MLS ’11 Preview – Can New England Reclaim the Glory?
Team: New England Revolution
Coach: Steve Nicol
Last Year’s Finish: 9-5-16, 32 points. Eastern Conference: 6th
The big news this offseason was the recent arrest and suspension of Shalrie Joseph and Kevin Alston. While the situation is still under investigation, both players just returned to the team but face possible disciplinary action from the league. This unfortunate situation has taken attention off a team that has made some solid offseason moves and looks to vastly improve after a terrible season last year. The big keys for this team are resolving the situations of Joseph and Alston as well as finding that elusive striker the team needs so desperately.
The steady presence on this team is head coach Steve Nicol, who returns for his ninth season and is the longest tenured coach in MLS. Nicol’s team has gone through a rough patch; after making six conference finals and MLS Cups his fix six years they have gone three years without advancing to the final four, missing out on the playoffs last year for the first time since 2001, before he became the permanent head coach. To return to the playoffs and start a new streak, the team must find someone (or someones) to score goals consistently for the team.
Key Roster Additions: The Revs made two very recent acquisitions, picking up French international Ousmane Dabo and Argentine defender Franco Coria. Dabo, who previously played for Manchester City and Lazio, will provide some defensive help in the midfield and could be penciled in as a starter immediately. Another defensive signing is former PSG and Newcastle defender Didier Domi, who will likely be a starter at left back and make the New England back line even more “seasoned”. To offset some of their older signings, the team was active in the college draft, taking A.J. Soares with the sixth pick. Soares, another defender but one with a knack for scoring, played at Cal and was a finalist for the Hermann Trophy.
Key Roster Subtractions: The biggest subtraction last year was the retirement of American legend (and prolific Tweeter) Taylor Twellman, a forward who suffered from terrible concussion issues. Obviously the club has not found a way to replace his scoring up front. In recognition of the defensive shortcomings last season, the club also let go two of their starting defenders: Cory Gibbs to the re-entry draft and Emmanuel Osei.
Projected Starters: Even with all their turnover, Matt Reis will be the starter in goal. The 35 year old was decent last year and will look to provide some stability in defense. On the backline, I can see newcomers Domi and Corba eventually becoming starters once they work their way into the system. Darius Barnes will probably be the only returning starter at center back and may be pushed by A.J. Soares, who also could get a look in midfield. Once MLS is done with him, Kevin Alston looks to be a starter at left back. Re-entry draft pickup Ryan Cochrane is also a starting option here.
Assuming Nicol goes with a four-man midfield, we could see newcomer Dabo hold down the middle with Joseph once he returns or, if he feels like experimenting, Nicol could move Soares to midfield where he could score an occasional goal. On the wings Nicol could start Sainey Nyassi (who started 27 games last season) and Kenny Mansally (who scored four goals last season, good for third on the team).
The problem last year that looks to be a problem again is at forward. To be honest, the talent up front is lacking, so look for the Revs to try and make an international signing in the near future. Right now your starters are Marko Perovic and Ilija Stolica, who combined for nine goals last season. Also in the mix is Zach Schilawski.
Player to Watch: The player to watch is a player who might not even see the pitch this season. Diego Fagundez is the teen prodigy who is coming through the team’s academy and is tearing up nets left and right. He scored 28 goals in the past year and a half with the youth team, but at only 15 years old he is too young to regularly contribute to the senior club. However, if the Revs don’t find that high-scoring international player and struggle to score goals, look for the young man to get a few minutes for the senior team this summer and fall.
Predictions: The depths to which this proud franchise have fallen can be summed up in this sentence: of the players in the Revolution’s camp, only two (Joseph and Reis) have played in an MLS Cup with the Revolution. For a club with a great recent history of Cup runs, that’s astounding. It also speaks to how bad the team was last season, though injuries did play a part in that. This team has significantly upgraded its defense and I think it will not be letting in another 50 goals this season. But can it score more than 2010′s 32 goals? That’s the big question.
One thing is for certain: I expect New England to get off to a slow start. With so many late signings and new players getting integrated into the system, as well as Joseph’s possible suspension or disciplinary action, this team will probably have a rough start to the season. However, if they can find that goal scorer or have their current forwards improve, then this team could be a dark horse for the third Eastern Conference playoff spot. However, call me a skeptic.
Prediction: 6th place, Eastern Conference