Final Goodbyes?

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - Did Saturday night’s home finale signal the end of an era?

With the contracts of longtime manager Steve Nicol and skipper Shalrie Joseph set to expire in the offseason, last weekend’s match may have marked the last time both walked off the pitch as members of the Revolution. But was it?

It’s hard to say, especially with one more game – Saturday’s season finale in Toronto – remaining. However, Nicol, for his part, stated his desire to remain in Foxboro for an 11th season shortly after his team’s 3-0 loss to Columbus.

“I certainly hope so,” said Nicol when asked about whether he’ll be back next season. “I have no idea (if I’ll be here next year).”

That’s not entirely surprising. After all, if it were Nicol’s call, there’s little doubt that the longest-tenured manager in team history would extend his contract and return to Patriot Place for another season.

But since it’s not his call, and the decision presumably lies with Chief Operating Officer Brian Bilello and President Sunil Gulati, only they can accurately speak to Nicol’s future in Foxboro. And, for their parts, the neither’s publicly provided specifics regarding Nicol’s status for 2012.

If the decision to let Nicol go is made, the front office will have to conduct a laborious search to find his replacement. While former Nicol lieutenant Paul Mariner has been rumored, if not outright wished for by many, as a replacement, the price for the former England striker may prove to be too steep. It’s likely that the team will search for an economical choice – perhaps a college coach or MLS assistant – to fill Nicol’s enormous shoes in Norfolk County.

Then, there’s Joseph. The heart and soul of the stumbling squad has given conflicting answers when questions regarding his future are raised. Over the summer, he tweeted that he wasn’t returning next season. Last week, he told The Boston Globe that wasn’t coming back unless Nicol’s back as well. On Saturday, Joseph praised the fanbase for its loyalty but, as expected, refused to state for sure whether he’ll return.

“I love playing here,” said Joseph. “The fans came out in so many numbers tonight and (even though) it was a little bit cold tonight, they still came out to cheer and show their appreciation. That’s what makes it fun playing here.”

There’s no doubt that Joseph, who’s been a fan favorite and perennial MLS All-Star during his nine seasons in New England, would be welcomed back by the front office – for the right price, of course. Although the powers that be may have allowed Andy Dorman, Pat Noonan, Michael Parkhurst, and others to leave for higher-paying gigs, Bilello and Gulati have a record of success in wrapping up deals with the faces of the franchise. Just ask Taylor Twellman, Matt Reis, and – you guessed it – Joseph, who’s already the highest-paid player on the roster.

Even so, there’s no telling what the skipper’s asking price for 2012 and beyond will be. At 33-years-old, the central midfielder is probably eyeing the last significant contract of his career this winter. Will he take a hometown discount, rather than maximize his earnings one final time?

And it may not be just the money, either. The team’s three-year slide has clearly worn on the skipper’s pride. It’s not beyond the realm to see Joseph jump ship for an atmosphere more conducive to winning and, by extension, allow him to stretch his playing career.

These are all worthwhile questions to consider when Joseph’s status for next season enters the conversation. Meanwhile, if Saturday was, in fact, his final farewell in Foxboro, Joseph had nothing but kind words for his adoring fans.

“Even though we don’t have our own (soccer specific) stadium, they still come out all the way to Foxboro and support us,” said Joseph, who was clearly touched by the positive response of the Revolution fans after Saturday’s home finale. “I think that’s why I love playing here. They come here and show us love, they cheer for us, and that’s what you want from fans.”

Joseph wasn’t the only one who applauded the fans. Nicol, who’s always shown an appreciation for the supporters, also went out of his way to praise their loyalty in the wake of Saturday’s loss.

“We appreciate them coming every home game to watch us and support us, which they have done fantastically all season,” said Nicol. “So it’s disappointing we couldn’t finish up by giving them something to go home with a smile on their face.”

Especially if last Saturday night proves to be Joseph and Nicol’s swan songs in southern New England.

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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