New England Soccer Today

Forward march

It may be a total shot in the dark, but if you ask Mike Burns or Steve Nicol about their assessment of the recently-concluded calendar year, they’d both probably say that 2010 didn’t quite go they way they had planned. Just a wild guess.

But, I would bet my sweat-stained orange crush Tea Men t-shirt that a losing record, the retirement of Taylor Twellman, and the early-season suspension of skipper Shalrie Joseph weren’t on the agenda as 2010 opened.

To the relief of all parties involved, last year is no more. Twenty eleven affords all a fresh, new start. For the New England Revolution, it’s a chance for redemption after missing the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

And it’s fair to say that chance is looking good, even if we’re currently two-plus months away from First Kick. Whether it’s due to the hard lessons learned while the club submerged itself below the .500 mark for the duation of the season, or the wakeup call that was Taylor Twellman’s retirement, it’s becoming apparent that the club has revisited its previous thinking in terms of roster management.

That thinking, along with alot of extra cash they didn’t have 365 days ago, could very well propel the club back to the top of the Eastern Conference standings in 2011.

First and foremost: the money. Taking into consideration the considerable cash the club now has as a result of Twellman’s retirement ($420,000), not to mention the departures of Gabriel Badilla ($138,000), Chris Albright ($176,000) Mauricio Castro ($70,000), and Edgaras Jankauskas ($240,000), it appears that the team has over a million dollars more to work with than they did at this time last year. Of course, a small percentage of this money will likely be allocated toward player raises and SuperDraft signings. But, the bulk of it should remain intact long enough to use it to entice quality players.

In addition to the extra spending money, the club publicly announced its new-found propensity to use even more money to sign “one or more” players worthy of Designated Player Allocation cash last October, with an eye toward securing one or two such players this year.

Whether the rumor mill – which currently has the likes of Alex, Marco Materazzi, and Benni McCarthy Foxboro-bound – produces any hint of truth regarding these players appearing at One Patriot Place, one thing is for sure: the front office has put itself out there. The onus is on them. Should a DPA-caliber player fail to find himself in Foxboro before the end of 2011, the masses will not be pleased, and justifably so.

In previous years, the club allowed itself to decay after its mainstays – i.e. Steve Ralston, Pat Noonan, Michael Parkhurst, Andy Dorman, Jose Cancela, etc. – were allowed to walk.  Instead of securing suitable replacements, the club tried to plug the gaping holes with SuperDraft selections and trialists. And as expected, that modus operandi caught up with the club fast in 2010.

Now, a new thinking appears to be in place. Rather than waving good players goodbye and filling those vacancies with marginal talent, the club has already taken two significant strides away from the old thinking.

Most notably, perhaps, is the signing of baby-faced Diego Fagundez, the first homegrown player added to the senior team in club history. Considering the Revolution’s Youth Academy, as we know it now, was nothing more than a league mandate less than four years ago, it’s fascinating that an Academy player looks ready to contribute to Nicol’s squad. Granted, it remains to be seen whether the teen sensation turns out to be the next Freddy Adu or Jozy Altidore. But, at the very least, it’s an encouraging sign that the fruits of the Academy’s labor appear to be ripening.

Shortly after Fagundez’s signing, the club selected Fred and Ryan Cochrane during the first-ever Re-entry Process last month. This approach has shown that the club is eager and willing to undertake new ways of player acquisitions. With Cochrane signed, and the prospect of a talented midfielder of Fred’s caliber a possibility, it’s another departure from the old thinking – one that greatly emphasized the SuperDraft and Supplemental Drafts – when it comes to roster replenishment.

There’s no guarantee that the lows experienced along Route 1 in 2010 won’t carry over into 2011. No one knows for sure. Call it another shot in the dark, but with additional wealth, as well as a deviation from their old approaches, the Revolution are in prime position to ensure that 2011 will not be a repeat of its predecessor.

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