MLS 2011 Preview: New England Revolution Might Not Be As Bad As You Think

Who do you expect to be starting at First Kick?

It would appear that Steve Nicol is now married to the 4-4-2 after last season, and his team will be built on a strong foundation in the back. Matt Reis will certainly get the nod in goal and hopefully re-stake his claim as one of the best in the league. All-star Kevin Alston and new signing Didier Domi will start at right and left-back, respectively. In the middle things are looking a little hazier, but the veteran duo of Darrius Barnes and Ryan Cochrane looks most likely to begin the season as the preferred pairing. The engine room in midfield was set in stone the moment Ousmane Dabo signed the dotted line, as he will pair with Shalrie Joseph and give the Grenadian license to bomb forward whenever he desires. Sainey Nyassi should have his traditional right-wing spot, but the left-wing is far from definite. Marko Perovic will probably play there, but for much of last season he spent time up top, in which case Chris Tierney would be the favorite to start on the left. Up front, Ilija Stolica is likely to be paired with Zack Schilawski, unless the Revs pull off a major signing or choose to have Perovic leading the line rather than Schilawski.

Which new player(s) will have biggest impact?

Didier Domi may be able to bring some needed stability and leadership to the back line, but it will be Ousmane Dabo whose presence will be most telling. The 34-year-old Frenchman has played everywhere and played well, and Steve Nicol will call on his ability to hold the ball and dictate tempo, two skills the Revolution were sorely lacking last season.

Which player(s) loss will be felt the most?

Though they’ve been without him for two seasons already, the retirement of Taylor Twellman slammed the door shut on any hopes of seeing his prodigious goalscoring talents again. Despite making great strides in improving an incredibly poor defense and shoring up the midfield, the Revs have done virtually nothing to make any noticeable improvements to their strike force and we may be looking at another season light on goals. Twellman’s absence will continue to be felt by the New England offense.

At what point is this season considered success?

After the debacle that was last season, success could be defined by conceding just a goal per game or fewer. If the Revolution are contending for a playoff spot in the last match of the season then the campaign could be considered acceptable, but a success would be reclaiming their place among the league’s elite and making a run into the playoffs.

Whose performance do you think will be most indicative of the season as a whole?

Undoubtedly Shalrie Joseph will be the barometer for this team’s success. Last season he had a stuttering start to the campaign, nursing injury and then serving a suspension. It wasn’t until the last third of the season or so that he began hitting his stride, dictating play and scoring goals. It’s no coincidence that the Revs started competing in league matches and had a decent run of results at that time. When Shalrie is marauding forward, completing passes and imposing his will on opposing midfields, the Revs are nigh-unstoppable.

Will the Revs defense really improve?

After conceding a league-worst 50 goals last season, plugging a leaky defense was a major priority for the Revs front office. They went out and grabbed Ryan Cochrane in the re-entry draft, and then made Cal defender A.J. Soares their first pick in the SuperDraft. They replaced the departed Cory Gibbs and Emmanuel Osei with Didier Domi and Franco Coria, and re-signed Seth Sinovic to help build on the foundation of Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes. But will it be enough? Houston fans have been spouting that giving up Cochrane was no real loss. Soares has looked great in preseason, but he’s an uproven rookie in an unforgiving league, and precious little is known about Coria. The answer to this question could mean the difference between improvement and a long, long season.

Where will the goals come from?

Ever since Taylor Twellman went down with his career-ending concussion the Revs have been bereft of a consistent scoring threat. Now that the Twellman era has officially ended, many fans expected the Revolution to go out and bring in a proven scorer. Instead, they’ve elected to stick with their current strike force and only added draftee Alan Koger. These forwards only accounted for about 12 to 15 goals (depending on who you define as a forward) last season, so prospects certainly don’t look any better. No matter what the Revs have done to fix their defensive woes, they still won’t make it back to the playoffs if they can’t score.

- Report by Steve Stoehr of The Bent Musket (New England Revolution blog)

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