FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – There won’t be much guess-work involved to figure out which 18 names will be on the Revolution’s team sheet for Wednesday night’s match against Chivas USA.
With Shalrie Joseph away from the club while attending to personal matters and Taylor Twellman (concussion), Matt Reis (L shoulder/L knee surgeries) and Emmanuel Osei (R leg laceration) recovering from injuries, the Revs were left with only 21 healthy, available bodies for the beginning of a hectic month of May. And that’s including three goalkeepers, as former Providence College netminder Tim Murray has been signed to take the roster spot of Reis, who was recently placed on the disabled list.
To further complicate matters, both Kheli Dube and Joseph Niouky were ejected from this past weekend’s 1-1 draw with FC Dallas, meaning that the pair will be suspended for Chivas USA’s midweek visit.
“With Kheli we lose a dynamic player up top,” said central midfielder Pat Phelan. “[Niouky’s] a consistent guy and someone we relied upon in the midfield, so we’re going to have to move some people around and try to fill the holes that they leave.”
A quick check on the calculator shows that 21 healthy bodies minus two suspended players equals 19 – just enough to fill a game-day roster if you assume that only two of the three healthy goalkeepers will dress. Those depleted numbers present enough of an obstacle, but add in the fact that many of the healthy players spent a solid chunk of the Dallas game playing shorthanded and it’s clear that fitness could become an issue in the coming weeks.
“The one thing that actually hurts us as much as anything – never mind having to play with nine men [against Dallas] – is the amount of games we have this month,” said head coach Steve Nicol, alluding to the Revolution’s eight-games-in-29-days stretch. “We play Wednesday (against Chivas USA), we play away Saturday (against Columbus). We’ve got [nine or 10 guys] who have effectively played an extra 25 minutes and that’s going to affect them on Wednesday. We’re not only getting punished for tonight, but we’re getting punished on Wednesday and Saturday, as well.”
The extra 25 minutes mentioned by Nicol is a reference to the amount of time the Revolution was undermanned in the Dallas match this past Saturday night, and it’s actually an understatement. Dube was ejected in the 56th minute, reducing the Revs to 10 players with still 34 minutes remaining. Niouky joined Dube in the locker room when he received his marching orders in the 72nd minute, leaving New England with only nine players for the final 18 minutes, not to mention more than five minutes of stoppage time.
In reality, no Revolution player actually played more than 90 minutes plus stoppage time. But with fewer players on the field, there is inevitably more ground to cover. For that reason, Saturday night’s final 34 minutes provided a taxing experience for the nine Revs remaining on the field.
“I felt like a pinball in the midfield, kind of just bouncing around,” said Phelan, who was perhaps most affected by the ejection of his central midfield partner Niouky. “It gets to a point where you’ve got to be smart about your running – you can’t just be running around without thinking.”
While the task of playing with only nine men is certainly cerebral as players focus primarily on positioning, trying to conserve energy in that situation can be an exercise in futility. After scrambling to hang on to a 1-1 draw against an opponent throwing bodies forward in search of a winner, it was a bit of surprise that none of the Revs had to be carried off the field at the final whistle.
Central defender Darrius Barnes – who, like Phelan, played the full 90 minutes – couldn’t recall the last time he had played 9-v-11.
“Going down one man is tough enough,” said Barnes. “Going down two, you don’t really [know] how difficult it is until you’re really out there playing and seeing the two extra guys just opening things up. You have to work that much harder and tug that much more just to get guys shifted over and get guys in the right spots.”
Despite the physical demands required, both Barnes and Phelan put a positive spin on the situation. Instead of focusing on the players who aren’t available or can’t play every minute of the upcoming stretch, they’d prefer instead to view this as an opportunity for younger players to gain experience and form an understanding with their teammates.
“I look at it as a good thing,” said Barnes. “We’ll get some new bodies out there and get some chemistry with other guys, so if it happens later in the season then we’ll be prepared. I think we’d much rather it happen earlier in the season [as opposed to] later in the season.”