FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – After struggling with consistency throughout the 2010 campaign – and subsequently missing out on the MLS Cup Playoffs for the first time in nine years – the New England Revolution’s technical staff has spent the current offseason scouring the globe for talented players to help the team improve in 2011.
Goal scorers have been made a priority after the Revs managed just 32 goals last season, establishing a club-record low in that category for the second consecutive season. Of course, the Revolution will also be looking to move forward after the club’s all-time leading scorer, Taylor Twellman, officially announced the end of his playing career in early November.
At the other end of the field, the defense needs to be solidified after conceding a league-high 50 goals in 2010. With the re-signing of veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis – who should be fully healthy when preseason training kicks off in late January – and the addition of central defender Ryan Cochrane, the Revs have made initial steps to shore up the backline.
But what about the midfield? Today, I’ll take a look at the Revolution’s “engine room” and assess where the club stands in the middle of the park heading into next week’s SuperDraft in Baltimore.
Left Midfielders (Kenny Mansally, Marko Perovic, Chris Tierney, *Zak Boggs, *Roberto Linck)
Just as they did at left back, the Revs found little consistency in their personnel on the left side of midfield in 2010.
Jack-of-all-trades Chris Tierney led the line with 13 starts on the left wing – his preferred position – while the remaining 17 starts were essentially split evenly by four other players. Kenny Mansally played primarily as a forward through the spring and summer months, but started five of the last six games of the season at left midfield, the position he’s expressed a personal preference for in the past. The now-departed Khano Smith also made five starts on the left wing, while Marko Perovic (4) and Zak Boggs (3) were penciled into the position at various points.
Despite the fact that no player featured as the starting left midfielder for more than four consecutive games at any point in 2010 – a remarkable statistic forced by a spate of injuries and the resulting constant lineup shuffle – the Revs appear to be relatively deep at the position entering 2011.
After extensive offseason work to improve his speed and first step between the 2009 and 2010 seasons, Tierney established himself as a reliable option on the left side of midfield with one goal and four assists to complement his steady defense. Mansally, meanwhile, has struggled to find consistency in his play at both forward and left midfield but has shown flashes of electrifying skill on the left wing.
The wildcard here appears to be Perovic, the 26-year-old Serb who was billed as a left midfielder upon his arrival in Foxborough last March but then earned the Revolution’s 2010 Most Valuable Player award playing primarily as a withdrawn forward. Perovic made four starts at left midfield through April, May and June, but spent the rest of the year up top as the Revs looked to increase their attacking thrust. Should the Revolution acquire a starting forward or two this offseason – something we’ll talk about on Friday – it could necessitate a move for Perovic back to the left wing.
Both Boggs and Roberto Linck are also capable of playing on the left wing, with Boggs scoring the first two goals of his professional career at the position in a 3-2 loss to the Columbus Crew on May 8. The youngsters receive asterisks here because both will enter preseason training without deals in place for 2011.
Central Midfielders (Shalrie Joseph, Marko Perovic, Pat Phelan, Chris Tierney, *Jason Griffiths)
As was the case with the Revolution’s central defense yesterday, I have five players listed as capable of playing central midfield, but the figure is really more like three.
Perovic makes the list simply because he’s been billed as capable of playing in a central attacking role in a five-man midfield. However, the Revs started 29 of their 30 games last season in a 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) formation, and Perovic’s style likely wouldn’t work in the center of a four-man midfield.
Tierney’s here, too – he’s now been listed at every position I’ve evaluated except goalkeeper – because he made a couple of appearances in central midfield last season and looked pretty solid in the process. In terms of Tierney’s personal depth chart, however, central midfield falls behind both left midfield and left back.
That leaves us with Shalrie Joseph, Pat Phelan and Jason Griffiths (who’ll join Boggs and Linck in preseason camp without a 2011 deal in place). While all three are capable central midfielders, the trio consists primarily of defensive-minded players. For a team which lacked creativity en route to 32 goals last season, an attacking spark in the middle may be a necessary addition.
A 2009 league MVP finalist, Joseph is a lock to start in central midfield, with Phelan and Griffiths next on the depth chart. The key this offseason may well be finding a two-way player who can provide some attacking flair while simultaneously complementing Joseph in the middle.
Right Midfielders (Kheli Dube, Sainey Nyassi, *Zak Boggs, *Roberto Linck)
The right side of midfield belonged to Sainey Nyassi in 2010 as the young Gambian started 27 games on the right wing, only missing time while on national team duty. Nyassi scored three goals and added two assists in his third full season with the Revs, displaying occasional inconsistency but also showing flashes of brilliance which make him a likely candidate for the starting role again in 2011.
Previously limited to a forward role, Kheli Dube filled in on the right wing when Nyassi was absent in 2010 and impressed in his limited time at the position. In his first appearance at right midfield, Dube notched his first goal of the season after going scoreless in 13 appearances at forward. Entering 2011, Dube is certainly a viable option to back up Nyassi on the right wing.
Similar to their left wing roles, both Zak Boggs and Roberto Linck provide further options on the right side of midfield should they remain with the Revolution for the 2011 season.