Captain Distraction

Shalrie Joseph is one of the best players in MLS. Without question.

He is a ball winner, an organizer, a stopper, a physical presence, a goal scorer, and a vocal leader in the heart of the attack. It would not be a stretch that there are many occasions when Joseph does it all.

All, except for one crucially important thing: setting a good example.

It goes without saying that the tremendous amount of responsibility placed upon a skipper’s shoulders can either break or strengthen a team’s composure both on and off the pitch. It is, by no means, an easy job. As Spider Man creator Stan Lee once said: With great power comes great responsibility.

Unfortunately, the responsibility aspect of the job description hasn’t appeared terribly important to Joseph during his tenure as captain. Just look at the past ten months alone.

Last April, less than two months after he was given the captain’s armband, Joseph was suspended for five games after he reportedly failed a drug test early in the season. Joseph himself later revealed that the drug involved was marijuana. As a result, he entered the league’s behavioral and drug abuse program all the while his club faltered without him. Although he publicly apologized for his transgressions, it was clear that a bad precedent had already been set only a month into his first season as captain.

In the following months, it seemed as if though the drug suspension was simply an isolated incident. A lapse in judgment and nothing more, as the remainder of the season proceeded without incident, even if the team’s on-the-pitch performance sputtered.

But it wasn’t long before another controversy reared its ugly head.

When the club opened up its preseason training schedule on January 31st, every player on the camp roster was accounted for and present inside the Dana Farber Fieldhouse. Well, almost everyone. The club captain, the man who should have arrived well before the rest of his teammates, decided it was in his best interest to forgo the first day of camp. Curiously, an explanation was not given, which made his absence particularly troubling given the number of inexperienced players in camp who were left wondering where their skipper was on Day 1.

But wait. There’s more. Over the weekend, Joseph was sent home prematurely from the club’s preseason excursion in Orlando for disciplinary reasons. This time, however, he decided that it was worthwhile to drag along a fellow teammate – Kevin Alston – into another suspicious situation.

Now, all of this isn’t to say that Shalrie is a bad person or terrible teammate, because he is neither. He has proven to be a good teammate, and decent role model. Last year’s club was riddled with mistake-prone players, yet he never pointed the finger at anyone else but himself. It was his fault, not theirs, he’d say. And he’d make himself accountable when very few would. In short, he was willing to shoulder the responsibility for the club’s failures even though they were rarely the result of his own performance. It takes character to do that.

However, it takes more than character to set a good example. To avoid compromising situations. To embrace the responsibility, and shun any appearance of impropriety. It takes something Joseph has failed to grasp in his role as captain: integrity.

After all, you would never see Landon Donovan, Brian Ching, or Kasey Keller lighting spliffs or sitting at home on the first day of camp. Why? Because they fully understand that after the armband is earned, they must accept the wide-ranging implications that come with it. The captaincy is not earned once, but rather, it must be protected and preserved every day, both on and off the pitch.

That is a lesson that Joseph has apparently missed when he played along side the club’s previous captains. It wasn’t long ago that the Best XI midfielder held himself accountable to the rest of his experienced teammates – players like Jay Heaps, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Jose Cancela, and Joe Franchino. Joseph wasn’t stupid – he knew he’d be given hell if he ever stepped out of line.

Today, without that veteran presence in place, it is as if he believes that he is accountable to no one, given all of the first and second year players on this year’s squad. He answers only to himself knowing that he probably won’t be questioned or called out by one of his inexperienced colleagues.

Joseph is a great player, no doubt. One of the best the league’s ever seen. But the past ten months alone has shown us that he is not a particularly great leader.

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About Brian O'Connell

Brian O'Connell serves as editor and staff writer at New England Soccer Today. He's also the Revolution beat writer for ESPNBoston.com, and is Officer at Large for the North American Soccer Reporters. He regularly contributes to The Associated Press, and has been featured on MLSSoccer.com & RevsNet.com. Follow him on Twitter: @BrianOConnell21 or contact him via e-mail at BOConnell21@aol.com