For the New England Revolution the 2009 season may be looked back on as the ushering in of a new era. A first round loss to the Chicago Fire for the second season on the hop was not the dream ending, but for a New England team that many pundits thought were on the decline, another playoff appearance in a season riddled with injuries would have to do.
A dramatic win over Columbus on the final day of the regular season pushed the Revs into the playoffs and kept alive the longest active playoff streak for any Boston's major sports franchises.
What Went Wrong?
Injuries and youth are the two things that immediately come to mind when you think of the 2009 Revs. Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston both faced extended stints on the sideline, with Twellman making only two appearances all season and Ralston missing ten matches. Chris Albright was also a season-long casualty, making only one appearance. In total, New England lost 121 man-games due to injury throughout the season.
And it's not as if the injuries were to reserve players. Twellman became the youngest player in league history to capture his 100th goals before going down, Ralston holds numerous league records and was arguably the Revolution's best player other than Shalrie Joseph, and Albright was one oft he few US National Team veterans on the roster.
The team was never able to replace the goals that Ralston and Twellman usually provide, and striking issues plagued the Revs all year. Other than the career year from Shalrie Joseph, the Revs lacked a finisher on the attacking end, and Joseph's constant moves forward left gaps in the midfield that were exploited from time to time.
The youthful exuberance which bodes so well for the future was good to see, but it was also obvious. New England often abandoned their usually controlled passing style and opted for a more direct attack due to the lack of experience.
What Went Right?
Shalrie Joseph! Long considered one of the best midfielders in MLS, Joseph took his game to another level in 2009. The aforementioned goal scoring prowess added a new edge to Joseph's game as he set career marks in both goals and assists.
The youth movement also brought about some positive signs for the future. Talented defenders Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes, both rookies, played vital parts fort he Revs throughout the season.
Alston gained plenty of experience on the right and showed signs of becoming one of the top attacking fullbacks in MLS in the near future, while Barnes never missed a minute of the season and held his spot in the center of the Revolution defense admirably throughout.
Other young players such as Nico Colaluca and Pat Phelan earned valuable minutes as the season wore on, giving head coach Steve Nicol a number of intriguing options for the future plans of his team.
Matt Reis also had a nice season in the net, helping the Revs continue their tradition of being on of the top defensive sides in the league despite having a retooled backline in front of him.
What Should The Team Do Differently?
What can you do? The 24-man roster was very limiting for a club that was battered by injuries. Nicol and his staff did well in fielding a competitive team despite constantly having to shift players around and find fillers for gaps in the squad.
Obviously finding some depth up front pops up as a major concern, but the Revs have been grooming some talented attacking players and even went outside their normal realm by signing Edgaras Jankauskas midseason to try and stop the bleeding. A new striker in the upcoming draft, along with the return of Twellman, would go a long way in fixing the club's biggest problems.
What Changes Will Be Made?
Two big changes have already happened. Assistant coach Paul Mariner left the club just before the end of the season to take his post as the head man at Plymouth Argyle, and defensive stalwart Jay Heaps has announced his retirement from the game.
Mariner is a big loss, leaving Nicol in need of a new number one, and the loss of Heaps opens the door for competition on the left side of the back line.
Other than that, it should be business as usual for New England in the offseason and when the 2010 season gets underway.
What Will Happen Next Year?
The Revs have constantly retooled and stayed at a fairly consistent level over the last decade. Can they continue this process?
That's what everyone wants to know. Nicol is a master at drafting talent and making it fit his scheme, but the Revs seem to lose more talent than they bring in every year.
The squad as it sits today is primed to make another run to the playoffs in 2010. The mixture of youthful talent and veteran stars seems to be just about right, but the health concerns remain with Twellman and Ralston.
Expect another solid, if not spectacular, season from the Revs next year as they try to extend their consecutive playoff appearance streak to nine seasons.
Allen Ramsey, Goal.com
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