By Ryan Fleming, Kevin Koczwara and Michael King
To say the season was a disappointment would be a severe understatement. At the beginning of the season the New England Revolution struggled early and often; unfortunately that abysmal pattern followed the Revs all season.
Missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001 will hurt no one more than the team’s longest tenured player, Shalrie Joseph.
“I guess when the regular season’s done, then it’ll fully hit me,” said Joseph talking about the shock of missing the playoffs.
Well, by now it’s surely hit the captain and the rest of his teammates. The season is over and the visions of a team that was riddled by injuries and a sudden absence of their captain (Joseph) aided their demise.
Certainly the most inconsistent position within the team. Scoring only 31 goals on the season, good for 13th out of 16 in the MLS, the Revs’ offense lacked any significant punch throughout the entire season.
The arrival of Marko Perovic a day before the Revs opened the season against LA, was one of the higher points for the club.
Perovic possessed a degree of finesse and a how-can-I-surprise-everyone-next attitude that worked for the Serbian. Voted the team’s MVP at the end of the season, Perovic thrilled the fans with his free kicks and his effortless footwork around opposing defenders while notching a team-high six goals.
Kheli Dube and Kenny Mansally didn’t have breakout season’s by any means. The 21-year-old Mansally netted four goals on the season, but like his counterpart, consistently wasted chances when they presented themselves . What Mansally, the Gambian international, has going for him is his youth. This upcoming season is a make or break year for the forward who has been with the club since 2007, only potting seven goals in 61 appearances.
Dube, on the other hand, showed to the Revs supporters what he is capable of when distributing the ball. Dube tallied four assists to follow up three goals. To think of what those numbers could have been if even have the opportunities were capitalized on brings a headache to any Revs follower.
Rookie Zack ilawski had a typical rookie season. He went through ups and downs, learning the the type of game the MLS presents. Schilawski started the season fast, netting four goals in the first six games of the season, including a hat trick in a 4-1 win at the hands of Toronto at Gillette (the Revs’ biggest margin of victory all season). The rookie’s last goal came on May 29 – almost five months ago. In seven of the last eight games, Schilawski was used as a sub and didn’t manage a single shot on net. Ending the season on such a lame note has to be alerting to manager Steve Nichol and the rest of the team’s coaches, but the inaugural season for any player is one set aside for learning.
It’s impossible to discuss the performance of the Revolution midfield without focusing heavily on Shalrie Joseph. The Grenadian international is the definition of a holding midfielder and is arguably the Revs most important player. The team’s slump during his suspension is a testament to how he affects play on the field. Not only does he touch the ball more than anyone else on the pitch, he coordinates the Revs’ distribution in addition to making well-timed tackles throughout the midfield. When he was on the field, Joseph was almost always effective. But his prolonged absence lowers his grade and the overall assessment of the midfield.
Aside from Joseph, Pat Phelan was also dependable and had a good season as one of the Revs more versatile players as he took up the role of center back while the team struggled with injuries.
In addition, speedster Sainey Nyassi had several notable games with his pace adding a unique dynamic out wide for the Revovlution. Though not a goalscorer by trade, Nyassi often put himself in position to get shots on net and create chances for his teammates. The young Gambian will need to keep improving, getting tougher, and continue to work on his first touch along the sideline, something that let him down more than once this season.
Joseph’s absence, along with a number of other injuries to players in the midfield, hampered the New England from the start. Joseph Niouky was signed in February and made 13 appearances in the central midfield role, only to be released in August. His wasteful distribution and knack for fouling all over the field put the Revs at a disadvantage while the team waited for its captain’s return.
In a head scratching move before the season started, the Revolution resigned former midfielder Khano Smith. Smith was waived by the Red Bulls during its abysmal 2009 season as the worst team and then tried to make an impact in England, only to be released after five appearances for League two (fourth tier of English football, think of Single-A baseball) side Lincoln City F.C. And Smith struggled for much of the season and saw much of his playing time gobbled up by the ever improving and extremely versatile Chris Tierney.
