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.