Friday, February 22, 2008

Ten preseason stroylines

If the bustle of preseason player movement is any indication, the 2008 season will likely fail to transpire the same way its predecessor did. After all, with key departures (Andy Dorman, Pat Noonan, and possibly Avery John) and the arrivals of Chris Albright (LA), Mauricio Castro (Honduras), it’s fair to say that this isn’t your older sibling’s Revolution anymore. Which, of course, leads us to a categorical listing of a few questions – ten or so, to be exact- worth contemplating throughout the season.

1. How will Taylor Twellman's flirtation with the transfer wire affect his play?

No doubt, Twellman was not happy about being held back from such rich deal with Preston North End after the club's $3.5 million bid was rejected by MLS. But with full knowledge of his true worth on the international market, will Twellman sulk and have an off year? Or will he light the league on fire in hopes of furthering his value once the transfer window opens back up in August? That's the question that will have the greatest impact on the Revolution’s success.

2. Who will replace Pat Noonan up front?

Right now, the early favorite has to be second year forward Adam Cristman. The former Cavalier had an impressive rookie season (4 goals, 4 assists in 28 games), and looks the most capable of assuming Noonan's former role. But don't overlook a pair of dark horse candidates. Sainey Nyassi and Abdoulie Mansally are both intriguing options should Cristman struggle. That being said...

3. Will the attack flounder without last year's second-leading scorers?

Without Noonan and former attacking mid Andy Dorman, the team's attack could very easily stagnate. There's no doubt that both exits put the club in an unenviable position of trying to duplicate the success it had for the first two-thirds of the 2007 season. Noonan and Twellman shared an almost telepathic understanding of each other on the pitch, while Dorman set the league on fire in the first half of 2007. The loss of both may signal some unwelcome early-season growing pains.

4. Which rookie will make the greatest impact in '08?

The freshman in the catbird's seat right now is first rounder Rob Valentino. The Bay Area product spent all of last season recovering from a preseason injury, but his height (6-3) could suit him well on a vertically challenged back line. Should the club switch to a 4-4-2, Valentino's chances of making the First Kick starting XI would obviously increase greatly.

5. Can Wells Thompson and Adam Cristman avoid the sophomore jinx?

Ah, the dreaded follow-up year after the rookie season. They don't coin it the sophomore jinx for nothing (see: Khano Smith and Ryan Latham). Cristman and Thompson solidified their spots by midseason, and never let them go. This season, the weight is squarely on them from the get go. Can Thompson, who struggled in the postseason, improve on the right? Can Cristman handle a season’s worth of abuse that Twellman regularly gets barraged with? These will be interesting questions for the sophomores going into the 2008 season.

6. Will the Revolution abandon the 3-5-2 this year?

Manager Steve Nicol has stated that he’s going into the preseason with an open mind to see which formations work best given the team's personnel. A glance at the roster right now lends itself to the idea that with a bulk of defenders, and some questions in the midfield, it's entirely possible that the 4-4-2 may be the formation of choice this season. However, don’t be surprised to see the return of the favored 3-5-2 sometime during the season, especially if Honduran international Mauricio Castro proves to be the playmaker he’s been advertised as.

7. How will Mauricio Castro fit in with the rest of the squad?

When the Revolution announced Castro's signing earlier this week, the consensus could have been summed up in one word: finally. Not so much for the player per se, but for the fact that a glaring need - i.e. the attacking playmaker - had been filled, at least on paper. From most accounts, Castro, 26, is an aggressive player not at all afraid to charge the box, and is also very good on the dribble. Additionally, the former Honduran National Teamer (four caps) has experience taking free kicks, and - get this - he's not past his prime. Castro could very well become the showstopper that the Revolution has been missing since Clint Dempsey left last year.

8. Will Joe Franchino return to his glory days?

The former skipper will look to rebound from a tough year in which he spent the bulk of 2007 on the injured list. But will the combination of age and recent injury prevent him from becoming the Joey of old in 2008? It won't be an easy road to plough. But if anyone can do it, it's the gritty veteran that The Fort boisterously chants will kick the opposition’s you-know-what (rhymes with: grass).

9. How will U.S. Open Cup, SuperLiga and CONCACAF Champions League obligations affect the team?

The recently-minted MLS schedule shows that there is only one regular-season match in July - an appropriate July 4th tilt in Hollywood. Other than that, the month is devoted to sweltering summer training sessions and extracurricular tournaments, which, should the club fare well and advance in these tourneys, could lead to late-season bottleneck of matches. Given that, the club's depth will be tested like never before. Oh, and to compound the problem further: World Cup qualifying will likely cost the Revs the services of Twellman and Michael Parkhurst at some point this summer as well.

10. Can Chris Albright stay healthy?

It was a heck of a trade the Revs pulled that brought the former National Teamer to Foxboro. Albright gives the club more of that magic word: versatility. He can play in middle, in the back, or up front in a pinch. But injuries have dogged Albright in recent years (missed all but five games in 2007) enough to put a giant question mark over his head. Can he stay healthy enough to make the impact that's expected of him?

BONUS: Where's Avery John?

If you know, please let Nicol know as well. Because according to the gaffer himself, he hasn't heard from John in quite some time. The only thing we can go by at this point is the rumor mill. Pick one to adhere to: He's going to be traded to Columbus. He's going to sign a deal overseas. He's going to open up a used car dealership (okay, I made that last one up). Through it all, it appears that the strongest possibility is that he’s simply played his final match for Revs.

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