Tierney was one of the truly bright spots for the Revolution this season as he played almost every position on the field for the team at some point or another. The left-footed midfielder showed he can carry himself with the best and his versatility will make him a valuable asset moving forward.
In fairness to the midfield, at times much of the team’s lack of success was derived from lapses in defending and the inability to finish chances. Not to say that this unit didn’t have games where it was over matched, but it often put the team in a position to be successful.
Defenders: C –
Now, before you question the grade, remember this: countless times throughout the season did the Revs offense count on the defense to keep them in the game. Yes, they allowed 50 goals (50!), the most in the league, but take away the 5-0 loss to Real Salt Lake on July 2 at Rio Tinto (arguably the hardest place to play in the MLS) and a 4-0 defeat at the hands of Chivas and you have a goals-allowed number that is back in respectable territory.
The pairing of Cory Gibbs and Darrius Barnes didn’t work like it was expected to. Barnes and Gibbs struggled as a unit in the middle of the Revolution defense. Gibbs, acquired via a trade with the Colorado Rapids along with goalkeeper Preston Burpo, was suppose to be the Revs answer to its inexperienced and young backline, but the former Feyenoord center back had injury problems and two suspensions that held him back. Barnes came into the season nursing an injury and the rust showed on the field.
Surprisingly, the best center back pairing came when Emmanuel Osei was playing at the top of his game. Osei takes risks, makes untimely fouls and can have some of silliest turnovers anyone has seen, but his risk taking was something both Barnes and Gibbs were missing when trying to slow down a counter attack. Osei did make more than his fair share of errors, but at other times he was the shutdown defender Nicol was looking for.
On the outside of the defense, Kevin Alston was superb when healthy and looks to be developing into one of the best right backs in the MLS. Alston won the Revolution’s Defender of the Year award despite missing eight games. If the 22-year-old can stay healthy and keep improving his crossing ability and shooting, he could be the Revolution’s answer to the lack of service to its attacking game.
Rookie Seth Sinovic showed a lot of poise for a second round pick in the MLS Super Draft (25th overall) on the left side of the Revs defense. Sinovic is still raw in the attack, and could use to put on a few more pounds of muscle in the offseason to deal with the physical play in the MLS, but he showed good anticipation on the field and showed good poise when given a difficult marking assignment. Things should be looking up for the 23 year old in the coming seasons.
To start off, the Revolution were without their perennial starting keeper, Matt Reis, who was recovering from offseason knee surgery. The team made a trade to fill the void left by Reis’s absence for Preston Burpo from Colorado. Burpo stepped in and did a superb job.
Time and time again Burpo was stellar in keeping the Revs in games – giving his team a fighting chance. Despite his record in net (3-6-2), to say Burpo adequately filled in for Reis would be an understatement. Burpo’s reign in net, though, was short lived. On May 29, against the Red Bull’s, Burpo suffered a lower right leg fracture, which would keep him out for the remainder of the season.
In place of Burpo came youngster Bobby Shuttleworth. Shuttleworth filled in for the Revs’ next two games before the World Cup break while Reis stayed on the sidelines recovering. In that span, the Revolution went 1-1, while the keeper posted six saves. Toward the back end of the season, the 23-year-old started the final three games of the season as Reis was again recovering; this time from ankle surgery the keeper had on Oct. 13.
In the final few games of the season Shuttleworth proved that he could be a keeper for the future – posting a 2-1 record with a six-save performance in the team’s 2-1 win over Houston on Oct. 10. With Reis’s age starting to come in question, Shuttleworth might get more opportunities next season.
When Reis fully recovered from his offseason repair, the 35-year-old appeared in 14 games, after missing the first 12. Reis complied a 4-7-3 record and a 1.79 goals-against average. The year was certainly not the best in the veteran’s career, but with a young, mostly inexperienced defense, it was the keepers who saw that brunt of the poor result.