Shalrie Joseph vs. Kansas City Wizards
Keith Nordstrom

Joseph welcomes competition for midfield spots

ORLANDO, Fla. – For better or worse, one word seemed to dominate any and all discussion involving the New England Revolution in 2010: possession.

When the Revs were struggling for results, the primary issue always seemed to be an inability to hold the ball for extended spells, forcing the players to chase and defend for long periods. Likewise, with improved possession came improved results – not to mention more scoring chances – during a midseason unbeaten run and a brief late-season surge.

With last year’s possession woes in mind, the Revolution has spent much of the current preseason working to ensure a similar fate doesn’t prove costly in 2011.

“That’s what we’ve been working on throughout the first couple weeks (of preseason), stressing that we have to take better care of the ball,” said captain and central midfielder Shalrie Joseph after Tuesday morning’s training session at the University of Central Florida. “I think once we do that, we’re going to create a lot more chances.

“We’re going to get fit and we’re going to be ready to play,” Joseph continued. “But we have to do better with the ball and make better decisions with the ball when we have it.”

On the field, head coach Steve Nicol has addressed the issue by focusing recent training sessions on passing and possession drills. Off the field, the Revolution’s technical staff moved to strengthen the midfield by adding experienced Frenchman Ousmane Dabo.

Dabo is still awaiting approval of his U.S. P-1 Visa, preventing the former Manchester City and Lazio midfielder from officially being added to the Revs’ roster and joining his new teammates for training. Nicol is hopeful that process will be completed in the coming days, however, and the possibility remains that Dabo could meet up with the Revolution in Florida during the club’s current 11-day training trip.

When Dabo does arrive, he’ll find himself part of a crowded central midfield along with Joseph, last year’s appearance leader Pat Phelan and promising rookie Stephen McCarthy.

“It’s important during a long season that we have depth in each and every position,” said Joseph. “Having guys compete for those one or two spots is going to make our team better and we look forward to the challenge.”

Not only will the quartet provide healthy competition for those coveted starting spots in the middle of the field, but depth will be essential during the upcoming season’s expanded 34-game schedule. While injuries and fatigue wouldn’t exist in an ideal world, it’s unrealistic to expect the same two players to start every game in central midfield from March to October.

With four central midfielders of varying experience on board, the Revs appear to have the necessary base as they aim for improved possession in 2011. Now it’s a matter of putting the idea into action.

“Too many times – especially last year – we gave the ball away cheaply and it hurt us,” said goalkeeper Matt Reis. “I think that’s something that we really need to work on.”