Following Friday night’s 4-1 Revs II victory over Fort Lauderdale, I wrote the following passage: What happens at this level doesn’t necessarily translate to success at the next level. I told my JV players this last year: what you did in middle school soccer means absolutely nothing at the JV level, and what you do at the JV level means absolutely nothing at the varsity level. What you do in high school means nothing in terms of what you can do in college, and what you do in college means nothing in terms of what you can do in the pros.
But — and bear with me here — what if it, you know, actually does?
Right now, the second team is playing some pretty darn good, entertaining soccer. A four-match winning streak, plus 441 minutes out of the last 442 were scoreless, with most of that happening on the trot, is nothing to shake a stick at.
Revs II is supposed to be a development program, and the players there are developing quite well. But some of them, if that development continues to blossom, could be impact players with the first team — and maybe in the not too distant future. Those annual roster decisions are approaching, after all.
Here are five of them — with the players who they’d replace alongside of them.
Nicolas Firmino > Diego Fagundez
The 19-year-old from Somerville and fifth Revolution Homegrown signing is certainly opening eyes around here with his play in League One. He’s scored four goals in 13 matches this season, plus another goal on a free kick against Union Omaha called back. He could have had another one against Richmond, too, with the woodwork getting in the way.
And Friday’s goal was just an absolute screamer. So, too, was his penalty take against the Kickers. He has displayed an effective, strong right.
Right now, Clint Peay has him playing as a No. 10, a role on the first team that is currently in more of a platoon set-up: if Carles Gil walked back through those doors fully healthy tomorrow, you’d have to suspect that he’d be back in Bruce Arena’s starting XI by next weekend. That’s not happening, though. Right now, it’s Lee Nguyen in the starting role, with Fagundez either subbing on or sliding over.
Now, we’ll be absolutely fair here: Many out there feel Diego has regressed, or peaked, or what have you. His goal totals over the last two seasons haven’t been thrilling (3 goals in his last 39 matches dating back to the start of 2019). But to be fair, DF14 hasn’t played up in the attacking roles for most of the last calendar year-plus; he’s been more of a No. 6 under Arena, and only in the last month has he moved back up. That could — could — be a reason why his goal totals haven’t been as high as they were in 2018, and 2013 before that. We know he came up as an offensive-minded player, and when a fan sees an offensive-minded player not scoring, they can have trouble reconciling this fact — what the norm was before isn’t the norm now. He’s a part time offensive-minded player now. Deal with it.
That being said, we don’t know when Fagundez’s tenure as a Revolution player comes to a halt, given the club’s tendencies to bring players back. Whenever New England’s season comes to an end will mark the end of 10 years in a Revolution shirt for Leominster’s favorite son. Will the Revs bring him back for an 11th? A question for next month, I presume.
Tiago Mendonça > Scott Caldwell
The former Providence College Friar’s play over this season has been pretty reliable. Undrafted, it seemed like he would be a long shot to compete at the top level in American soccer.
NOT SO FAST. During this most recent stretch, Mendonça has controlled things in the midfield, and has, in a pinch, played in the back line (Friday for Jon Bell, several weeks ago for Collin Verfurth). He’s tall and strong, more in the mold of a Wilfried Zahibo when it comes to command and physicality, but much, much better on the ball than Big Wilf.
And while Caldwell will always be known for his work rate and practically unlimited engine, the fan base has grown frustrated that he, like Fagundez, seemingly won’t get any better than they are at present. They are both grown men, adults, and they aren’t getting any taller. Caldwell does have the soccer IQ factor down, no one can argue that. But he does have a tendency of getting blown by in 1-v-1 situations.
Could Mendonça get a look with the first team? We wouldn’t be against it, that’s for sure.
Collin Verfurth > Michael Mancienne
Verfurth should be no surprise as he is under MLS contract. He’s at League One to get minutes as there is a bit of centerback depth with the first team — and the man he would replace is who we think is the one standing in his way.
What we’ve seen out of Verfurth this season is a high soccer IQ to go along with wheels, and that’s the key thing. Mancienne may have the IQ with the way he reads the game and having played in the Chelsea system, but he is not fast at all: go back to the season opener and see how Mancienne trotted when Montreal played Maxi Urruti through for the eventual match winner. He couldn’t keep up.
The fact he is a part-time player now should spell the end of his time in Foxborough once the end of the season arrives.
Jon Bell > Antonio Delamea
Bell has been pretty darn good against League One competition. The question is can he handle the top flight of American soccer?
And while Delamea has handled it, he has turned into a part-time player, like Mancienne, this year. Over the last three seasons, he has been part of some of the toughest moments the Revolution have faced: the red card 22 minutes into the season opener against Philadelphia in 2018, the handle against Philly later that season at home, and a brain fart against DC United in the MLS IS BACK Tournament being three key moments which did not help the team. To be fair to Toni, though, he always met with the media — at home, at least — and took his share of the blame.
Having four solid American centerbacks would free up two international slots for use in other areas.
Justin Rennicks > Cristian Penilla
If there’s one thing we can say about Rennicks, it’s that he can always find himself in dangerous areas to score. Against Orlando City in the US Open Cup last year, he made a neat off-the-ball run and headed Gil’s cross into the Lions’ net. Against Chicago in the home opener this year, a similar run, but just missed the finish. Sorry to dredge those memories up.
And since he’s been down in League One over the last month, he’s doing that same thing: getting himself into position to score. He did it against Richmond for the own goal last week, he did it against Fort Lauderdale on Friday. He was in the right position against Orlando City B.
Strikers are paid to score goals, and he now has three in the five matches that he’s played with the second team. And yes, he’s doing this against third division defenses and goalkeepers, I understand that. Not exactly the creme de la creme. Some people can bring up Chicago and the three other appearances this season, and they can point to the fact he did nothing against them. I can counter that a striker needs more than 12-minute run outs to affect and influence a match. We can do this all night, folks.
But against first division defenses and goalkeepers, Penilla has noticeably regressed. We’ll be fair and give him credit for the two assists in the dying embers of the DC United match. But in a 1-v-1 sitch, defenses already know what he’s going to do: get the ball on his right. He hasn’t changed that. It’s almost telegraphed now. If he had another method of destroying defenses, he can be an asset in 2021.
And yes, I know this isn’t a like for like swap: but if you’ve noticed, a lot of what the Revs do right now goes through Brandon Bye to swing in a cross from the right. Rennicks can make an off the ball run and score that way.
Colby Quinones > Undecided
The 17-year-old Granite Stater is currently committed to Providence College, but I could see Arena opening up the TAM account — MLS clubs can use TAM to sign an Academy player to their first contract — and signing Quinones to a Homegrown deal sooner rather than later. He’s at nearly 900 minutes in League One. He’s pretty damn good.
I would be shocked if Quinones isn’t signed to a Homegrown deal by the time he’s 20. Still, college will still be there when his playing career is completed.
Who would he replace? More than likely, it would be Bye, with him moving up into the midfield. Bye will play anywhere to get on the pitch, and he reads the game well, has a high soccer IQ, and in the midfield he can see more of the game developing.