Thursday, November 16, 2006

Where do we go from here?

“Where Do We Go From Here?” – Filter

This was the question begged on the cover of the July 1, 2002 edition of Sports Illustrated in reference to the success of United States Men’s Nation Team campaign in Japan/South Korea during the 2002 World Cup. Whereas that question (which was answered with an ominous thud in 2006) was asked in an optimistic tone, I ask the very same question with an ounce of cynicism and sadness with respect to the New England Revolution.

Let's start with the base of this question: the Revs lost Sunday's MLS Cup Final to Houston. I too am still plucking out the white hot needles out of my heart as we speak. Nonetheless, the event is the springboard for the following half-baked analysis.

Issue: With Clint Dempsey and Shalrie Joseph looking to pack their bags for the United Kingdom, how will the Revs plug the crater-sized holes left behind in the midfield? The answer is simple: they won't, at least not comparably, anytime soon. The prospect of losing two of the league's best at their respective positions is a daunting task for any sports team, never mind just soccer. You can only hope to draft and sign younger players in the hopes of producing another Dempsey or Joseph-type talent. The gaps left in the wake of their departures will be filled eventually, but to think that the holes will be plugged by next season is preposterous.

Issue: Taylor Twellman, feeling the pinch of the Kraft penny, is looking overseas as well in an attempt to attain future financial stability. When compared to contemporaries such as Landon Donovan ($900,000), Eddie Johnson ($850,000) and Freddy Adu, ($550,000), there is no doubt Twellman is underpaid ($175,000), especially when you consider the production he's put in since 2002 in terms of goals (75 – most among players during this time span) and durability (130 regular season games played). Twellman is justified in asking Kraft Soccer President Sunil Gulati for a raise, and should the perennial MLS all-star field competitive offers from European clubs, the days of #20 menacing opposing MLS goalkeepers may have drawn to a close.

Issue: With the anticipated departure of key veterans (Jose Cancela, Daniel Hernandez and Jose Manuel Abundis, to a lesser extent), how do the Revs compensate for stabilizing a team that has seemingly thrived off its own veteran presence? No doubt, if you ask any Revs fan which player could provide the most offensive spark, it would be Pepe' Cancela. His absence would certainly be more felt than the departures of Hernandez and Abundis, and finding an offensive catalyst off the bench like Pepe’ is easier said than done.

Issue: With the MLS Competition committee effectively opening the doors for international stars like David Beckham, Luis Figo and Zinedine Zidane, will the Revs pull out the wallet and spend some money to acquire a high profile international footballer? The thought of Becks, Figo, or Zizou in a Revs kit has many dreaming of packed Gillette crowds, and soccer euphoria reminiscent of the late-1970s New York Cosmos. But aside from the hype and attention these stars (galacticos, if you will) may attract, they still have to perform on the pitch, which begs the question: can any of these aging stars make the kind of impact many expect them to make?

Issue: With so many anticipated departures, it appears this edition of Revs, which has made three MLS Cup Finals (2002, 2005, 2006) will finally be disbanded. If so, how long will it be before the Revs get another shot at the Cup? Surely, their most recent lost has stung the most, and with the potential defections of Dempsey, Twellman, Joseph and Cancela has many dreading the most polite definition of a team's state of flux: rebuilding.

With other sub-plots looming, including the installation of FieldTurf at Gillette, the MLS Expansion draft on Friday, the MLS SuperDraft in January, and the usual off-season player movement, there will surely be much to talk about while the pitch is silent during the coming winter months.

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