The 2008 MLS season is upon us. The New England Revolution get a chance to avenge their loss to Houston in the MLS Cup Final last year (their third straight Cup final loss) on Saturday, playing Houston at home. Here's the cliff notes on the offseason.
The Revs lost four players in the offseason. Midfielder Andy Dorman went to Scotland where he now plays for St. Mirren. Striker Pat Noonan was bought by a Norwegian team, Aalesunds FK. Defenders Avery John is not returning for the team, reportedly hawking his wares in the UK. And James Riley (aka Giggles) was picked up by the resuscitated San Jose Earthquakes.
The loss of Avery John has been compensated for by bringing in US National Team defender Chris Albright (see him bonding with his new teammates in his underwear in a hottub in Cancun here). Amaechi Igwe, a rookie last year who played for the reserves, may also get playing time depending on whether the Revs play 3 or 4 at the back. Some people have been saying they don't expect much from Igwe because he didn't get any time last year for the senior team. However, Jeff Larentowicz played 5 minutes for the senior team his rookie year, and started half the games his sophomore year, so I won't write off Igwe. The Revs also drafted a defender, Rob Valentino, with their highest draft pick, and signed a local trialist, Sam Brill of Newton Mass. and Boston College.
The loss of Pat Noonan, who's contributions the last couple seasons were scant due to injury, will probably be offset by the development of Adam Cristman and Kenny Mansally, both rookies last year although Mansally didn't play last year due to visa issues (he is Gambian). Fellow Gambian Sainey Nyassi, a fast outside winger, arrived with Mansally last year. He played one sub appearance and I liked what I saw, although coach Nicol says he needs to develop aspects of his game that don't include running at defenders, beating them, and putting in crosses. Frankly I don't see why...
Hopefully Dorman's departure will be made up for by the signing of two players from Honduran clubs: Mauricio Castro and Argenis Fernandez (who is Costa Rican). Castro can reportedly play the creative midfield role that the Revs have been lacking since they let Jose Pepe Cancela leave a couple years ago. Fernandez is a 21 year old striker. The Revs also signed Kheli Dube, a Zimbabwean striker. They also drafted striker Spencer Wadsworth from Duke, making it five (six if you include Khano Smith) strikers competing for the honor of starting alongside Taylor Twellman. Mansally and Cristman are the favorites.
The core of the team remains intact. Shalrie Joseph and Larentowicz in the midfield are in my opinion the best central midfield pairing in the league. Steve Ralston and Jay Heaps are getting older - I'm not sold that either of them will be still starting come the last day of the season. Twellman will score goals. Michael Parkhurst is still the best central defender in the league - hopefully he doesn't leave for Europe as well. Reis is solid in goal.
In short, lots of changes in the offseason, lots of potential upside if even only two or three of the new young guys like Mansally, Nyassi, Fernandez, Dube, Brill or Valentino end up making valuable contributions. Because the two best teams in the East, DC and the Revs, both lost experienced players (DC lost Christian Gomez to Colorado) and one of the poorer teams improved (Kansas City got Claudio Lopez), I think the East will be pretty even between DC, New England, Kansas City, and Chicago.
Other relevant Revs news: the Revs have an official blog that is regularly updated.