Friday, May 25, 2007

Three Revs called to MNT duty

US Men’s National Team manager Bob Bradley named his Gold Cup roster on Thursday, and among the names set to hit pitch in our nation’s kits are Revolution stars Michael Parkhurst, Steve Ralston, and Taylor Twellman. Of course, with their club team on a stretch hotter than Ocean Drive in July, the question surely begs: how will the Revolution be affected by the trio’s three-week absence?

If there is one secret that the Revs can pride themselves on is the incredible amount of depth the currently possesses. Through a wonderful combination of a remarkable health and a higher grade of talented players off the bench in contrast to last year, the Revs have courted Lady Luck quite admirably. Thus, there appears to be formidable crop of players ready to plug the holes left behind in the wake of the trio’s three-week national team excursion.

No one can question that a club will suffer when three of its key players abruptly depart for an extended amount of time. To pretend that matters will be conducted in a “business as usual” fashion without the trio would be to assume that American Idol would not miss a beat without Simon, Randy, and…Simon, of course.

The greatest loss, on paper, is obviously Twellman’s, simply because you cannot replace the league’s goal scoring czar by inserting a wildly-talented rookie or even steel hardy veteran. No chance at all. All you can do is somehow compensate for the loss by inserting the next best player. The natural assumption would be a healthy Pat Noonan and Twellman’s understudy, Adam Cristman, up front for the Revs to fill the void left by the Best XI striker. Of course, the dilemma is that Noonan and Cristman have yet to play together during the regular season, and there may be some noticeable growing pains and awkward moments, comparable to that of a new couple on its first series of dates.

Michael Parkhurst’s absence would more than likely be filled by veteran Avery John, who spotted for Parkhurst during the first handful of matches while the 2005 MLS Rookie of the Year convalesced after suffering an injury during the preseason.

But John, a fourth-year defender who hails from Trinidad and Tobago, may be called upon for national team action for his native country as well. That being said, don’t be surprised to see Nicol undertake a youth movement on the Revolution back line by inserting rookies Gary Flood and/or Amaechi Igwe, both of whom have seen considerable action on the Reserve Team this year.

Of course, perhaps the most compelling loss is perhaps the one left by the departure of Steve Ralston. Has anybody come to embody the Revolution style of play more than the captain himself? While Joe Franchino served admirably as skipper during his tenure before relinquishing his duties this winter, Ralston appears to have been born for the role. Statistically, he has already eclipsed his assist total from last year (six so far, after chipping in five last year), and has been the go-to guy when corner kicks arise. It should come as no surprise that the MLS iron man has been the architect in chief on nearly half of all Revolution goals (15) this season.

But these are all tangible matters, easily analyzed and digested in quantitative terms. What cannot be measured is the grit and headstrong determination the club plays with when Ralston leads his troops into battle on the pitches of MLS stadia. The club has played with an immeasurable amount of tenacity and confidence since Ralston, who has played every minute of every Revolution match thus far, was wisely appointed captain by Nicol prior to the season.

Even though the top club in MLS has rarely played from a deficit this season, it’s the club’s fortitude when ahead – a recurring deficiency last year – that has proven to be a wonderful reflection of Ralston’s ability to keep his teammates focused even in the dying minutes of sure victory. In essence, the mental lapses displayed by last year’s squad have all but vanished this far in to the season, due in large part to Ralston’s presence on the pitch.

So who will take over as club captain with Ralston away? While Franchino would seem to be a logical choice, his willingness to accept his former role may be cooled, after stepping down from the post only months ago. Shalrie Joseph has publicly stated in the past that he will not accept the role in light of his contract squabbles with the team. A logical choice would be the fiery Jay Heaps, who fits the mold of a veteran leader who has seen the club through fortune and famine, much like Ralston.

It is worth noting that the Revolution schedule is considerably light while Ralston, Twellman and Parkhurst all perform Gold Cup duty. Amazingly, the trio may only miss two MLS matches, as New England plays Columbus (June 16) and Toronto FC (June 23), both at home, during the June 6-24 international tournament.

Although the impact of the trio’s departure should be fairly limited in terms of regular season matches, should the Revs suddenly lose their winning ways during these games, it may cause the dreaded hiccup in the middle of the club’s fantastically successful run.

And yet, with an accompanying Copa America tournament commencing soon after on June 28th, the Men’s National Team may have call upon other Revolution players, such as Matt Reis and Pat Noonan, to fill that tournament roster for the National Team’s second consecutive summer tourney.

Needless to say, while the Revs certainly have their hands full while defending their spot atop the standings, many of its key contributors also have their plates full with pending National Team duty as well. Nonetheless, the Revs are in good position to temporarily fill the voids with both seasoned stalwarts and promising prospects.

Good thing Lady Luck has apparently warmed to the cat calls of a deserving club.

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