Thursday, December 20, 2007

Holiday Cheer in New England

Taken aback by all the holiday cheer, the Revolution has apparently adopted its own ho-ho-ho holiday attitude during this snowy offseason. After all, what other explanation can there be for all of the gift-wrapped giveaways of both experienced and rookie players alike in the past month alone?

Yes, Jolly Old St. Nicol and his front office elves have taken to giving away presents to MLS, USL, and maybe even sides abroad this holiday season. Consider this: since walking off the RFK Stadium pitch as MLS's second best yet again, the club has already lost five players, along with two more who may be waving goodbye come New Year’s.

The gift giving commenced shortly before the Thanksgiving holiday when the versatile James Riley was plucked by San Jose in the expansion draft a mere three days after MLS Cup. But the merry cheer didn’t end there - it continued when the club gift-wrapped Marshall Leonard, Miguel Gonzalez, Chris Loftus, and Bryan Byrne via the holiday waivers.

Granted, the loss of Riley through the expansion draft was out of the hands of the Revolution, as team could only protect a limited amount of players. Thus, Riley was a casualty of a cruel numbers game. There's no question that the midfielder/defender’s versatility was valued, and would have been gladly welcomed back next season. His ability to provide help in the back or on the wing was a key reason why the Revs were able to ascend to the top of the Eastern Conference yet again in 2007.

In contrast, the departures of Loftus, Gonzalez, and Byrne can be chalked up to the annual attrition rate of many MLS rookies at the conclusion of their inaugural seasons, and their exits were not unexpected. All three earned the bulk of their minutes in the reserve league; Byrne earned first team minutes late in the June 2nd Real Salt Lake match. At the time, it appeared as if the Kilkenny (Ireland) Kid would become a prime candidate for further action with the first team while Steve Ralston was busy fulfilling US Men’s National Team obligations for the Gold Cup. However, the Irishman failed to accompany the first team lads again, and remained with the reserves for the duration of the season. Similarly, Gonzalez also gave the team greater depth in the midfield, but never lived up to the expectations that accompanied him after starring with the US MNT U-20s in 2006. Loftus, a tall target with good speed for player of his size, was simply stacked up against a clogged forward line that included Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Adam Cristman, and Willie Sims.

Leonard's departure was somewhat expected since the capable veteran, once a steady performer prior to his Achilles injury in 2006, spend the entire 2007 season relegated to the reserves. Like Riley, he provided the club added depth in both the back and in the middle. However, with Riley’s quick departure, it appeared that Leonard would have been a solid in-house solution to fill the void.

Of course, the list of former players doesn’t take into account the seemingly imminent departures of Andy Dorman and Avery John, both of whom are rumored to be heading overseas shortly after the holidays. If both players were to leave, then the Revs will have lost a quarter of their 2007 roster come New Year’s Day. And this doesn’t even touch upon the uncertainty surrounding Joe Franchino’s return. There have been many whispers that the former skipper may not be returning next season in light if his season-ending ankle injury last May.

So what can the club do? Surely, the club’s heartwarming charity opens up roster space before the MLS SuperDraft in January, and some of it must be devoted to clearing room for SuperDraft selections. Yet, the open spots could also be used to add experienced players from other clubs.

The great thing about an offseason prior to expansion is the list of players left unprotected by their respective clubs for the expansion draft. A cursory glance at this year’s list of players left unprotected by their clubs for the expansion draft indicates that there is a great deal of talent available for little in return. What other exercise forces each club to show its hand on its view of its own talent? After all, these are the very players that each team was willing to part with for absolutely nothing back in November. Francis Doe (New York), Ricardo Virtuoso (Colorado) and Abe Thompson (FC Dallas) are all young players that play with a great deal of tenacity and fearlessness that the Revs attack could certainly use - with the caveat that Nicol would be willing to cut ties with certain players that have not played up to expectation.

Then again, why not add a veteran like Jose Burciaga (Kansas City) at left back? How about a guy like Jovan Kirovski (Colorado), a seasoned (and well-traveled) player who would certainly give the club some veteran depth up front? Again, these are the types of players to which the asking price would be presumably low given their availability during last month’s expansion draft.

There's no question that Nicol already faces a considerable task by trying to keep the Revolution ship afloat for yet another run at the MLS Cup next season. The recent departures make the gaffer's job that much tougher. But without any off-season trade buzz on the radar, the red-cheeked Revolution is apparently content with its own philanthropy until the MLS SuperDraft.

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