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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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