The New England Revolution (4-11-10, 21 points) extended their winless streak to five games on Wednesday, leaving the team with no option but to look to the future. And no, the future isn’t Saturday’s game against the New York Red Bulls.
With the playoffs now all but mathematically out of reach, it’s time to start thinking about 2012. But that doesn’t mean ignoring the rest of this season. Quite the contrary.
With nine games remaining and no realistic path to the playoffs, the Revs have a rare opportunity to experiment against MLS opponents fighting for points while having little pressure on themselves to pick line-ups solely focused on results. The Revs should use that opportunity to find out what their roster – from top to bottom – is capable of.
Of course one can’t expect head coach Steve Nicol to bench known quantities like Pat Phelan, Chris Tierney, Sainey Nyassi and captain Shalrie Joseph for the remainder of the season. That’s simply not an option for a multitude of reasons.
Besides the likelihood that none of the regulars are likely to be happy with extended periods on the bench, throwing the reserves all out together on the field isn’t the way to find out what some of the unused players are capable of. Instead, Nicol would be best served to start rotating his squad.
Can Ryan Guy play at this level? Sending Zak Boggs to the bench for a game and giving Guy the chance to show what he’s got at his natural position of right midfield for close to 90 minutes is the only true way to find out.
What about Ryan Kinne? The First Team All-American impressed enough in the preseason to see plenty of time at right midfield in the team’s exhibition matches, but has only seen a minute of league action. Giving the rookie a chance to start on the right and/or just behind Caraglio as a forward would help show if the 21-year-old has a future in the league.
Then there’s Alan Koger, Andrew Sousa, Otto Loewy and of course new signing Monsef Zerka. Just six (seven if designated player Milton Caraglio is included) true unknowns left on the roster means it shouldn’t be hard at all to get each of them at least one game of league action.
Sure some of them have seen time – and in Koger’s case scored – in the US Open Cup and MLS Reserve League play, but it’s simply not the same as playing in actual MLS games surrounding by the Revs first team. And that’s the key.
Playing in the Open Cup and Reserve League not only makes it hard to tell what a player is capable of because they are playing weakened opposition, but also because they are playing with relatively untested players in similar situations to themselves. Only playing with the first team –the players they’d actually be on the pitch with should they earn starting spots – against MLS opposition will truly test where a player is at.
Now is the time to experiment. With Zerka’s signing the Revs have far too many forwards and appear unlikely keep all of them heading into next season. Knowing if Koger and Kinne can compete will make the decision easier. Right midfield sees a similar predicament with Sainey Nyassi, Boggs, Guy, Kinne, Zack Schilawski and now possibly Zerka all potential options, now is the time to discover who actually is a viable option and who should be let go in the offseason.
And now is also the time to look at other ways to improve the team. After two seasons – barring a miraculous run of thus far unforeseen proportions – of failing to make the playoffs, the club must also consider whether a shake-up of the coaching staff or elsewhere in the organization is needed.
Sure, the Revs may hold out hope of going 8-1-0 or 7-0-2 (the records needed just to give the team better than a 50% chance of making the playoffs) and do everything they can to get a victory against the New York Red Bulls on Saturday. But the team would be ill-advised to ignore the unwanted opportunity presented to them by their poor record this season much longer.