FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Fourth-year midfielder Nico Colaluca had high hopes entering the 2010 campaign, his first full season in New England after arriving in a midseason trade last year.
A local product out of Coventry, R.I., Colaluca acclimated well in the second half of 2009, slowly working his way into the first team and playing pivotal minutes in the Revolution’s push for a postseason spot late in the season. He even earned his first professional start in a critical 1-1 draw with the Colorado Rapids, the club which drafted him in 2007 and traded him to New England two years later.
Colaluca continued his progression into the 2010 preseason, consistently flashing the skill and dogged determination which earned him a reputation as one of the hardest-working players on the team. He saw his fair share of action in the Revs’ preseason matches, even earning an assist in the club’s 2-0 win over the Charlotte Eagles (USL-2).
The speedy midfielder looked likely to play a role in New England’s attack, perhaps coming off the bench as a late-game substitute to run at weary defenders. But just days before the season opener against the LA Galaxy, Colaluca sprained his left knee in training and was forced to watch from the sidelines for the first four games of the season.
Since returning from the injury, Colaluca has struggled to find consistent playing time. In the four games since his return to health, he’s played just 14 minutes, that coming in a late substitute appearance in the 4-0 loss to Chivas USA.
Typically, this Wednesday night’s U.S. Open Cup play-in match against the New York Red Bulls would provide the perfect opportunity for Colaluca to shine. He thought that even that chance would pass him by, however, because he was issued two yellow cards – and a subsequent red card – in the Revolution’s most recent U.S. Open Cup match, a 2-1 loss to the Harrisburg City Islanders on June 30, 2009.
An ejection in a U.S. Open Cup game comes with a standard one-match ban. It follows, then, that Colaluca would serve his suspension when the Revolution resumes its Open Cup pursuit against the Red Bulls.
However, Colaluca will be in uniform and is expected to be in the starting lineup when the Revs take the field at Red Bull Arena on Wednesday night. The reversal of fortune was well-received by both Colaluca and the coaching staff, but it begs one important question.
Why isn’t he suspended?
Even in its simplest form, the explanation is slightly convoluted. The match from which Colaluca was ejected in 2009 was a U.S. Open Cup game, which is officially sanctioned by U.S. Soccer. Wednesday night’s match between the Revs and Red Bulls is a U.S. Open Cup play-in match – “play-in” being the operative term – sanctioned by Major League Soccer and used as a qualifying round to determine which MLS teams will reach the actual U.S. Open Cup tournament. Colaluca will be eligible to play against the Red Bulls – and against the Colorado Rapids in the next round of play-in games, should the Revs advance – but he would then be suspended if the Revolution qualified for a spot in the official tournament.
It’s a bizarre set of circumstances which even Colaluca doesn’t fully understand.
“I got a red card in last year’s Open Cup game, so I thought I was suspended,” Colaluca said. “(Vice President of Player Personnel Michael) Burns even told me I was suspended, and then the next day he told me that [I could play]. I guess it’s since it’s a play-in game for the Open Cup – this game, and if we win, the game against Colorado, they’re both play-in games.”
No matter the reasoning, the fact is that Colaluca will be eligible to play on Wednesday night. For a player struggling to find minutes and hoping to prove himself in a game situation, the opportunity has presented itself at the perfect time.
Colaluca knows that he must take advantage of the chance.
“I’m going to take any opportunity that I can get,” he said. “I just have to be ready for when an opportunity comes my way. It seems like it will [against New York], so I’ve just got to be ready and perform well.”
It’s likely that no one was more excited than Colaluca upon hearing the news that he’d be eligible to play, but the Revolution’s coaching staff must’ve jumped for joy, as well. The Revs have battled a slew of injuries in recent weeks, so much so that they were only able to travel 16 players to Columbus for this past weekend’s meeting with the Crew – that’s two fewer than the allotted 18-man game-day roster.
A couple more players picked up slight knocks in that loss to the Crew, and it’s likely that the Revolution will once again have to travel with a shorthanded roster when the club departs for New York on Tuesday. Had Colaluca been suspended, it would’ve only added to the club’s woes.
“I don’t even think we’re going to travel (to New York) with an 18-man roster,” said Colaluca. “We’ve got a lot of guys beat up. We’ve had a bunch of games these past couple weeks, and we’ve got a bunch more coming up in the next couple of weeks. Some guys have got to get healthy, so I think it was definitely good for the coaches to have me available for this match.”
The Revolution has the unexpected ruling on Colaluca’s suspension to thank for his availability, but no one’s complaining.
“It’s a weird rule,” he said. “But at least I get to play on Wednesday.”