With the mid-way point officially arriving moments after the Red Bull-Revs match in the New Jersey swamplands, enough has transpired to where an accurate assessment can be made of the local XI. The club finished the first half with a 7-3-5 record, teetering in first place with a one-point lead in the Eastern Conference standings.
There have certainly been surprises, both good and bad, as well as the expected, which one would anticipate when the core roster has remained fairly consistent for the past three years. That being said, let's take a first half snapshot of the footballers from Foxboro.
Taylor Twellman: Twellman (whose star deservedly warrants a better nickname than “TnT”) got off to a remarkable start, scoring seven goals in seven games, and at one point, was the primary contender for the Golden Boot honors. However, the striker was called to national team duty in back-to-back tournaments (Gold Cup and Copa America), thus limiting his MLS schedule. Despite the nearly month-long absence, he still ranks third in goals (7), and with the major tournaments out of the way, it won't be long before he re-discovers his goal-scoring groove, and remind those concerned why he is one of the best forwards in the league.
Steve Ralston: Like a fine wine, Ralston only seems to get better with age. The Revolution captain, an MLS mainstay since the league's inception, is having one of his finest seasons this year. In May, he catapulted Chris Henderson as the MLS all-time games played king (324 and counting), then leapfrogged former Tampa Bay teammate Carlos Valderrama for the MLS career assists title (115) with his helper on Andy Dorman’s goal vs. RBNY over the weekend. All the while, Ralston, in typical fashion, has made the club better with his acumen for controlling the tempo of the game and commandeering the attack. Suffice to say, this club is nowhere near first place without Ralston on the pitch.
Shalrie Joseph: There have been periodic stretches during the course of a given match when the Revs attack has looked rather disheveled – that is, before Joseph finds the ball, and reorganizes the assault. Since there are no statistics for intangibles, it's hard for an outsider to judge the true worth of the Grenadian mid. But under closer inspection, it's easy to see why his services have been requested by the likes of Celtic FC. In the same vein as Ralston, the first half would have transpired much differently without his presence.
Andy Dorman: Don’t look now, but the attacking midfielder has already accumulated more goals (7) at the half-way point than he did all of last year (6). Some of that is obviously due to his being thrust into Clint Dempsey’s former role, but the Welshman has certainly been up to task in filling Deuce’s shoes the best he can. Barring injury, there’s no reason why he won’t be able to maintain his form, which will certainly have other clubs abroad knocking at the door at One Patriot Place from now until the end of the season. Well on his way toward his finest MLS season yet, the front office would be wise to re-sign the lanky mid before he tests the waters in free agency after the season ends.
Jeff Larentowicz: The former defender now moonlights as a defensive mid, and has performed outside of himself in that role. While last season was certainly an eye-opener for the former Brown Bear, who often looked horribly lost on the pitch at times, he has quite nicely come into his own as a more than serviceable center-half during the first half, before he suffered an eye injury vs. Toronto last month.
Adam Cristman: The rookie striker showed flashes of brilliance in pre-season, tallying six goals in six games, which had Revolution Nation buzzing with excitement. Expectedly, he has not been able to maintain that remarkable rate against regular MLS competition, but has shown his knack for putting the ball on net. With much of emphasis placed on first rounder Wells Thompson, Cristman, a third-round pick, has quickly become the frontrunner for MLS rookie of the year honors.
Wells Thompson: Speaking of the man they call "Wellsie", the apple of Nicol's eye during SuperDraft has already shown his versatility, with starts on both the left and right flank. Whether he becomes the solution on the left, or becomes Ralston's successor on the right, remains to be seen. He has shown to be a worthy first option off the bench this season, allowing Nicol the flexibility of inserting the rookie almost anywhere in midfield.
Khano Smith: Will he ever truly develop into the player that his biggest fan (last name rhymes with “pickle”) hopes him to be? This isn’t 2006, where Smith was injured for most of the season, thus allowing a built in excuse for his lack of consistency. This season, there are no excuses, and more to the point, we’re on Year Three of the left wing experiment for the former Bermudan striker. Once in awhile, the tall winger will tease you with the remarkable shiftiness and speed of a player more compact than him. But the remainder of the time, he has Revolution fans pulling their hair out at the recurrent stumbling and duck launching (see highlights of the 5/26 Kansas City match)
Willie Sims: It’s hard to believe that the Generation adidas player, selected in the 2005 SuperDraft, is entering his third year with the club this year. That in itself is an achievement, but in his third pro season, he has yet to distinguish himself among the club’s younger players. Four rookies have made their MLS debuts this year, while Sims, who played in nine matches last year, has yet to crack the first team. With the influx of talent from this year’s draft, Lil’ Will may seem himself phased out soon after the Revs win the MLS Cup in November. (Yes, I said that.)
Revolution backs: Last year, the club leaned heavily on its stalwart defending when injuries gathered like locusts, and when all was said and done, the club gave up an MLS-best 35 goals. This season, the defending has reprised its 2006 role at times, but at other times, has looked like a trio of matadors, simply allowing attackers to walk right by. As the matches become more critical down the stretch, the back line will have to ante up if the Revs hope to return to the playoffs.
Revolution coaching staff: Allow to me explain this one. Yes, the club currently reigns supreme in the Eastern Conference, but how do you explain draws to such illustrious clubs like Real Salt Lake and Columbus (twice)? Both of these matches could have been accurately viewed as “trap” games, and when said games arrive on the schedule, it is the coaching staff’s job to ensure that the club does take its seemingly overmatched opponent lightly. Two consecutive draws to two of the worst clubs at the time is telling of the level of preparation the club had for the each of the matches.
What will the second half of the season hold in store for the Revs? It appears they are on their way to another playoff appearance, at the very least, and perhaps another MLS Cup appearance if they stay healthy.
But anything can happen – just ask DC United, with the way their 2006 season transpired toward the closing bell. What’s certain though is that the club has the key ingredients – potent offense, sound goalkeeping, and decent defending – to make another run at the MLS Cup.