New England Revolution general manager Mike Burns said the club has flexibility to improve its roster this offseason, but he and coach Brad Friedel signed off on contract options last week that, on the surface, indicated the contrary.
Burns and Friedel declined contract options on just six players, who accounted for only seven combined appearances from July to the end of October.
From the summer months onward, Friedel teased he’d use the offseason to remove players with so-called bad mentalities. He likely wasn’t talking about personnel who barely took the field during a 14-game stretch from July to October, in which the Revolution only won a single game.
New England currently has 19 players slated to come back in 2019, though the number could dip depending on trades and what happens during the expansion draft for FC Cincinnati.
Burns and Friedel let rookies Mark Segbers and Nicolas Samoyoa walk, plus fringe players like Claude Dielna, Femi Hollinger-Janzen, Cristhian Machado, and Guillermo Hauche. They will also probably allow the contracts of both Juan Agudelo and Chris Tierney to expire.
Nineteen players is a hefty chunk to bring back, especially since the Revolution missed out on the postseason for the third consecutive year.
Some of those 19 players were responsible for a number of mistakes over the course of 2018. Many returning players expressed uncertainty that they’d be back next season given their respective performances.
So if Friedel wanted to dump his misfits and Burns is highlighting the team’s current roster flexibility, why didn’t the Revolution make more cuts?
First, just because a contract option is exercised doesn’t mean a player will return. The club must pick up contract options if they want to get something in return for a player instead of letting him walk for free.
It’s also important to note the offseason just started and the Revs have been active by re-signing Cristian Penilla and Luis Caicedo to permanent contracts, and by being the first team in the league to announce contract options.
From a standpoint of adding players, the Revolution do have flexibility. They dumped three bad contracts (Dielna, Hauche and Machado accounted for roughly $1.2 million in salary money, according to the MLS Players Union), have 11 open roster spots and three international slots. Additionally, the Revs have two first-round picks in the 2019 Superdraft and can lean on both General and Targeted Allocation Money.
The Kraft family, which owns the Revolution, also has plenty of funds to invest in a designated player, if they choose.
Burns overhauled the roster in 2012 when former coach Jay Heaps stepped in for Steve Nicol, and he likely doesn’t want to repeat such a massive rebuild – the Revs made 19 transactions before the season started that year. The result was a bunch of new players who took more than a season to form a nucleus.
Friedel and Burns will likely show their collective hand when they announce which 11 players they’ll protect from the expansion draft in December. Regardless, they’ll have to carefully evaluate a number of situations.
New England has leverage on midfielder Kelyn Rowe and goalkeeper Cody Cropper, who could both be valuable trade pieces this winter. However, the Revs will lose their leverage in the spring if they don’t trade Rowe, as he’ll be eligible for free agency in 2020.
Diego Fagundez remains in question heading in 2019 as well. Meanwhile, Gabriel Somi is the perfect example of a bad contract: he’s automatically on the books for next season, but didn’t make the matchday 18 in the second half of 2018, despite making $425,000, according to MLS Players Union.
Overall, the Revolution are certainly in a position to add new players. But, they lack the same flexibility to subtract players that either aren’t cutting it or need a change of scenery.
The situation will likely evolve as the off-season progresses, but the inability to cut players from a roster that failed to reach playoffs for a third consecutive year could hinder the formation of a new team core.