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New England Revolution Pre-Season Check-Up

Posted on 03 March 2011 by Hank Alexandre

As the New England Revolution head off for Atlanta on the final leg of their  pre-season training, it’s a good time to review the state of the team and their pre-season so far.  It is fair to say that the Revs have had mixed results on and off the field at this point – so what better way to examine the team than to compare their “on the field” performance to their “off the field performance” breaking it down to players, coaches and front office.

Players

On the field: Over the last few years, The Revs have seen dramatic turnover in player personnel.  Granted they are not the only team in the league to lose players, but New England is unique in the fact that it lost three of its veteran marquee players to retirement within a year of each other:  Jay Heaps, Steve Ralston, and Taylor Twellman.  Granted, three players do not a team make, but when a team loses it’s all time appearance leader, all time assist leader, and its all time leading goal scorer at once (remember Twellman did not play at all last season, and Ralston only made 1 appearance) it’s hard to recover.  Add in to the equation that, aside from Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis, these three were the last players to feature in each of the team’s MLS Cup Finals appearances, as well as the 2007 US Open Cup and the 2008 SuperLiga Final(excluding Heaps).  Also missing from the field last season were Larentowicz and Thompson who also contributed to the teams success, especially in 2007, when the team was dangerously close to completing the domestic Treble: US Open Cup Champions, MLS Cup Runners Up, and 4th best record in the league (5 points within first place and winning the Supporters Shield, after holding the top spot for much of the early part of the season).  Let’s not overlook the departures of other key players, like Michael Parkhurst, Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan, and Andy Dorman.

Up until last season, the word “rebuilding” was strictly taboo.  This season however there is simply no avoiding it. Yes there are holdover players from previous seasons (Alston, Barnes, Tierney, Phelan, Nyassi, Mansally, Dube) but there are a fresh crop of rookies this year as well as those from last year.  Also new to the team is MLS veteran Ryan Cochrane and international players Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi.  All said and done only TWO players on this current roster have been with the Revolution for more than three years.

But the proof is in the pudding as they say, and in this case the pudding is on the pitch.  How this team will gel together remains to be seen, but the early signs from the first three preseason games are all positive.  New England went 3-0 in three games in Orlando, beating University of Central Florida (2-0), The USA U-17 National Team (2-0), and FC Dallas (1-0).  Despite facing lesser competition, the Revs have to be pleased to a certain extent that they achieved their primary goals; 1) WIN, and 2)have a strong and organized back line, and they did so without the help of  key players Shalrie Joseph, Kevin Alston, and Marko Perovic.  The Revs will look to carry on that success in Atlanta, where they will face the Columbus Crew twice, as well as the Houston Dynamo.

OFF the field: Both team captain Shalrie Joseph, who missed 5 games last season after testing positive for drug use,
and Kevin Alston were both sent home early from camp for disciplinary reasons.  It was later revealed that Joseph had been arrested in the late  evening/early morning for “trespassing” after refusing to leave the stairwell of the hotel where he was staying.  Joseph,  maintains his innocence, stating that he and his teammate weren’t doing anything wrong (how many hotels post “No Trespassing” signs in the stairwell).  However, Joseph’s arrest came just days after he stated in a press conference that he wanted to put last season behind him, and focus on being a team leader.  Obviously, being removed from his team, it would be difficult for him to achieve that goal.  Joseph, nevertheless is back training with the team in Atlanta, and he will have the opportunity to prove himself to his coach and his teammates.

On the other side of the coin, newcomers AJ Soares and Ryan Cochrane are endearing themselves to the fans as well as local media.  Soares, the Revs’ first pick in the 2011 draft, is a product of the “Social Media” generation, and is very active on Twitter (@AjSoares) and is also writing a blog on Boston.com, the website for The Boston Globe.  Cochrane is also quickly beoming a fan favorite, or at least his moustache is.  Cochrane’s whiskers have grown in popularity as well as in length during the pre-season, to the point where his moustache now has its own twitter account (@CochranesStache).  In fact a large majority of the team is on twitter, following a trend spreading across the league, which allows the fans to interact with the team in a whole new way (You can follow the whole team on twitter via the RevsASN twitter list http://twitter.com/@RevsASN/revs-team).

