It was a down year by Revolution standards but Steve Nicol’s squad still had some bright spots in 2008.
By Allen Ramsey
By the standards of most teams in MLS, the 2008 New England Revolution had a successful run. The Revs finished the season as the third seed in the Eastern Conference, were ousted in the first round of the playoffs by the Chicago Fire, and won the 2008 SuperLiga title. But for New England fans, this was actually down year.
After jumping out to a fast start the Revs youth and inexperience caught up to them in the summer.
A rash of injuries, coupled with the reliance on young players, led the Revs to a disappointing second half and an early playoff exit. Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman and Adam Cristman all spent significant time on the training table. Other players, such as Kahno Smith and Gabriel Badilla missed key games due to suspensions. The end result was a disappointing finish for one of the proudest franchises in MLS.
The bright spot for New England during 2008 was a run to the SupeLiga title. Without Twellman in the lineup, the Revs followed the fantastic play of veterans Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston past the Houston Dynamo in the final.
With the frequent absence of Twellman, the Revolution lacked a scoring punch all season. (Twellman tied for the team lead in scoring despite only starting 12 matches.) Steve Ralston’s shift into the center of the midfield certainly helped, but the strike force lacked Twellman’s touch around the box. The combination of Kenny Mansally, Kheli Dube, and Adam Cristman never found the net with any consistency.
Michael Parkhurt, Jay Heaps, and Chris Albright played fantastically well on the defensive side and goalkeeper Matt Reis had another outstanding season between the pipes. Unfortunately, no amount of defending could get the Revolution into the MLS Cup final for a fourth straight season. The cup continued to elude Nicol and the boys in New England.
January: It was a busy month for the Revolution. Pat Noonan and Andy Dorman both left the squad for clubs in Europe. Chris Albright was brought in as the big signing. The MLS SuperDraft yielded five players who were inconsequential in 2008 but could factor into the plans for 2009. The best news of January came form the Supplemental draft. The Revs selected Kheli Dube and Chris Tierney with the eighth and thirteenth selections respectively. Dube and Tierney both made starts for the Revolution during their playoff series with Chicago.
February: The Revolution re-signed two developing players from Gambia. Kenny Mansally and Sainey Nyassi both made significant contributions to the team in 2008. Mansally played as a primary forward for New England when he was healthy and not away on international duty. Nyassi was a regular starter on the right wing. Both of the teenagers showed promise during their first full season in Major League Soccer. The other big signing for the Revolution in February was Honduran midfielder Mauricio Castro. Castro did not contribute as much as was hoped, but showed a deft touch on crosses and was a regular starter during the season.
March: New England opened its season with a bang, dropping the Houston Dynamo 3-0 and exercising some of those 2007 Cup Final demons. The big news was Taylor Twellman’s injury, which was suffered during warm-ups for the opener. Twellman injured his knee and underwent surgery. Steve Ralston also dislocated his shoulder during the match, previewing the season that was to be for New England. Record: 1 win, 0 ties, 0 losses
April: The month opened with a 4-0 defeat to Chicago, but New England found some traction with a visit to Kansas City. A 3-1 win over the Wizards settled the young New England squad and the Revs began a string of good play. The only other loss New England took in the month of April was a 1-0 decision at home to Colorado. The scoring woes began to show through as New England out shot the Rapids 17-4, but failed to find net. Record: 2 wins, 1 tie, 2 losses
May: The month of May began New England’s run of good form. Though the month started with another hard lose to Chicago, the Revs rebounded by going without a defeat in their next seven matches. Three straight wins followed the Fire loss and the month was capped off by a dramatic draw with D.C. United. Record: 3 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss
June: The Revolution added Pat Phelan to their roster via a trade with Chicago. Phelan contributed to the 2008 season and showed signs of being another in the long line of great New England midfielders. The solid run of good play continued and head coach Steve Nicol earned the right to coach the MLS All-Stars against West Ham United. Record: 3 wins, 1 tie, 1 loss
July: The crowded schedule that forced changes in the MLS schedule for 2009 began for New England in July. The Revs played seven matches, only one in league action, and began the SuperLiga with a bang. Before the month ended, New England had dispatched three of Mexico’s top teams, Santos, Pachuca, and Atlante, and the team was headed for a SuperLiga final showdown with Houston.
There was one quirky event to remember. On the 18th of July the Revolution’s flight to Los Angeles had to be grounded when a passenger tried to open the emergency exit doors. Rev staff intervened, and everyone was fine. Record: 5 wins, 2 ties, 0 losses
August: The Revolution opened August without Michael Parkhurst, who was off to the Olympics, but still managed a shootout win over Houston in the SuperLiga final. Pat Noonan was resigned by the team, and then traded to Columbus.
By the end of the month the Revolution bubble was bursting. The Revolution won only once in the month following their great triumph in the SuperLiga. Included in the three August losses was a 2-1 defeat to Joe Public in the CONCACAF Champions League play. Record: 2 wins, 2 ties, 3 losses
September: Joe Public finished New England’s CCL hopes off with a 4-0 thrashing in Foxboro to open up September. The flood gates seemed to open. Twellman was back, but not at his normal level. Nyassi and Castro were not controlling the flanks as they had early in the year. Ralston and Joseph soldiered on, but the strain of the congested fixtures took a visible toll. The highlight of September was a 4-0 win over Chivas USA on the 11th. It would be the last win New England collected all season. A loss to Columbus in their last match of September ended any chances New England had for the Eastern Conference’s top spot. Record: 1 win, 1 tie, 3 losses
October: Despite the poor form, New England was still playing for a spot in the Eastern Conference playoffs. The team was dealt a big blow in an away match with Kansas City. A sloppy tackle left Steve Ralston with a broken leg. The Revolution playmaker was lost for the year, and the rest of the team lost its punch.
Two weeks later New England squared off with the Wizards at the big Razor. For the Revolution, it was a final match, and a final blow, that they would not recover from. Defender Gabriel Badilla was sent off in the first half for receiving his second yellow. Kahno Smith received the same fate just before the half. Smith’s card was straight red. It was a deserved result for a tackle that was clearly in retaliation for the hit on Ralston a couple of weeks prior. As though all was not bad enough, on the 28th news broke that Taylor Twellman would be out for the first playoff series with “complications from a concussion.”
New England limped into their first playoff match with Chicago on the 30th. A 0-0 result was about as good as the team could hope for at home, and the return leg loomed large on the November horizon. Record: 0 wins, 2 ties, 3 losses
November: In what has been a great month for the Revolution in recent years, the 2008 version played only one match. The 3-0 loss to Chicago ended New England’s three year run of representing the Eastern Conference in the MLS Cup final.
With the season over and the month winding down, New England lost two players to other MLS teams. On the 24th Adam Cristman was traded to the Kansas City Wizards, and Khano Smith was selected by the Seattle Sounders in the expansion draft two days later. On the bright side, Shalrie Joseph was selected to the MLS Best XI, some well earned recognition for New England’s best player in 2008. Record: 0 wins, 0 ties, 1 loss
December: The exodus of players continued as star defender Michael Parkhurst left for Denmark. The loss of Parkhurst will be a major issue for New England in the off-season. But if any manager can deal with losing great players, it’s Steve Nicol.
Allen Ramsey is an associate editor of Goal.com.