MLS Features: Renaissance of the New England Revolution

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Updated: 5/21 12:41 pm

Philadelphia, PA (SportsNetwork.com) - It wasn't long ago the New England Revolution were at the pinnacle of Major League Soccer.

As recently as 2007, New England was a perennial MLS Cup contender under the guidance of former Liverpool great Steve Nicol, who was appointed as head coach on a permanent basis in 2002 and led the Revs to three consecutive MLS Cup Finals from 2005-2007.

Led by talismanic players such as Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Shalrie Joseph, Clint Dempsey, Michael Parkhurst and Jay Heaps, the Revs were an unstoppable force in '05 and won the Supporters' Shield on their way to the final against the Los Angeles Galaxy.

But in the final, Carlos Ruiz scored in extra time to hand the Galaxy the 1-0 victory.

It was the same story for the Revolution in 2006 and 2007 as the club lost to the Houston Dynamo both seasons, making it three consecutive defeats in the MLS Cup.

The Buffalo Bills of the MLS? Perhaps.

The club then sank into a period of mediocrity and Nicol was removed from his post as manager in 2011 and replaced by Heaps, who was charged with the task rebuilding the proud franchise.

With Heaps in charge, the Revs struggled in 2012, but the return to prominence began in the second half of the 2013 season with the breakthrough of one of the league's top young players, teenage sensation Diego Fagundez.

Fagundez was signed to a senior-level contract with the Revs at age 15 as the club's first-ever homegrown player and made a name for himself in 2013 when he scored 13 goals and added seven assists.

His speed and creative play from the midfield was just what the club needed as it surged down the stretch and finished third in the Eastern Conference, reaching the postseason for the first time since 2008.

Last season ended with a loss to the eventual champions, Sporting Kansas City, but with Fagundez leading the way, the foundation for success had been laid.

In addition to Fagundez, New England has done well in the MLS SuperDraft in past seasons to put together a young, talented and hungry group.

Joining Fagundez in the center of the park is Kelyn Rowe, who was selected by the club with the third overall pick in the 2012 draft, as well as the versatile Lee Nguyen.

Both Rowe and Nguyen add something special to the Revs' attack. Rowe has the ability to strike from distance with a deadly right foot, while Nguyen looks to create from the middle and find his forward with passes or arrive late on the counter-attack.

Add to that the 2014 draft selections of University of Maryland forward Patrick Mullins and Georgetown midfielder Steve Neumann, and it's easy to see why the Revs are one of the most exciting teams to watch in 2014.

And all the talent Heaps has assembled has paid dividends on the field as the Revs currently sit atop the East with 20 points and are coming off two consecutive five-goal performances -- a 5-0 thrashing of Seattle Sounders FC on May 11, followed by a 5-3 win over the Philadelphia Union last Saturday.

The Revs are unbeaten in six consecutive games and have won four straight for the first time since 2005.

Fagundez scored twice against Seattle and added another goal against the Union, while Mullins has two tallies in his last two contests and Nguyen netted his team-leading fifth goal of the season against Philadelphia.

For Fagundez, the confidence in himself and his teammates is flowing:

"I'm feeling a little confidence and it's nice I could score one today and get an assist, but as long as the team is scoring. It's not all about one person. There's 11 guys that we're playing. I think this is getting our confidence going for the next game," the 19-year-old said following the Philadelphia match.

Fagundez scored 13 goals last season and is poised to top that this year. With 17 career goals, he is already 10th on the club's all-time list for goals scored, and if he stays in MLS long enough, we could be looking at a multiple- MVP winner.

All the pieces are in place for Heaps' team make a run at a first MLS Cup title: a young, extremely talented group with deadly finishing ability, a solid defense and a young coach who will grow along with the team.

Take notice, MLS, the Revolution are back, and they will be a force for years to come.

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