Can Revolution adjust to life without Joseph?

New England will have to face realities with midfield icon away

Shalrie Joseph

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When New England announced Shalrie Joseph's indefinite leave
of absence from the Revolution on Monday morning, one question popped up
immediately:

How will the Revs adjust to life without Shalrie?

As the results have shown in the first five matches, New
England are a different team when Joseph is on the field. In the one match he
has played to date in 2010, Joseph propelled the Revolution to their best
performance of the season in a 4-1 home win against Toronto FC.

Joseph’s glaring absence in the other four matches due to a
right hip-flexor strain indicates New England coach Steve Nicol must somehow
compensate for his loss in order to improve form and results.

It won't be an easy task, particularly because Nicol and the
Revs will have to weigh a few factors as they prepare for life with Joseph for
the foreseeable future. Here are the three biggest issues:

1. The circumstances diminish the chances of a
corresponding roster move.
Joseph's leave of absence places the Revolution
in a difficult spot in terms of trying to obtain a replacement. New England
can't send Joseph to the Disabled List because they don't know how long he'll
remain unavailable.

Even if they decided to send him to the DL, the Revs would
still have to carry his considerable salary budget charge. With the roster
currently at its maximum, the assortment of foreign players currently complete
and the transfer window currently closed, the Revs don't have a ton of external
options to add another piece in central midfield at the moment. Any changes,
therefore, will likely come from within.

2. The status quo without Joseph isn't working. New
England has struggled to obtain and keep possession without Joseph in the
starting XI. In order to find success as they’re currently built, the Revs need
to find a way to improve their tidiness on the ball and provide creative outlet
Marko Perovic with more service.

Scant time in possession equals few attacking forays and
considerable pressure on the Revolution back four. As a team with designs on a
ninth consecutive playoff berth, the current level of performance simply won't
cut it.

3. Fixing the problem could require some creativity.
There are a few options to alter the current dynamic and address the situation.
The most radical choice involves a formation change.

If Nicol wants to keep a playing possession-oriented style,
he could slide Perovic into an attacking midfield role, deploy Khano Smith or
Chris Tierney on the left wing and switch to a 3-5-2 formation to bolster the
numbers in midfield. The extra man would provide another outlet in the center
of the park and provide Joseph Niouky and Pat Phelan with additional support.

If Nicol opts to stick with the 4-4-2, he could attempt to
play Emmanuel Osei – a player with some experience as a defensive midfielder –
in the center of the park. But the defender's insertion probably wouldn't help
the Revs much in possession. The dearth of box-to-box options on the roster
probably rules out a move away from the dual holding midfielder approach in a
four-man midfield.

If a complete departure from a possession-oriented game is in
the cards, Nicol could lean on the recovering Edgaras Jankauskas as a target
man and employ the direct style used at times last season with Joseph leading
the line. Jankauskas' current fitness level and his propensity to pick up
injuries may make this tactic difficult to use consistently given the other
options available until Taylor Twellman returns.

One last choice worth considering: Stick with the present
tactics and demand improvement from the players already in the team. Given the
stark reality imposed by Joseph's leave of absence, the squad could respond to
the weight of the situation and make this option a viable path in the coming
days and weeks.