Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Hey, who shut the window?

While a resurgent Chicago Fire club was busy picking apart the New England Revolution Thursday night, a larger storyline was looming for the guests. When the final whistle signaled the conclusion of that series – 3-0 aggregate to Chicago - it may have also signaled the demise of an era for the Revolution.

In hindsight, it's remarkable that a bruised and bandaged Revolution improbably sat atop the conference for four months. They captured SuperLiga success. But the reality of those injuries eventually caught up with them. To be frank, they overachieved. For after SuperLiga, the team became a pumpkin, and struggled to muster only two victories after August 5th.

For the past seven seasons, the Revs have been blessed with a wonderful core of players. Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, and Shalrie Joseph have all contributed mightily to the four-time Eastern Conference champs. The same goes for Matt Reis and Michael Parkurst, who came aboard in 2003 and 2005, respectively. The Revolution cannot call themselves anything but extremely fortunate, despite the lack of League hardware in the trophy case. So few are the times in which a successful club can retain its best players for such an extended period.

But the curtain call on this remarkable seven-season run may have culminated last week. While the club’s postseason screeched to a painful halt, the offseason arrived, and delivered an unwelcome elephant to the room.

So, about that elephant. Have Michael Parkhurst and Taylor Twellman played their final Revolution matches? Parkhurst’s contract expires at the end of the calendar year and the centerback is likely to attract international attention once the transfer window opens. Although Twellman has two years remaining on his current agreement, he may seek a transfer after his failed bid to Preston North End earlier this year.

The odds that MLS can match any offer put forth by a European side for Parkhurst are not good. In fact, MLS has a better chance of having themselves bailed out by the government than keeping its repeat Fair Play award winner stateside. Any reasonable offer abroad will put the MLS’s best figure to shame. So with the ball in Parky's box, there is little the league can do other than to set forth its best offer and look away in embarrassment.

However, Twellman’s situation is far different. Because he is under obligation until the end of 2010, his hands are effectively tied at the moment. He cannot do much other than to solicit enough interest to up the reported $2.5 million fee Preston was willing to splurge in January. That offer, you may remember, was flatly rejected by MLS. It will take considerable effort to increase the figure. But somewhere a club lacks a lethal striker, and somewhere, said club is willing to overspend for said striker.

If both players decide to move, the task of finding reinforcements will be made that much more difficult. MLS strikers with nearly 100 career goals in the tank are more difficult to find than a Disney starlet without embarrassing photos. And while the procurement of a solid center back may have been already addressed with the Gabriel Badilla acquisition, there’s no guarantee that the Costa Rican will approach the level uncanny precision that Parkhurst picked apart attackers without collecting an extensive collection of fouls.

There's no denying that the present run of success will diminish should the top and bottom of the Revolution find greener pastures. They've been leading actors in the Revs recent run. Should they leave, they will only be the latest in a series of talented footballers to jump across the pond.
Clint Dempsey and his uncanny swag departed after the '06 campaign. His transfer to Fulham seemingly was the harbinger for future exits. Andy Dorman, Pat Noonan, and Avery John all waved goodbye during the previous offseason. Their absences were certainly felt in the second half of '08, when the club tumbled down a steep 2-11-5 finish.

Unless the Revolution front office can secure the services of top-flight talent during the winter months, the remaining pieces - Heaps, Joseph, Ralston and Reis - will struggle to keep that era from rapidly fading into oblivion.

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