New England Soccer Today

Nine for Nine: Suggestions for the homestretch

For the first time in Steve Nicol’s tenure, it appears that the Revolution will not be making reservations for the MLS postseason this year. Eight points out with only nine games remaining isn’t exactly the stuff playoff pushes are made of. But that doesn’t mean the final nine matches should be considered a waste or declared utterly meaningless.

To the contrary: this final slew of matches could provide Nicol and his staff some crucial information regarding his group going into 2011. It should provide a forum for the three “E”‘s – evaluation, experience, and experimentation.

Here are nine things the Revolution should consider during these final nine matches:

1. Re-institute the 3-5-2 on a full-time basis. During the course of the season, the team has looked downright lethargic in the 4-4-2. Their creativity is stifled, and the players seem to start slow. The 3-5-2, with this Revs team, encourages more imagination and certainly more spirit in the attack. Last month’s Kansas City match, which the Revs started in a 3-5-2, was an aberration. Forget four at the back – it’s time to stop playing conservative football.

2. Start the rookies. Whenever healthy, the rookies should start every match going forward. Seth Sinovic, Zak Boggs, Zack Schilawski, and

Brian would like to see rookies like Zack Schilawski see more playing time and Pat Phelan play center back over the last nine games. (Photo by CHRIS ADUAMA/

Jason Griffiths have all shown flashes of potential. They need minutes, and they’re not going to accrue experience riding the pine. It’s time to take the training wheels off some of these players and give them the spotlight. It shouldn’t be about the present. It should be about the future from here until November.

3. Drop Pat Phelan into the centerback role. It’s obvious that Pat Phelan doesn’t like to play in the back. He’s hinted at that a few times. And that’s fine. But this is a team, and at last check, it was spelled “T-E-A-M”, and not “P-H-E-L-A-N.” The third year midfielder has shown himself well as a centerback, and has the skills to mold himself as a quality centerback if he applies himself to that position. All he has to do is start liking it a little more.

4. Platoon Matt Reis and Bobby Shuttleworth between the pipes. Good goalkeepers seem to always age gracefully, so there shouldn’t be any concern about Reis’ skills waning. However, if the past two years have proven anything, it’s that Reis’ body is starting to break down. By alternating keepers, the veteran’s health is better preserved while Shuttleworth earns more experience. In short, it’s a win/win for both players.

5. Sign a defender. This is a bonafide no brainer. After Joseph Niouky was waived back on August 10th, the Revs still have an open roster spot, and the backline is obviously limping to the finish. It’s a banged up bunch that has struggled to remain intact all season. And with only five backs on the roster, a defender should have been signed a long time ago.

6. Designate Roberto Linck as de facto “super sub.” Typically, the first man off the bench has been Khano Smith, a player of limited ability and unlimited liability.  As shown in the SuperLiga Final, Linck gives the Revolution attack a sharper bite with sound passing and good movement off the ball. Plus, there’s little debate that Betu’s the better player.

7. Put Zack Schilawski up top and keep Marko Perovic on the left. What Schilawski needs to really get into a groove is good service. Marko Perovic is one of the best passers on the team. The former Demon Deacon, who appears to be the future up top, has thrived when he’s provided with precise passing. He should be given every opportunity to gain critical match experience if he’s going to be the team’s primary goalscorer next season and beyond.

8. Find an apprentice to Shalrie Joseph. When the Best XI center mid was suspended earlier this season, the team slid down an especially steep slope. Of course, there are few, if any, better than Shalrie at his position, but it’s time to start thinking about grooming a 1A, or at least a legitimate midfield partner. It’s impossible to develop a Joseph clone, but it certainly wouldn’t be wasted time to find a serviceable replacement, whether it’s Jason Griffiths or even Chris Tierney.

9. Experiment. It may sound somewhat counter-intuitive, but getting results should not be the only thing that matters to Nicol right now. Whether it’s playing Kevin Alston at right mid, slotting Zak Boggs at left back, or starting Tim Murray for the season finale, what needs to be learned is where else players can serve when the roster gets thin, like it is right now. Plus, you never know what you may discover about a given player in these circumstances.

Ultimately, almost all of the above boils down to the manager. Does Nicol fall victim to pride and play the regulars down the stretch, or does he employ some much needed outside-the-box thinking?

The time to find out what this team is made of, from top to bottom, is now.

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