By Kyle McCarthy
Proponents of midfield play bowed their heads on Monday after hearing the news that three influential midfielders faced spells on the sidelines.
The trio – Houston's Geoff Cameron, Los Angeles' David Beckham and New England's Shalrie Joseph – fill vital roles for their clubs and featured prominently in their side's aspirations prior to the start of the season. Beckham and Cameron, however, won't play again in 2010, while Joseph will take a seat for an undetermined period of time.
As the three involved teams assess the impact of losing a key midfielder, the fallout requires further examination:
Shalrie Joseph: Although Joseph's leave from the Revolution will almost certainly end well before Beckham or Cameron return to the field, his absence presents the most pressing problem. Joseph drives New England in the center of the park by imposing his will on the game, keeping possession reliably and winning the ball consistently. One look at the stark contrast between the impressive performance in Joseph's lone appearance of the season – a 4-1 drubbing of Toronto FC complete with an influential second-half contribution from the Grenada international – and the stuttering submissions in the other four matches without him reveals how important Joseph remains to the side. His contributions are simply irreplaceable, so the Revs will likely keep the faith with Joseph Niouky and Pat Phelan rather than making an external move at the present time.
The indeterminate nature of Joseph's departure – a leave precipitated by a personal matter and not any injury- or soccer-related issues, according to Joseph's agent, Ron Waxman – leaves the Revs in a bind. While Joseph will likely return at some point in the medium term, it's impossible to predict exactly when he can step back into the lineup and difficult to guess how the Revs will react to his recent departure. One thing is certain: Joseph needs to reappear sooner rather than later because New England will play seven league matches between May 1 and June 5. If Joseph misses all seven matches, the Revolution could lose considerable ground in the fight for a playoff berth.
While Joseph's spell away from the Revolution will likely cost his team points, the time off could also benefit him and the club by giving his perpetually aching body a chance to rest. Joseph battled a series of injuries in 2009 and started 2010 by picking up a right hip flexor strain as training camp wound to a close. As Joseph attempted to recover from the initial injury, the veteran midfielder said he strained and tweaked other muscles while compensating for the right hip flexor strain. A break away from the game could eliminate those injury concerns – Joseph had targeted this weekend's visit by FC Dallas as his likely return – and hand him the opportunity to dominate games even more completely than he already does.
Geoff Cameron: Cameron's right PCL tear will rule him out for the remainder of the campaign and force Dominic Kinnear to replace his second attacking midfielder inside of six months. Stuart Holden isn't coming back to Texas any time soon, so the Dynamo will have to resume its search for a central midfielder who can provide effective two-way play in the role once mastered by Dwayne De Rosario and Holden. Cameron isn't operating at that level yet, but he did show promising signs of growing into the role as he continued his transition from central defense to central midfield. Houston left one roster spot vacant in order to have the latitude to make a move in the summer transfer window and this bit of tidy roster management will come in handy earlier than anticipated as Kinnear scours the free agent market in search of Cameron's replacement.
Until the Dynamo can secure Cameron's replacement, Kinnear will have to mix and match to keep his preferred midfield alignment humming. The most likely scenario includes Brad Davis sliding inside to reprise a central midfield role he has filled on occasion with Corey Ashe taking up Davis' usual role on the left wing. In order to make those adjustments work, Houston will need to find a healthy pair of forwards to allow Brian Mullan to return to his usual role on the right wing and will have to find a way to ensure Davis' stint as a central midfielder is more successful than his previous spells in the center of the park. Kinnear could also deploy Richard Mulrooney alongside Lovel Palmer once he returns from a right knee injury and ask the Jamaican to push up a bit more than usual, but the dual holding midfielder approach contradicts Kinnear's usual tactical deportment.
David Beckham: While Los Angeles knew Beckham would miss most of the season after sustaining a right Achilles injury during his loan stint at AC Milan, the Galaxy will certainly feel the impact of Beckham pushing his anticipated return from September to November. The shift – if it does not include further alterations to the timeline as Beckham continues his rehabilitation – would almost certainly preclude the England international's involvement this season. Losing Beckham deprives the Galaxy of a cultured, experienced option in midfield to bolster the playoff push. Beckham's sweeping diagonal passes over distance and his free kick acumen would have added two significant dimensions to a Galaxy side that still leans more toward counterattacking than swashbuckling. Replacing Beckham simply isn't an option, so Bruce Arena will have to hope younger players like Juninho and Michael Stephens can add a dash of creativity when it counts and the other experienced campaigners in the seasoned side can supply the veteran nous as Los Angeles seeks to lift MLS Cup.
Kyle McCarthy writes the Monday MLS Breakdown and frequently writes opinion pieces during the week for Goal.com. He also covers the New England Revolution for the Boston Herald and MLSsoccer.com. Contact him with your questions or comments at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter by clicking here.
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