Any delusions of the New England Revolution making the playoffs were finally brought to an end on Saturday with the Revs 2-1 loss to the Seattle Sounders. Now Revs head coach Steve Nicol has two options: stay the course, keep playing the same struggling lineup and learn nothing new about his reserves or give some rarely used players a chance to prove they belong on next year’s roster.
Going with the first option might just help the Revs avoid the worst record in club history, but gains little in terms of building for next season and in a league that rewards futility with allocations and high draft picks has no long term benefit.
Yet after Saturday’s loss, it seemed based on the postgame comments that the Revs were more likely to stay the course, much as they did last season after the playoffs were out of reach.
“We have to go about it the same way we did [Saturday],” Nicol said when asked about how the Revs would approach the final three games.
If going about it the same way means putting out the same line-up that couldn’t get the job done all season instead of finally testing some new players to see if they should still be a part of the squad next season, then Nicol will have wasted a valuable opportunity. In a season of quick fixes aimed at winning now that nearly all turned out to be busts, the Revs are left with just three games to start the rebuilding process.
Sure, thanks in part to the injury to Rajko Lekic, Nicol handed 16-year-old Diego Fagundez his first start Saturday, but otherwise the line-up was much the same as it had been all season with only a few minor changes due to injuries or call-ups. There was no Ryan Kinne, no Alan Koger, no Andrew Sousa and no Otto Loewy, four rookies with a combined one minute of MLS action this season, on the pitch or even the bench.
It’s possible Nicol has seen enough of all four players in practice and reserve games to know none are MLS quality and won’t be back next year, but with many constantly forced to play out of position thanks to the team’s poor roster composition it’s hard to believe some of them have really gotten a fair chance to prove themselves. Kinne and Koger, in particular, have often been employed far out of their comfort zones in reserve games and performances have suffered as a result.
In three games now, Nicol can give these players a shot. He could give Kinne the chance to play as a second striker off Caraglio with the rest of the first team, a position where the Connecticut native was twice named a First Team All-American and helped to put Monmouth University on the college soccer map, providing an opportunity to see if the 22-year old could make an impact.
Koger, who shined in the U.S. Open Cup and has scored for the reserves, could also be given an opportunity to perform up top, while Sousa and Loewy could get a chance in the midfield and defense, respectively. If Nicol believes any of his unused rookies have a chance of being a part of the squad next season, now is the perfect time to give them a shot.
Of the four, the case of Kinne is perhaps the most intriguing. The rookie, seen by some as a steal in the third round of the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, saw ample time in preseason on the right flank, often starting for the team and showed enough to earn a MLS debut off the bench in the team’s home opener. That was the only MLS action Kinne has seen all season.
Kinne has shown promising flashes and an eye for goal in reserve games and was singled out by Revs captain Shalrie Joseph as a player who has been working hard to get on the field.
“I think that decision is up to Steve [Nicol], but I definitely want to see all of these guys play,” said Joseph after Saturday’s match. “Especially for Ryan Kinne, he’s been working really hard in practice the last couple of weeks. All of these guys have been working hard and it’s hard to break into this eleven because we’ve got good guys who have been working hard everyday week in and week out to [have] a starting job.
“In my eyes I would definitely like to see these guys play and get that chance they deserve,” added Joseph. “Stevie [Nicol] will make that decision and hopefully we’ll move forward from there.”
In a long season of disappointments, the chance to find a few youngsters who can contribute next year and be a part of the long term future for this team could prove a rare positive for the 2011 Revs. It’s up to Nicol to decide whether any of his rookies deserve that opportunity.