By AVI CREDITOR
This is not your older brother's New England Revolution.
It'll be a bit odd to see the Revolution line up without Jay Heaps and Steve Ralston in the mix, but that's what the team is in for after an active, roster-altering offseason that had two of the team's most recognizable faces exit Foxborough.
Nevertheless, with a strong defense, speed on the wings and MVP-candidate Shalrie Joseph in the middle of it all, Steve Nicol's side is capable of adding to its eight-year streak of making the playoffs.
Here is a look at the 2010 New England Revolution:
2010 NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Players to Watch – Shalrie Joseph, Kevin Alston, Kheli Dube, Darrius Barnes
Key Arrivals – Preston Burpo, Cory Gibbs, Zack Schilawski, Seth Sinovic, Zak Boggs, Joseph Niouky Desire
Key Departures – Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Jeff Larentowicz, Chris Albright, Brad Knighton
Projected Lineup (New starters in bold)
—————Kheli Dube—————Edgaras Jankauskas——–
–Kenny Mansally———-Shalrie Joseph———–Sainey Nyassi—
————————Joseph Niouky Desire—————————
–Chris Tierney——Cory Gibbs—–Darrius Barnes—–Kevin Alston
Biggest Question – Will Taylor Twellman be a factor?
The oft-injured striker's presence changes the complexion of the Revolution's attack immensely. It is still unclear if or how Twellman will be able to help this team, but if (and that 'if' is large enough to fill the closed-off upper deck at Gillette Stadium) he can get on the pitch and be anything close to the feared goalscorer he has been in the past, then the Revolution will be sitting pretty.
Jankauskas and Dube are too inconsistent to be relied upon for steady goalscoring, and first-round draft pick Zack Schilawski, who had a strong preseason, has yet to really get his MLS feet wet. Twellman's inclusion would take a bit of pressure off everybody.
X-Factor – Preston Burpo
With multiple-time MLS All-Star and veteran keeper Matt Reis shelved to start the season and longtime backup Brad Knighton now with expansion Philadelphia, the onus will be on Burpo to keep opposing shots out of the Revolution net.
Gibbs, who was acquired along with Burpo in the Jeff Larentowitz deal, and up-and-comers Alston and Barnes comprise a formidable back line, but it'll be on Burpo to keep them organized while he attempts to do his best Reis impersonation.
Outlook – It's tough to bet against Nicol taking his team to the playoffs, something he has done every year since he came to New England in 2002. This may be his toughest coaching challenge yet, but with the continued development of wingers Mansally and Nyassi and a defense that should limit the opposition considerably, the Revolution should claw its way into the bottom of the playoff picture.