2010 New England Preview: Nicol's youth movement continues

Shalrie Joseph centers a fast, inexperienced side

Shalrie Joseph, New England Revolution

Photo Credit: 
Getty Images

The Tweet and Lowdown:

 

The core that led
New England to four MLS Cup finals in the ’00s is mostly gone, replaced by a
young, speedy generation. Will it work?

Setting the Scene:

After nearly a
decade as one of MLS’s powerhouse sides, the New England Revolution are no
longer fearsome. The 2009 season finally showed that head coach Steve Nicol’s
unique brand of football “Taoism” could not last forever. The consistency and
team core that had buttressed the club’s recent success were suddenly replaced
with ups-and-downs and a sometimes-disjointed influx of new faces.

The key problems
were injuries, specifically to captain Steve Ralston, goalkeeper Matt Reis and to
goal machine Taylor Twellman. Ralston missed 10 games, Reis missed six and Twellman
was limited to only two appearances. Zimbabwean Kheli Dube did his best to pick
up the slack, notching eight goals, but the Revolution still finished with the
second-lowest goal total in the league.

Not that Shalrie
Joseph noticed. The big Grenadian had his best season ever, marshalling the
midfield, scoring eight goals and adding 8 assists. And rookie defenders
Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston stepped right into starting roles.

But it was never
going to be enough. The talent drain of the likes of Clint Dempsey, Andy Dorman,
and Michael Parkhurst in recent years finally took its toll. The Revs snuck
into the playoffs on the last day of the regular season and fell 3-0 on
aggregate to nemesis Chicago Fire in the first round.

Key Changes:

Players in:
Preston Burpo (Colorado Rapids), Cory Gibbs (Colorado Rapids), Joseph Niouky
(Port Autonome), Zach Schilawski (Wake Forest), Seth Sinovic (Creighton),

Players Out: Jeff
Larentowicz (Colorado Rapids), Wells Thompson (Colorado Rapids), Steve Ralston
(AC St. Louis), Chris Albright (New York Red Bulls), Brad Knighton
(Philadelphia Union), Jay Heaps (retired)

Star Attraction: Shalrie
Joseph

Depending on your
taste, Joseph is either a very, very good midfield general or the best player
in MLS. Tall, skillful, tough and possessed of the character found only in
great leaders, the 31-year-old Grenadian international sometimes seems to will
his side to fight for a result. In short, he is worth more than the price of
admission.

Following the
acrimonious off-season departure of Steve Ralston, Joseph assumes the Revs’
captaincy in 2010. Revs fans take solace in this solution, though they hope he won’t
have to carry the scoring burden again this year.

Unsung Hero: Darrius
Barnes

Statline: Barnes
was the only player to play every minute of every match. As a rookie. And while
his backline partner Kevin Alston got a call-up to the national team, it was
Barnes who held the defense together for most of the season. Comparisons to his
predecessor, Parkhurst, seem to arrive daily.

Fatigue saw Barnes’s
play flag toward the end. But with a full season under his belt and the
addition of experienced defender Cory Gibbs, Barnes should again be the ironman
in the backline.

Ready for Primetime: Kenny Mansally

Three years after
arriving from Gambia, Mansally still ripples with potential. His raw power and
hard ambition are evident every time he takes the field.

Now is the time
for the 21-year-old to turn that potential energy into kinetic output. Lacking
a true position—left mid or second striker?—has hurt him, but just on pure
talent he should have more to his name than four goals in 43 career
appearances.

Storylines to Watch:

With the veteran
exodus over the past two years, the Revolution are now one of the youngest—and
fastest—sides in MLS. Established youngsters like Mansally, Barnes, Alston and
Sainey Nyassi are joined this year by impressive rookie Zach Schilawski. Youth
can be effective, but in MLS it has rarely led to any hardware.

For the better
part of the last ten years, Matt Reis has been MLS’ most consistent
goalkeepers. But 2009 saw the 12-year veteran struggle with injuries and
on-field mishaps. His injury and the loss of Brad Knighton in the expansion
draft required the Revs to acquire Preston Burpo from Colorado, in exchange for
midfielder Jeff Larentowicz. Once Reis is healthy, will there be a goalkeeper
controversy at Gillette Stadium?

The Twellman Watch
will begin on day one. Will he last the whole season? Will he still have the
scoring touch?

What He Said:

“Sometimes youth
is courageous. They don't think about the problems, they just want to play.”

—Revolution coach
Steve Nicol, speaking to Comcast SportsNet

If everything goes right:

To say the least,
the 2010 Revolution will be interesting. The reality is they are not quite
ready to contend for any trophies, but at the same time they won’t be an easy
three points for anyone. The presence of Joseph alone makes them a formidable
challenge, and if Twellman is healthy and back to his old nasty self, Nicol’s
lads could cause some havoc down the stretch.

Prediction for
2010 finish: 4th in the East