Different, but the same

His game has evolved, but Shalrie Joseph is still a central figure for the Revs

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the July 8 game against the New York Red Bulls

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For the past decade, Shalrie Joseph has been a force with the New England Revolution and a feared opponent throughout Major League Soccer. He’s an eight-time MLS All-Star, a four-time Best XI performer and was a finalist for the league’s Most Valuable Player award in 2009.

Now in his 10th season in Foxborough, Joseph remains a central figure at Gillette Stadium as the Revolution’s captain and lone Designated Player, but the method of his contributions has shifted slightly throughout the years. At 34 years old, Joseph admits his body no longer allows him to perform in quite the same way he did in his 20s, forcing him to alter the way he approaches the game.

For one, Joseph’s approach has become more cerebral. While his physical capabilities have changed, Joseph uses 10 years of professional experience and the knowledge gained from countless games and training sessions to compensate for anything his legs will no longer allow him to do.

“I think five years ago I ran a lot more,” Joseph said with a laugh. “You can tell I could cover a lot more ground and I had those young legs. But now it’s all about doing what the team needs … On the field you can tell my role has evolved. I don’t run as much, I don’t cover as much ground, I lose a step here and there, but the brain’s still in there and once the brain is there, it makes the game easier.”

What Joseph’s cultured brain allows him to do is think ahead. He anticipates. Instead of relying solely on physical tools and reaction time, Joseph aims to stay one step ahead of his opponents by literally getting to the proper spots before them.

“Once you get out there and realize you’re older and not able to get [to certain spots], you start to pick up better positions, you start reading the game more,” he said. “It’s all about my position now, which allows me a head start on the other team or the opponent. If I’m in the right position, I’m able to read the game better and able to cover loose balls and able to get forward as fast as I can.”

Much of that ability is innate, but anticipation is also borne from preparation. While 29-year-old Shalrie Joseph had an advantage over every opponent based on pure physical dominance, 34-year-old Shalrie Joseph relies on research to scout each opponent and map out a plan to neutralize them.

Spurred on by the methods of former teammate and current head coach Jay Heaps, Joseph has turned to film study to carefully analyze his adversaries. The advance work gives Joseph a sense of readiness before each game, which he matches with a willingness to train hard every day.

“I think my mental preparation for games has definitely evolved,” Joseph said. “I study a lot more film. We watch a lot more tape of games. I think with me it’s about being ready to play game in and game out.

“I come to practice ready,” he added. “You know, I’ve got a lot of young guys trying to take my spot and coming into practice ready to challenge me every day, so with me it’s all about being prepared for the game. Once I do that, I think I step up and I prove myself out there week in and week out.”

Those young guys Joseph refers to may be gunning for his spot on the field, but they also look to their captain for guidance, which is perhaps the biggest change in Joseph’s role in recent years. During the Revolution’s remarkable run to three straight MLS Cup appearances from 2005-07, the club was governed by a core group of leaders featuring Joseph, Heaps, Matt Reis, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Pat Noonan.

While Heaps has returned as head coach and Reis still remains as a confidant, much of the onus to lead both on and off the field now falls on the shoulders of the man wearing the armband. It’s a responsibility Joseph has embraced, according to his teammates and coaches.

“I think Shalrie brings a huge bit of inspiration for our team,” said Reis. “I think he’s a leader on the field … We take a lot of cues off him and his drive and his desire.”

“For me, I got to see him from the broadcast booth and I thought last year and the year before he was trying to do everything,” said Heaps, New England’s color analyst in 2010 and 2011. “Now he’s starting to realize that players around him can do a lot of the work, but he still has to lead.”

How much longer Joseph will continue to play – and lead – remains to be seen as he approaches the midway point of his 10th season, but for now he’s simply taking it one day at a time.

“Hopefully these legs hold up and they keep me going for a couple more years,” Joseph said with a smile. “It’s all about each and every day with me. Just try to take it in, enjoy the moment, keep working hard, keep pushing myself and make sure when I’m done, I leave all of it on the field.”