Coach

On the field: Coach Steve Nicol is the most successful coach in the teams 15 year history.  That being said, one must defer to his wisdom and give him the benefit of the doubt when it comes to matters of team management and player selection.  However, Nicol has drawn criticism for playing veterans over trialists during preseason, placing the emphasis on winning what some would call a “meaningless” preseason game, rather than using the opportunity to evaluate prospective players in game time situations.  Nicol has also dodged repeatedly and somewhat expertly the question of the lack of depth at right back, a position that is currently occupied by MLS All-Star Kevin Alston.  A persistent injury to Alston’s hamstring however has forced Nicol to play certain players such as left midfielder Chris Tierney, center back Darrius Barnes, and reserve forward Zak Boggs at Alston’s position.

One only has to watch Steve Nicol in training to understand and appreciate the rapport he has with his players.  However, Nicol’s close relationship with his team could be considered a contributing factor in his tendency to play favorites (e.g. Khano Smith).

Off the field: Full marks to Stevie who came clean at a “meet the coach” event with various Revolution supporters groups this past week.  Stevie talked candidly about the team’s failed attempts to secure a designated  player, as well as its continuing efforts in that regard.  He also announced to the fans before it was even announced to the media that contracts had been offered to the 5 remaining camp invitees not currently under contract.  Nicol has always been a fan favorite in this regard, and his appearance and comments this past week only strengthened this reputation.

Front Office:

On the field: Player selection over the last few years has been suspect at times.  One can only point to the lack of poor scouting infrastructure and some shortsightedness on behalf of the player personnel department.  The inability to maintain a core  group of players critical to the success of the team was made evident by the departures of Dempsey, Dorman, Parkhurst and Larentowicz.  Failures to secure a designated player or a replacement for Taylor Twellman only shed a negative light on Mike Burns, Vice President of Player Personnel.  In Burns’ defense, the team does not have the budget or infrastructure in place to maintain a full time scout on payroll.  Also, restrictions around salary cap and player movement literally handcuffed the organization in terms of bringing in a replacement for Twellman once it became clear he was not going to play.  However, the team realized perhaps a bit too late last season that the competition had surpassed them in terms of  putting quality players on the field.  The additions of Dabo and Domi this season seem to suggest that the team is willing to take a chance in branching out to new sources for experienced players.

Off the field:RevsASN tips its cap to Brian Bilello and the entire Public Relations team at The New England Revolution.  The organization has gone out of its way to embrace “Independent Media” by allowing them media access to games and practices, and other various events, such as press conferences and conference calls.  Bilello also spoke at the supporters group event, and talked openly about the teams ongoing efforts to secure a location for a soccer specific stadium “on the T”, as well as the hurdles that it presents.

The front office also does very well  in reaching out to the supporters groups and keeping them involved with the team.

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MLS Combine: An interview with Akron’s Zarek Valentin

Posted on 04 January 2011 by Breton Bonnette

ASN Philly has an interview with potential top five pick in this year’s SuperDraft Zarek Valentin.

Zarek Valentin leaves the Akron Zips as a 19-year old NCAA Champion with boundless potential and a  near future, at least, that lies in Major League Soccer. The Lancaster, PA native has left quite the footprint in only two seasons, one  that has been duplicated on the international level with Thomas Rongen’s U-20s as well. A  local product projected to be a top 5 pick in this year’s SuperDraft and a starter of every game as a Zip, regardless of where he ends up in Major League Soccer, he looks set to do well. And if his rookie year is not with the Union, there will still be fans in and around Philadelphia wishing nothing but the best for his professional career. Valentin, however, is one of two potential first rounders that are local products. Both Zarek and Penn State’s Corey Hertzog (a Reading native) could very well be on Coach Nowak’s shortlist heading into the SuperDraft. A defender known for his composure and proper distribution out of the back, at only 19 and on big stages, could be the best pick to make. Only time will tell but wherever Valentin ends up, he’ll be one Philly area prospect to keep an eye on.

The interview is over at ASN Philly.

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Rapids reach MLS Cup Final

Posted on 14 November 2010 by pshea

With a combination of gritty defense and relentless attacking, the Colorado Rapids notched a 1-0 victory over the San Jose Earthquakes at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park on Saturday night to reach the MLS Cup Final in Toronto next week.

