Monday, March 31, 2008

From the Stands: Offseason and First Kick 2008

The 2008 Revolution season has begun after First Kick 2008 commenced on a brisk Saturday in New England. Following an off season of speculation, loss and eventual retooling, this years Revolution squad looks much different than last years Open Cup winning squad. This season seems to mark a turn to youth and planning for the future, while still keeping an eye on all the major competitions the Revs will be involved in this season. Following last season pickups of U-20 World Cup participants Sainey Nyassi and Abdoulie "Kenny" Mansally the Revs once again turned to the U-20 tournament for another pickup in the form of Costa Rican U-20 forward Argenis Fernandez after a reported $200,000 transfer fee1 was paid to Santos. With the addition of Kheli Dube through the Supplemental Draft (1st Round, 8th overall) and Rob Valentino via the MLS SuperDraft (1st Round, 13th Overall) the youth tone has been set for this year.

The Revs seem to have understood though that while facing competition in this years CONCACAF Champion's League and the SuperLiga, a youthful team might not be ready to fully compete in 3 major tournaments along with the MLS Season. Thus, US international defender Chris Albright was brought in from Los Angeles and Chase Hilgenbrinck from Chile to replace the departing Avery John (unsigned) and James Riley (San Jose via Expansion Draft). Honduran international Mauricio Castro was brought in to add depth to midfield that lost the versatile Andy Dorman (St. Mirren of the SPL). Upfront, the afore mentioned Fernandez and Dube were brought in to help add depth to the strike force that will be without US national teamer Pat Noonan (Aalesunds in Norway) who moved on after his option was not picked up by the Revs.

This weekend we had a chance to have a first look at many of the new acquisitions as the Revs faced off against Houston in a rematch of last years MLS Cup final. Again it was the Revolution who scored first but this time the tables were turned as they managed to add another goal shortly after to open up a 2-goal margin, something they could not do in the cup final. Sparking the attack in the first half was youth contingent. On the first goal, Sainey Nyassi played a perfectly weighted through ball to countryman Kenny Mansally. Mansally had his initial well placed opposite corner shot pushed away by Houston keeper Pat Onstad, however, the ball fell right onto the boot of a well positioned Steve Ralston who calmly deposited the rebound into the net for the early 1-0 lead. Newcomer Castro then drew a free kick in a dangerous position about the 31st minute which allowed the Revs to take a 2-0 lead. A quick restart was played to long shot specialist Jeff Larentowicz who rifled a shot towards Onstad. The Canadian International 'keeper again only managed to push the ball back into play and again into the waiting path of a Revolution attack, this time Adam Cristman. Cristman was able to deposit a jumping header into the back of the net over the keeper. The last goal was just what Nyassi deserved after he ran the Dynamo ragged all game. He was ever present on both the attack and defense and his 3rd goal was a great display of both. After reading a pass out of the Houston defense, Nyassi jumped into the path of the ball and without pause took off on a 50 yard dash towards the Houston penalty box. With a bit of trickery he was able to freeze the defense and had Onstad on his back foot. With the composure not many Revs would have, he was able to deftly place the ball in the top corner to seal the game as Houston was pouring players forward trying to get back into the match.

This match was not without things to question, Castro with his slick ball skills might be a very good player, but it is debatable whether he is best served on the left wing. His style seems to be much more suited for the middle of the pitch, but with him only training with the squad for a short while drawing fouls all game was a good first impression. The refereeing left something to be desired by both squads, with many players openly appealing for handballs, fouls and cards. At one point, one Revolution player was screaming at Michael Kennedy from almost 40 yards away after he was just fed up with being shoved around with no call in sight. But despite all this the Revs played a very fine match on that chilly New England evening. This should give the squad a bright outlook for both this season and the future as many of the stars of today's game were in just their first few seasons with the Revs.

Match ratings:

GK: Matt Reis (8) - He didn't have as much to face as Onstad, but his save in the 58th minute on a well placed header kept the momentum on the Revs side.

DFL: Jay Heaps (7) - Switching to the left flank Heaps didn't seemed phased much, made a few dashes forward and played solid defensively.

DFC: Michael Parkhurst (8) - Very solid match from the recent US Squad call-up showing why he has a chance to be on the plane to SA in 2 summers.

DFR: Chris Albright (8) - Made a seemless transition to the 3-man back line and was immense in the air. His attacking skills were evident as he kept linking well with Nyassi.

DMC: Jeff Larentowicz (7) - A much improved game from the tough midfielder, avoided a yellow which always good for him and managed a great shot off the free kick.

DMC: Shalrie Joseph (7) - Moved around a bit after Ralston went out through injury, but still played very good defensively, but did give the ball away a few times.

MFL: Mauricio Castro (6) - Showed great ball skills, but his timing was off on when to cross. Was willing to get back and defend and was great at holding possession.

MFR: Sainey Nyassi (9 MotM) - Speed kills and tonight it slayed the Dynamo. His offensive contributions were great, but his ability to cover the entire right side was immense.

AMC: Steve Ralston (8) - Prior to the injury, he was having a very good match, switching to the wings at times and knowing when to make a well timed run into the box.

FW: Kenny Mansally (7) - Showed some very good flashes, using speed and chemistry with Nyassi to make runs. Shot the ball accurately and solidly, but needs to hold the ball up a bit better.

FW: Adam Cristman (7) - Scored well off the free kick rebound, but other than that was just not that involved in the attack after replacing the injured Taylor Twellman.

Sub: Gary Flood (6) - Defended very well in the middle of the field, and made a few nice passes, seemed much improved over last season.

Sub: Kheli Dube (N/A) - Not much time, but was making it tough for Houston to build from the back and made himself available to draw defenders away on Nyassi's magical run.

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