When the New England Revolution traded away captain Shalrie Joseph, the club lost far more than just the greatest holding midfielder MLS has ever seen. In shipping the legendary captain to Chivas USA, the team also relinquished its undisputed leader and heretofore only seemingly irreplaceable piece over the last several seasons.
The club also assured Joseph, indisputably one of the club’s best players of all-time, would not have the chance to retire with the club he had played for his entire MLS career and played such a key role in the success of over the past 10 years.
Sure, Joseph wasn’t quite the same player he had been at his peak. But it wasn’t that long ago when the skipper was often relied upon to single-handedly carry his club to victory. That wasn’t the case this year. Then again, the four-time MLS Best XI selection and eight-time All-Star couldn’t carry his team forever.
Still, even at 34, Joseph provided a combination of skills no one else on the team possessed. He can still make defense splitting passes, slow the game down when needed, keep possession in tight situations, and provide an outlet for the defenders, all while completing a high percentage of passes.
The 6-foot-3 midfielder also brings a strong aerial presence and reads the game well to clog the passing lanes, even if he can’t cover as much of the field as he used to or make frequent box-to-box runs. All this, while possessing intangible leadership qualities and seemingly an ability to help his teammates keep more composure on the ball even while the club is struggling.
One doesn’t have to look back far to see the impact Joseph’s presence has on the Revs results – just take a glance at the last four games. Without Joseph in the starting XI, the club has lost to the three worst teams in the East. With Joseph, the club grabbed an impressive road point against the then-first place Sporting Kansas City.
The overall sample size is small, but it’s no coincidence the Revs are 1-4-1 (0.67 points per game) this season when Joseph doesn’t play or starts the game on the bench and 5-6-4 (1.27 ppg) when he starts. As mentioned, three of the losses without Joseph came against some of the worst teams in the league in Toronto, Philadelphia and Montreal. The tie also came against Toronto.
In fact the New England’s lone win without Joseph starting this was a July 8th 2-0 win over New York, a game in which Joseph played a key role off the bench. With 17 minutes remaining and the Revs up just 1-0 and on the back foot, head coach Jay Heaps brought on Joseph to stabilize a Revs team that looked on the verge of losing its lead. As expected, Joseph’s introduction helped calm things down and allowed the Revs to grab a late goal to secure an important conference win.
Looking back further, New England went a combined 1-7-2 (0.5 ppg) in 2010 and 2011 without Joseph starting and that one win came against D.C. United in 2010, the season they finished with one of the worst records in the history of MLS. Even with the Revs struggling, the club’s 1.02 ppg - even with a 13-25-16 record – with Joseph from 2010-11 was two times better than without him, much like this season.
Clearly the Revs have yet to prove they can win without Joseph on the field even with Clyde Simms in the fold this season.
Yet, one could argue the talismanic midfielder’s performances this season fell well short of his Designated Player (DP) salary, with guaranteed compensation of $554,333.33, according to the latest MLS Players Union numbers. But the Revs should’ve known what to expect. Joseph’s level of play this season hasn’t dropped from the second half of 2011 and if the team expected him to return to his peak when the re-signed him, they were betting heavily against the odds.
But still, even if his world-class skills as a holding midfielder weren’t always as noticeable this season, Joseph’s impact on the Revs results is undeniable. That alone likely should have been enough to justify his price to a team looking to make the playoffs.
This club, however, clearly isn’t capable of making MLS Cup Finals and winning a U.S. Open Cup, with or without Joseph, like they were – and did – at his peak. The move to offload Joseph may be a sign the team has for all intents and purposes surrendered to the long odds of making the playoffs this season. In that context, picking up Blair Gavin, a draft pick and allocation money in exchange for Joseph could prove a positive for future seasons.
Nevertheless, while the move may well be in New England’s best interests in the long term – after all Joseph’s not getting any younger – for the short term, unless a replacement DP is immediately signed, it’s hard to see how this move helps the Revs win games this year. Further, the move deprives Joseph – and the Foxboro Faithful – of the opportunity to retire in New England and shows once again, for better or for worse, that mutual loyalty in sports is almost nonexistent in the modern era.
1 of the saddest days of my life, I believed n trusted that I would retire a Rev. It’s a tough business but am looking forward to the future
— Shalrie Joseph(@ShalrieJoseph21) August 1, 2012
It really shouldn’t come as too big of a surprise that the Revs were willing to ship off their all-time leader in appearances (261), starts (254), and minutes played (22,867), despite Joseph remaining loyal to the club over the years, re-signing rather than waiting out his contract after MLS twice turned down oppurtunities for him to move to Scotland’s Glasgow, Scotland-based Celtic F.C. When the Revs failed to re-sign Steve Ralston – who held similar records at the time – prior to the 2010 season, the club appeared ready to let another legend walk. Ultimately Ralston came back when his new club AC St. Louis folded and retired with the Revs later that year, though not under ideal circumstances. Don’t expect the same opportunity to present itself with Joseph.