Friday, January 25, 2008

Goodbye, Noonan...

So much for another quiet offseason in Revolution Land.

Less than a month after Andy Dorman handed the gate attendant at Logan International Airport his one-way ticket to Scotland, Pat Noonan punched his own ticket abroad by signing with Norwegian club Aalesunds FK on Thursday, thus proving that the barn door in front of Gillette Stadium is indeed still swinging wide open.

Noonan was free to solicit international interest after the Revolution, with whom he had played his entire five-year professional career, declined to pick up his contract option during the off-season. With nearly no negotiating leverage afforded to him within MLS, the scruffy forward, who has also been capped 14 times with the US National Team, put himself on the international free market and successfully attracted the attention of the same Norwegian side that plucked former Revolution goalkeeper Adin Brown in 2004.

For Noonan, the opportunity to enhance his skills abroad, as well as put a little more coin in his pocket, must have been a no-brainer. In addition to playing in a competitive forum like the Norwegian Premier League, he also provided himself a well-lit stage to boost his international profile, which would certainly bode well for a lucrative transfer in the future.

Yet, no matter how great the deal is for Noonan, it is the exact converse for the Revolution. Without Noonan, New England, whose attack struggled mightily during the final weeks of the regular season and throughout the postseason, will be hard pressed to fill the shoes of one of its best attacking players. While forward Adam Cristman is certainly the early favorite to replace Noonan up front, there's much to be said about the symbiotic relationship Noonan and striking partner Taylor Twellman had in New England. Together, the pair combined to form one of the most potent forward lines in MLS during the past five seasons, scoring a combined 128 goals during that span. As a result, the club reaped considerable returns: five consecutive postseason berths, not to mention three consecutive MLS Cup appearances from 2005 through 2007.

Although the Revs have addressed an admitted problem area – defending - with the addition of veteran Chris Albright via trade and the selection of two tall defenders (Rob Valentino and Matthew Britner) in the MLS SuperDraft, the club has been astoundingly lackadaisical in acquiring the necessary pieces to revitalize the attack. The fact of that that the club’s goal production became absolutely putrid during the final weeks of the season seems to have been completely forgotten. Clearly, many assumed that the team would address this need somehow – be it through the draft or through player acquisitions. So far, the club has done little to address this issue, other than select a pair of collegiate midfielders, one of whom – Mike Videira –may never even don a Revolution kit.

In the span of three weeks alone, Noonan and Dorman, the club’s second-leading scorers, both of whom, by the way, also accounted for over a quarter of the team's 51 goals in 2007, have signed elsewhere. Suffice to say, things up front have gone from bad to worse.

The expectation of another playoff run, something taken for granted by some, may well become a thing of the past. If recent history tells us anything, it’s that the attack will likely become a stagnant shell of its former self without Noonan around to breathe life into it. During Noonan’s injury-riddled 2006 campaign – one in which he saw action in only 14 matches – the club was starved to the tune of 39 total goals, their lowest total since 2001. By the way, 2001 also marked the last time the club failed to make the playoffs. You do the math.

Of course the loss of Noonan is more than just a player signing elsewhere for better wages. Rather, it’s the latest brushstroke on a disturbing portrait of an organization that is failing to retain its best players. First it was Dorman. Now it’s Noonan. Soon it may be defender Avery John bidding the Revolution faithful adieu as well. It’s becoming a disconcerting development that some of its best players will no longer take a hometown discount to stick with the club. To compensate, the club is haphazardly placing its high hopes on its largely unproven youth, and in doing so, praying that saving a buck or two now will pay dividends in the future. But the old proverb – you get what you pay for – may doom them before they realize it.

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