The Tweet and Lowdown:
The Revs watched streak of eight consecutive playoff berths end last year, but hope emphasis on possession-oriented approach will lead to postseason return in 2011.
Setting the Scene:
Injuries and poor stretches of play condemned the Revs to a season worth forgetting in 2010. With Taylor Twellman now officially retired after missing most of the past two seasons due to post-concussion symptoms, New England will usher in a new era with only Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis left to provide links to the glory days.
Although most of the key performers from the side that made four MLS Cup appearances between 2002 and 2007 have departed, Revolution coach Steve Nicol hopes to employ the possession-based style that fueled the success of those teams. Experienced campaigners Ousmane Dabo and Didier Domi should improve the Revs' work on the ball, but the overall potential of the group could hinge on whether the desired level of possession will ultimately yield the required production in front of goal.
Players In: Michael Augustine (FC Abuja, Nigeria), Ryan Cochrane (Houston, Re-Entry Process Stage Two), Franco Coria (Chacarita Juniors, Argentina), Ousmane Dabo (Lazio, Italy), Didier Domi (Olympiakos, Greece), Stephen McCarthy (North Carolina), Ryan Kinne (Monmouth), A.J. Soares (California)
Players Out: Preston Burpo (option declined), Cory Gibbs (Chicago, Re-Entry Process Stage Two), Emmanuel Osei (waived), Khano Smith (option declined), Taylor Twellman (removed from roster/medical reasons)
Star Attraction: Shalrie Joseph
Few players in the league have more riding on this season than the perennial Best XI candidate. Joseph, 32, will see his contract expire at the end of the season. His play on the field – plus his conduct off of it in the wake of a couple of incidents over the past year – will likely determine how smoothly those negotiations will proceed. In order for Joseph to land the contract he seeks, he will need to reproduce the form that saw him finish third in MLS MVP voting in 2009 and spark the Revs' charge toward an MLS Cup Playoffs berth.
Unsung Hero: Chris Tierney
The versatile 25-year-old performed well in several different spots across the back four and throughout midfield during his breakout 2010. While Tierney made a healthy share of his 27 league appearances at left back last year, he will likely slide into a left midfield role to start the campaign with Domi now in the fold. Tierney's flexibility could see him continue to float to other positions – right back remains an option with only converted midfielder Zak Boggs available to provide cover to the hamstrung Kevin Alston – as he seeks to consolidate his role in the starting XI as 2011 progresses.
[inline_node:302130]Ready for Primetime: Sainey Nyassi
While the Gambian international right winger has shown flashes of ability during his three full seasons with the Revolution, he has yet to produce consistently. Nicol believes this year looms as a potentially important one for the 22-year-old to influence games regularly and make the proper decisions in the attacking third.
The additions of Augustine and Kinne to challenge for a right midfield berth should provide Nyassi with the required inspiration to transform his potential into something more substantial.
Storyline to Watch:
Established European performers Dabo and Domi joined the Revs during the offseason as Nicol injected a dose of experience into his youthful side. Both Frenchmen should aid New England's work in possession after settling into the starting XI, but both players face some questions about their ability to adapt to the rigors of MLS after a lack of match action over the past nine months.
Dabo – projected to start alongside Joseph in central midfield – injured his right quad shortly after arriving in camp, while left back Domi has missed a short amount of time with swelling in his right knee. In order for the Revs to compete, both players must shake off those issues and distinguish themselves as reliable fixtures in the starting XI.
What He Said:
“The biggest thing, as always, is keeping the ball. Pretty simply, we didn't do that last year. If we don't keep the ball, then the other team is at you all the time. We want to reverse that so we're at teams all of the time and not defending as much.”
– Revolution head coach Steve Nicol
If Everything Goes Right:
New England will relegate their recent trend of direct play to the scrap heap and restore a possession-oriented approach through midfield. More time on the ball should lead to less defensive chasing and more attacking opportunities for the goal-shy Revs. The defensive efforts should improve with Nicol set to improve the organization and the stability of the back four, but success or failure could depend on whether the Revs can secure a Designated Player-caliber striker to lead the line and score regularly.
If the right player lands in Foxborough and receives the proper supply from midfield, the Revs should return to the MLS Cup Playoffs in 2011. Without a frequent threat at the sharp end, it may prove too difficult to engineer a return to the postseason.
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