Revs look to "solid" Phelan in Joseph's absence

Holding midfielder doesn't try to replace the injured captain

Pat Phelan, New England Revolution

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As New England coach Steve Nicol contemplated Shalrie
Joseph's likely absence for the fourth time in five matches for Saturday's
night clash with Colorado, he offered a simple proposal for how to compensate.

“When you've got a guy like Shalrie in your team and he's
not playing, you aren't going to find another Shalrie, so you try and find
another way of doing it,” Nicol said. “That's what we'll do.”

The onus, as it has in Joseph's previous omissions, falls on
Pat Phelan to address the void. The third-year midfielder out of Wake Forest
knows he doesn't represent a straight swap for Best XI fixture Joseph, but said
he performs other roles while deployed in central midfield.

“That's why he's the best holding midfielder in the league,”
Phelan said. “No one can really replicate his performance day-in and day-out
except him. When I'm in there, I just try to be a clean distributor, a little
bit of a destroyer and a vocal leader with Dez [Joseph Niouky] in there.”

The Niouky-Phelan combo operates a bit differently than a
Joseph-Niouky or a Joseph-Phelan pairing would. Joseph dominates a match with
his presence and his ability to connect a wide range of passes. With Joseph's
ability to spread the field and incite the Revolution attack stripped away, the
Niouky-Phelan duo focuses more on winning the ball and shutting it to someone
else who can facilitate the offense.

“Neither of us are expected to be making any slashing runs,”
Phelan said. “We're not attacking midfielders. When we can jumpstart the
attack, we will. For the most part, we're just supposed to be solid in there,
get the ball, distribute it, be solid defensively and just be consistent.”

Phelan's teammates and coaches often use that word—solid—to
describe his performances. Nicol said Phelan's work in the center of the park
provides exactly what the Revolution require without Joseph to direct traffic.

“He's solid,” Nicol said. “He's just exactly what we knew he
was going to be. He keeps it simple, wins his fair share of challenges and gets
the ball moving.”

In the aftermath of the Revolution's 2-0 defeat at San Jose
last Saturday, Phelan said he and Niouky need to submit an improved display
against Colorado—and their seasoned central midfield duo of Jeff Larentowicz
and Pablo Mastroeni—in order to send a message to the rest of the league about
how the Revs can cope in Joseph's absence.

“It was a bit of a letdown in San Jose, but it is
[important],” Phelan said. “When teams scout us, they think if they can shut
down Shalrie, they can shut down the midfield and now they've only got a couple
of other areas to worry about. It's really important for [Niouky] and me to
hold our own in there and show them that we're not going to get run over
because Shalrie's not in there.”