By Kevin Koczwara
It’s a new season for the New England Revolution. The disappointments of 2010 have come and gone, and 2011 has arrived. With a new season comes a new ray of hope.
“Every year everybody’s dreaming. We’re not the only team doing that,” said New England manager Steve Nicol of the team’s aspirations this year.
The Revolution start the new season with a revamped squad. There are plenty of new faces — young and old– fighting for a spot on the roster. With a large turnover in players, the veterans for the Revs have had to step up and become better leaders.
“We’ve turned over a lot of personnel. A lot of people have moved on to a different part of their career. Some have gone over seas. Some moved on to other teams in the MLS, but that’s the nature of the business. You’ve just got to take it how it comes each year,” said Revolution captain and center midfielder Shalrie Joseph.
Joseph had one of his toughest seasons last year with the Revolution. The midfielder’s personal troubles off the field kept him out for a few weeks, injuries nagged him for period’s of time and the team didn’t gel the way anyone would have liked when he returned.
“Last year was a frustrating year personally in terms of my career. It was definitely one of my low points in the MLS, having to deal with the drug situation. And now I feel like I’m finally healthy,” said Joseph. But the negatives of last season haven’t stopped him from looking up and setting his eyes on lofty heights this season.
“Personally, I want to set some goals to be one of the best players in this league, if not the best, and to push this team to the top and get back to that Championship level that this team is capable of every year,” says Joseph.
Joseph will have to lead a group of young players and help some new faces get adjusted to the MLS this season. He and long-time Revs goalkeeper Mat Reis have had to step-up and become better leaders this offseason as the veterans of the group.
“With me and Matt being the guys who’ve been here the longest, definitely, we’ve got to step up and bring that leadership role and lead the younger guys, first year rookies, second year, we’ve just got to be leaders for these guys and try and set them in the right direction,” says Joseph.
The ambition and eagerness from the younger players has brought a new level of competition to the squad this preseason. The younger players have something to prove: They deserve to be on an MLS squad. And that’s brought a new level to practice that Joseph hasn’t seen in some time. “For me, this preseason has been one of the most competitive since I’ve been here,” said Joseph.
Nicol and the Revolution coaching staff have a lot of work to do this preseason, but they aren’t getting ahead of themselves.
“We just want to see some good habits. We’re still finalizing how we’re going to go about the season as far as formation and other things,” said Nicol. “We want to see good basics. If you have good basics it gives you a good platform to try things and go from there — by that I mean keeping the ball and making good decisions really.”
With all the new faces, Nicol will need to find out where each player fits in the scheme of things for New England. The team is young and still building chemistry, and Joseph’s experience will help with the building process, but the team can’t be rushed.
“Preseason has been a little tough in terms of we’re trying to figure out what system and what we like to play and find out each others strengths and weaknesses. With time I think we will develop as a team and definitely develop as a team and grow and be more mature,” says Joseph.
“Hopefully we can get it clicking as soon as possible, but as I said it’s a work in progress,” Joseph continued. “And me being here all these years, I’ve seen guys come in and I’ve seen guys go, and I know this team is capable of good things if we can figure it out and get us working as a team and as a unit.”
Coming together as a unit will determine how far the Revolution go this season. But, for the team to really meld, it needs to work on solidifying a defense that let in a league leading 50-goals last year and had the second worst goal differential in all the MLS, negative-18. For Nicol, it’s all about the basics in 2011.
“Again it goes back to basic things,” said Nicol. “If you have a majority of people comfortable on the ball, they enjoy playing and work hard and have good basics and are good people, then you have a chance to win games. That’s what it’s all about.”
With a clean slate, things look brighter already for the Revs in 2011.
Kevin Koczwara can be reached at Kevin.Koczwara@thesoccerguysonline.com.