel gets his first runout as Revolution head coach in Philadelphia. Though the Union didn’t reach the playoffs last season and made just a handful of off-season improvements, this matchup will be no walk in the park for the Revolution.

New England were a miserable 1-13-3 on the road last year and are 3-6-2 all-time at Talen Energy Stadium. Beyond that, preseason form suggests that the Revolution, though a talented attacking side, are still in the process of sorting out their defense.

Other key matches

Saturday, March 10 vs. Colorado Rapids – The Revolution look to get their home slate started with a win as the Rapids visit Foxborough. With the Revolution playing 10 of their last 15 games of the season on the road, they’ll have to pick up as many points as possible at Gillette Stadium. In 2017, the Revolution went 12-2-3 at home.

Saturday, June 9 at Chicago Fire – The Fire beat the Revolution in all three of the teams’ regular season meetings in 2017. The longtime rivals play one another just twice this season.

Wednesday, May 30 vs. Atlanta United – The Revolution suffered the worst loss in Major League Soccer history at Atlanta last season, falling 7-0 in a game in which they failed to even record a single shot. New England did somewhat better in the return leg last season, drawing 0-0 at Gillette Stadium, though that did nothing to erase the embarrassment of the teams’ first encounter.

New England have both pride and precious Eastern Conference points on the line when the two teams meet up at Gillette Stadium in the spring.  

Check out the full 2018 New England Revolution schedule here.

New England Revolution coaches, players set for new season to begin

Revolution coach Brad Friedel on overall preseason preparations: “We’ve made a lot of changes here with the way things are run, and I thought the players’ application has been very, very good. Now we’re all just excited to get the season rolling.”

The Revolution ended preseason with a 3-1-3 record, conceding a goal in each game. The club’s preseason defensive record doesn’t worry left back Chris Tierney, who said: “We’re not putting too much into preseason results. We’re focusing on working on a number of things in each game, so it’s not about the final score as much as it’s about getting ready and trying to implement different elements.”

Tierney added: “We need to concede far fewer goals this season, that’s something that Brad has impressed on us since he started and I’m happy we’re going in knowing that it’s just not acceptable to be giving up so many. There’s been a focus on fitness since day one. I think you’ll see a different team his year, one that’s very difficult to play against.”

Biggest off-season moves

The New England Revolution made strengthening their back line a key off-season priority.

In addition to signing right back Andrew Farrell to a new contract, the team also added left back Gabriel Somi, who last played for Swedish club Ostersunds FK, as free transfer.

Additionally, the team added rookies Nicolas Samoyoa, Mark Segbers, and Brandon Bye via the Superdraft. All three are either natural defenders or capable of playing in a defensive position. Jalil Anibaba, who signed after a successful trial during preseason, is a league veteran who is capable of playing at center back or on the right flank.

The Revolution acquired attacking midfielder Christian Penilla on loan from Pachuca. Penilla recorded two goals and two assists in preseason.

French midfielder Wilfried Zahibo also arrived in MLS having last played in the Spanish second division to bolster the Revs in central midfield.

New England’s biggest loss of the off-season was Kei Kamara, who was traded to the Vancouver Whitecaps. Despite leading New England in scoring in both 2017 and 2016, Kamara never seemed content in Foxborough and failed to contribute as prolifically as he, the club, and pundits believed he could.

Roster breakdown

Forwards – Juan Agudelo (25), Teal Bunbury (28), Femi Hollinger-Janzen (24), Brian Wright (22)

Midfielders – Isaac Angking (18), Scott Caldwell (26), Diego Fagundez (23), Zachary Herivaux (22), Krisztian Nemeth (29), Lee Nguyen (31), Christian Penilla (26), Kelyn Rowe (26), Wilfried Zahibo (24)

Defenders – Jalil Anibaba (31), Brandon Bye (22), Antonio Mlinar Delamea (26), Claude Dielna (30), Andrew Farrell (25), Nicolas Samoyoa (22), Mark Segbers (21), Gabriel Somi (26), Chris Tierney (32)

Goalkeepers – Cody Cropper (25), Brad Knighton (33), Matt Turner (23)

See full roster details here.

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