Central defender Drew Moor cleared the ball with his head 17 times during the game for Colorado, and he launched a diving header on goal in the 70th minute. San Jose midfielder Geovanni cleared Moor’s shot off the line to prevent a final nail in his team’s coffin.

Ultimately, Kosuke Kimura’s inswinging cross in the 42nd minute was the game-winner for Colorado. San Jose defender Tim Ward won a race to the ball deep in the corner and knocked it out for a throw-in. Kimura joined Pablo Mastroeni and Wells Thompson to work the ball on the ground amid tight pressure, and Kimura curled a cross into the goalmouth. Omar Cummings streaked to the ball first and froze goalkeeper Jon Busch. What do you call it? A missed flick? A dummy?

“We call that the two-for-one,” San Jose coach Frank Yallop said after the game. “If you whip it in and people are running across, it leaves you flat-footed. It’s a good ball in a dangerous area.”

Call it a goal. Call it a ticket to the MLS Cup Final. The 17,779 fans roared their approval and maintained their heated enthusiasm until the final whistle.

Highlights

The Earthquakes started immediately with hard challenges and aggressive attacking. Ward worked his way up the left wing in the fifth minute, and Geovanni forced Matt Pickens to make the first save of the game. Although this turned out to be the only shot on goal for the visitors all night, San Jose stayed competitive until the very end.

“We had a good 20-25 minutes in the second half,” Yallop recounted, noting a boost when he inserted Arturo Alvarez for Chris Leitch in the 57th minute. “It’s not the personnel coming off. It’s who comes on. Our boys played well. They never buckled, never got down on each other.”

The after-shocks from the first shot of the game transitioned to Colorado. Cummings raced up the middle of the field with the ball in the seventh minute and fired a worm-burner from 25 yards out. Busch collected his first of five saves for the night.

Scott Sealy read an outlet pass from Pickens in the 12th minute and lofted the ball over the bar as the Colorado ‘keeper retreated.

Brian Mullan weighted a near-perfect through-ball to Cummings in the 22nd minute, but Busch left his line in time and blocked the shot at the top of the penalty box.

Conor Casey overcame multiple defenders and sent three shots wide left in the first 30 minutes of play. Casey sent his fourth shot wide left as well, another header in the 78th minute. For the night, Casey ran hard with and without the ball, forcing the visitors to contend with his challenges instead of creating attacks of their own.

Marvell Wynne had a seven-minute stretch in the first half when he was in the defensive spotlight, clearing balls with his head and feet in dangerous situations. Head coach Gary Smith has settled on a starting back line with Wynne and Moor in the middle, Kimura on the right, and Anthony Wallace on the left.

When asked how they would defend against Dallas or the gaLAxy, Wynne said, “We’ll do what we always do. It’s seems to be working. Why change it?”

In recent games, Smith has inserted central defender Julien Baudet for the closing minutes.

“You know they’re going to drop in long balls,” Wynne said. “So it’s smart to bring in a big guy like Julien.”

“He’s a great communicator,” Moor said of Baudet. “At the end of the game, a lot of guys are tired. If you bring in a guy like him, he talks constantly and keeps the intensity up. It’s been nice the last couple games.”

Replacing Jamie Smith on the flank, Thompson delivered corner kicks for Colorado, stayed back on defense when Kimura overlapped, and created danger with the ball.

When asked about his preparation for the game, Thompson said, “As a player, you have to be mentally ready. I didn’t know until about an hour before game time.” Smith left practice early on Friday, and after the Scottish midfielder conducted a brief test before kickoff, Thompson received his assignment.

“Omar opens it up down wide,” Thompson explained. “And Kosuke does his thing. So I stayed back a bit too.”

Rather than race down the wing with the ball, Thompson tends to swerve inside. “I grew up playing center mid,” the midfielder said, “so I tend to drift in and slash.”

Captain Mastroeni drifted and slashed his fair share, forcing saves from Busch in the 63rd and 73rd minutes. Tactically, Mastroeni has made a conscious effort to push forward more in recent games, while maintaining his trademark presence with Jeff Larentowicz as defensive midfielders.

But according to Moor, the captain brings much more than tactics and skill.

“Pablo has been the heart of the team this year,” Moor explained. “He’s been on a mission, and everyone has followed him.”

