Monday, January 07, 2008

The Departed

The flickering first two letters of the "no vacancy" sign for the attacking midfielder's position have finally burned out after Andy Dorman signed with St. Mirren of the Scottish Premier League to ring in the new year.

Dorman's expected departure was due, in part, to failed contract negotiations between him and club after the two sides were apparently none too close in coming to an accord. When you combine that along with his relegation to the bench during the final weeks of the 2007 season - well, you’ve got your second-leading scorer plying his trade thousands of miles across the Atlantic Ocean.

Dorman began last season tamale-hot, with seven goals in the bank before the MLS All-Star match. But before long, his goalscoring began to subside as he struggled to find his first half attacking form. Yet, as one of the league’s most underrated two-way players, Dorman certainly held his own dropping back to provide support for a defending corps that was vulnerable at times during the course of the season. Nonetheless, manager Steve Nicol made the decision to drop Dorman from the first XI, and slotted right winger Steve Ralston into the attacking midfielder’s slot.

However, the switch left the attack overly reliant on striker Taylor Twellman, who scored all three of the Revolution's post-season goals. While Ralston provided decent service in the middle, the insertion of Wells Thompson on the right wing left much to be desired. As a result, the attack had clearly sputtered, and a defensively adept Houston club exposed the Revolution before a national audience during MLS Cup. And yet, Dorman, who had already endured two consecutive MLS Cup losses with the Revolution, could only sit back and watch until his number was called late in the 78th minute. With less than fifteen minutes of regulation to operate with, Dorman tried to spark the attack, but he and his club fell short for the fourth time in six tries.

With Dorman now gone, Nicol certainly has his work cut out for him in finding a suitable replacement. There's no question that while Ralston is serviceable in the middle, his strengths are better suited for the right, where his beautiful crosses have often been the catapult to many Revolution goals. Wells Thompson, Ralston’s successor on the right, may indeed be the heir on either wing - at some point in time. But for now, Ralston is the best option if the Revolution wishes to score more than an obligatory goal per game.

If history tells us anything, it's that Nicol will likely address the vacancy during the MLS SuperDraft on January 18th. Many recall that back in 2004, the gaffer struck oil finding an attacking midfielder when he selected a flashy kid from an obscure college in South Carolina. Yes, Clint Dempsey turned out to be pretty decent, to say the least. Yet, barring the second coming of another Deuce, the Revs may have to hope they can develop an attacking player from the same mold of Dempsey and Dorman, which of course would require time.

However, another possibility lingers: an international player signing. Shortly after the MLS Cup, Nicol and assistant coach Paul Mariner boarded a plane for Argentina, the wildly-popular locale as of late among MLS managers and executives after last season's success stories of Juan Toja and Guillermo Barros Schelotto, both alums of the Primera Division Argentina. Whether Nicol and Mariner have discovered a mini-Maradona or a Lionel Messi clone remains to be seen. But there's no question that, regardless of the manner in which the Revs go about it, the attacking midfielder role needs to be addressed prior to First Kick on March 29th.

When it's all said and done, and Dorman steps onto the pitch at St. Mirren Park bearing the black and white bars of the Saints, his departure will have left more than just a void in the midfield. He will have left series of questions for fans and media alike to chew on until the buds begin to bloom.

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