New England midfielder Shalrie Joseph said last week that he hoped to return from injury in time to face FC Dallas on Saturday.
Those dreams faded away on Monday when the Revolution announced Joseph would take an indefinite leave of absence from the team to attend to a personal matter.
With Joseph sidelined for at least the short-term future, New England will have to find a way to cope without his influential presence in central midfield, according to Revolution coach Steve Nicol.
“Shalrie makes a huge difference to us or any other team, but we have to try and find another way,” Nicol told MLSsoccer.com on Thursday. “That's kind of it. We need to find another way. The stuff that he brings, we obviously don't have available at the moment, so we need to find another way.”
Add Joseph to a list of absentees that already includes Taylor Twellman and Matt Reis, the latter of which was placed on the team’s disabled list on Friday. It’s certainly not an ideal situation, but Revolution defender Cory Gibbs suggested he and his teammates need to push their thoughts about Joseph to one side and focus on figuring out how to plug the breach.
“It's just like a key player on any team being injured,” Gibbs said. “What are you going to do, you know? We just can't live off of that and we know that whoever fills in will play to the best of their ability. We have players who can do that and everybody else around them needs to step up and fill in those gaps.”
Nicol will likely turn to Joseph Niouky and Pat Phelan to shoulder the burden while Joseph is away from the team. Both players have played alongside Joseph in the past, but neither possesses the unique combination of tidy passing and tough tackling Joseph brings to the table.
Instead of trying to replicate what Joseph does on a weekly basis, the Niouky-Phelan combo must devise a new approach in order to obtain success.
Niouky and Phelan have started together in four of the previous five matches with Joseph hampered by a right hip flexor strain. Now that Joseph is out for the foreseeable future, Phelan admits there is more pressure to quickly figure out how to construct a cohesive defensive shape and revive the Revolution's possession-oriented play in the center of the park.
“It puts a little bit more urgency on myself to make some improvements in the chemistry there with Dez [Joseph Niouky] there in the middle, even with Marko [Perovic] and Sainey [Nyassi, on the wings],” Phelan said. “We've changed our approach a little bit defensively with how we're going to deal with Dallas. They have five in the midfield, and, obviously, we struggled with that against Colorado. It's a much bigger priority now that we know that Shalrie's going to be out for an indefinite amount of time.”
Until Joseph is able to return to the team and feature in the starting lineup, the Revolution will simply have to plan as if he will be away for a significant period of time and adjust to the new situation quickly, Phelan said. Part of that process includes focusing on the matters at hand and moving forward, according to Gibbs.
“It's something he needs to sort out and they are his personal matters,” Gibbs said. “When he's back, it's a bonus for us, but we can't just dwell on that. We just have to keep going, listen to the big man Stevie and go from there.”