Looking ahead

“Both teams are tough,” Moor explained. “Dallas plays fast, and LA is very dangerous. They play finesse and can catch you sleeping.”

Mastroeni will be wide awake. According to Colorado’s leader, “We’ve played well against the best teams in the league. So regardless of who we play, it’s going to be a great game.”

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PHOTO GALLERY: RAPIDS 1, CREW 0

Posted on 02 November 2010 by mmurphy

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ASN’s MLS Best XI, Week 22

Posted on 07 September 2010 by Breton Bonnette

Rookie Shawn Johnson has effectively ended Andrew Dykstra’s bid for a starting position in Chicago as he kept the Fire but it was another goalkeeper who stole the show in Week 22. Unlikely squads continue to roll – as in New England and Colorado – while familiar faces collect three points (Real Salt Lake and Columbus). Changes might be brewing in Philadelphia after another gaffe in goal. Regardless, a very quiet week on the offensive front but those that made noise, really turned up the volume.

Check out who took ASN’s Player of the Week honors over at ASN Philly.

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WPS: Sky Blue FC, FC Gold Pride draw on stoppage time strike

Posted on 02 September 2010 by Breton Bonnette

In Women’s Professional Soccer, parity is often the name of the game, and things were no different on Wednesday night at Yurcak Field in New Jersey. FC Gold Pride came to the Garden State to take on Sky Blue FC in the final regular season edition of “The Battle of Teams That Choose to Not Identify Geographically”. Continue Reading

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A baby-faced Union ekes by Mexican giant Chivas 1-0

Posted on 02 September 2010 by Breton Bonnette

Jack McInerney scored the lone goal in the Union’s second international friendly win that showcased all of the Union’s impressive youthful crop as the 18-year old striker lined up in the second half with fellow teenagers Amobi Okugo, Roger Torres, and a 15-year old trialist (U-17 standout) Zach Pfeffer. Continue Reading

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Cody Cropper finally finds a home, signs with Ipswich

Posted on 31 August 2010 by Breton Bonnette

Former IMG Academy goalkeeper Cody Cropper has finally landed a contract offer after almost two years of trials and disappointments. The 17-year old wound up with Roy Keane’s English Championship side Ipswich Town as reported at Inside Minnesota Soccer. Cropper, Minnesota born and with the added bonus of an English passport, signed a two-year deal with the first year a scholar deal and the second, when he turns 18, a professional contract. The youngster had stops along the way at Wolverhampton, Leicester City, Birmingham, Arsenal, and many other English clubs.

Cropper was recently called up to the US Under-20’s to head to Peru for a tournament as head coach Thomas Rongen continues to scour his player pool with the 2011 U-20 World Cup looming.

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ASN’s MLS Best XI, Week 21

Posted on 31 August 2010 by Breton Bonnette

Major League Soccer parity is starting to show as the Galaxy lost yet again to a hungry Kansas City squad while the Crew lost some ground to New York after tying Dallas in Columbus. In the process, the Hoops broke a relatively surprising record, a ten game road unbeaten streak. Could Dallas be an MLS Cup contender this season or will there be a late-season break of form? In other news, Jimmy Conrad had quite possibly the best game of his season while Best XI stalwarts, Stefan Frei, Fredy Montero, and Rafa Marquez all made the team yet again. The biggest surprise however? The artist of Philadelphia’s last-minute 2-1 win over New England Justin Mapp. Mapp was send packing from Chicago but just like his teammate, Sebastien Le Toux, he has firmly established himself as a new Philadelphia hero.

Head over to ASN Philly to see who made this week’s ASN MLS Best XI.

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ASN’s MLS Best XI, Week 20

Posted on 29 August 2010 by Breton Bonnette

DC United puts two players on this week’s Best XI since who knows when after beating up on a listless Philadephia Union squad at RFK Stadium. Danny Allsopp’s brace was overshadowed this week by high octane performances from Kansas City, Columbus, Red Bull New York, Houston, and even Chicago who lost the 4-3 goalfest at the head and feet of one Brian Ching. Ching hit for a hattrick, Marquez displayed his DP quality, and Kevin Hartman made sure that Dallas didn’t throw one away vs. Chivas USA as things start to heat up with only one third of the season left. Head here for ASN’s MLS Best XI for Week 20.

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