New England Soccer Today

The Year That Was: New England Revolution

For the New England Revolution, 2010 is a year the club will be glad to finally see in the rearview mirror. In their worst season under head coach Steve Nicol and arguably their worst of the 21st century, there was little to be excited about.

The Revs struggled to replace outgoing veterans and rarely looked a threat to top teams until it was too late in the season to make a difference. A midseason trip to the SuperLiga Final failed to quell the frustration of Revolution fans, as the club missed the postseason for the first time since 2001 with a record of 9-16-5 (32 points).

With the status of several players still in limbo, the forecast was already cloudy in January. The SuperDraft proved to be a moderate success as the Revs would get production out of draft picks Zack Schilawski, Seth Sinovic, Zak Boggs and Jason Griffiths. Despite their best efforts, it was impossible,within a 30-game schedule, to replace the veterans who had helped build the Revolution dynasty.

With Jay Heaps’ retirement, as well as the trade of Chris Albright for a second and third round draft pick to New York, the backline lost years of valuable experience.

Compounding the problem was All-Star goalkeeper Matt Reis’ offseason surgery that would keep him out for a good portion of the season. The loss of talent and experience continued when the team somehow failed to re-sign midfield stalwarts Steve Ralston and Jeff Laretonwicz.

Suffering from a serious lack of leadership, experience and depth, the Revs hoped to address these issues  by acquiring former U.S. National Team defender Cory Gibbs and veteran ‘keeper Preston Burpo in a package deal for Larentowicz and Wells Thompson. Needing to address the canyon left by Larentowicz’s departure, the team signed Senegalese midfielder Joseph Niouky.

Unfortunately for the Revolution, those additions did not come even close to filling the gaping holes across the field. While Burpo proved to be a solid fill-in for Reis, Gibbs struggled with injuries and rarely looked in top form. Niouky never seemed to get up to speed with MLS and was mercifully released in August.

While the team was optimistic that all-time leading scorer Taylor Twellman would come back from his concussion-related injuries, he was eventually added to the season-ending injury list in June after suffering a setback in his recovery.

Meanwhile, Schilawski looked like a solid replacement early in the season, as the former Demon Deacon registered a hat trick in the third game of the season, a 4-1 thrashing over Toronto. But after his fast start, one in which he scored goals against the Red Bulls and Dallas, the rookie striker faded in the summmer months, and would not score another league goal for the rest of the season.

The loss of Twellman continued to haunt the club as Kheli Dube struggled find his form after battling midseason injuries. Edgaras Jankauskas, who was re-signed for a reported $240,000 prior to the season, did little to prove his worth and was subsequently waived before the end of the season.

Despite the litany of shortcomings and pitfalls, the late-March signing of 26-year-old Serbian attacking midfielder Marko Perovic provided a glimmering hope during the season. The Serbian international provided a constant, if not lone, threat  in the attacking third, and went on to lead the team with six goals and earned Revolution MVP honors.

Another positive development was the midseason addition of Ilija Stolica, who gave Perovic a capable partner up top. Although the 31-year-old Serbian striker would only score three times in 14 games with the club, his class and ability was evident and added the leadership that the young, unpolished squad desperately needed.

The struggles at forward were just part of the problem. When no one in midfield proved capable of providing the dependability that Ralston brought, the team naturally beckoned the 35-year-old back. Luckily, Ralston returned, but not before he sustained an elbow injury only minutes into his second act. His retirement would come before the end of the summer.

The midfield woes were further exacerbated when skipper Shalrie Joseph missed the start of the season, reportedly due to a substance abuse violation, and missed eight games overall.  The emergence of Kenny Mansally on the left to compliment Sainey Nyassi on the right gave the midfield some much needed bite, but the service lacked all season as the Revs eeked out a meager 32 goals, their lowest offensive output in team history.

It wasn’t just the lack of suitable replacements that sunk the ship. Injuries ravaged the defense all season with Gibbs, Darrius Barnes, Emmanuel Osei, and Kevin Alston all missing significant time. Those injuries, along with Nicol constantly rotating rookie Seth Sinovic in and out of the line-up, kept the revolving door turning all season.

The situation in goal also found itself in flux after Burpo went down with a season-ending injury in May and was replaced in net by second year ‘keeper Bobby Shuttleworth until Reis was ready in June. Shuttleworth was called upon again when Reis underwent season-ending surgery with three games remaining. The lack of chemistry in the defending third was apparent as the team coughed up a league-worst 50 goals, highlighted by a humiliating 5-0 thrashing at the hands of Salt Lake in early July.

SuperLiga provided a scarce occasion when the backline found some consistency. Amazingly, the patchwork Revs recorded a 389 minute shutout streak through all competitions en route to a eight-match unbeaten streak from July 14th through August 14th as well as a SuperLiga Final in September.

Since the Revs failed to qualify for the U.S. Open Cup and would end up missing the MLS playoffs, the SuperLiga proved the team’s one chance to win some silverware. The Revs would fail in their bid to become the first team to claim two SuperLiga titles, however, as they fell in the final 2-1 to Mexico’s Monarca Morelia.

With their postseason hopes shot, the only thing left to play for in the waning weeks was pride. Incredibly, the Revs rose to occasion, as their level of play seemed to rise and the team went toe-to-toe with Dallas, Columbus, and Salt Lake down the stretch. While the improvement was promising, the need for serious offseason change remained.

Indeed, if 2008 and 2009 weren’t clear enough signs about how far the Revs have fallen since their last MLS Cup appearance in 2007, then the 2010 season certainly was. Failing to adequately replace Clint Dempsey, Pat Noonan, Andy Dorman, Michael Parkhurst,  Larentowicz, and Ralston unsurprisingly caught up to the Revs this year. Twellman’s retirement after the season further solidified the need for major reinforcements.

After the team declined the options on several players’ contracts (including Gibbs and Burpo)  this offseason, combined with the departures of the high-salaried Twellman and Jankauskas, the team suddenly finds itself with considerable salary cap room to work with this offseason. The team already signed re-entry draft selection Ryan Cochrane to add defensive depth, but will need to sign more than a single player to plug all of the holes.

Late in the season, Revs chief operating officer Brian Bilello made clear the Revs recognize their need to improve and will pursue signing one or more designated players, a distinction given to players making over a $335,000+ salary that only counts partially against the cap. Such an investment could show the Revs commitment to getting the team back on track. Now it’s up to the Revs to find – and sign – the necessary players across the field to get the team back into contention.

Twenty ten, if anything, served as a tough lesson for the Revolution, from start to finish. Next year will prove whether that lesson was learned.

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