By IAN HOLLIDAY
After missing the playoffs for the first time under Steve Nicol last season, the Revolution enters the 2011 season with more questions than answers.
The Revs have been in transition since Taylor Twellman first sustained the head injury that would eventually end his career midway through the 2008 season. With Twellman's retirement in November, the team can no longer be seen as waiting to get its star striker back, and must instead focus on finding a productive goalscorer and a creative midfielder to supply him. Shalrie Joseph has the skill to fill either of these roles capably, but his best position is as a holding midfielder. While Serbian imports Marko Perovic and Ilija Stolica showed flashes last season, it remains to be seen whether their production over the course of a full season will be enough to get the Revs back to the playoff promised land.
The team will once again spend much of its preseason training indoors in Foxborough, with trips planned to Orlando in February and Atlanta in March. During the Atlanta trip, New England will take part in the inaugural "Atlanta MLS Challenge," a three-team exhibition tournament featuring the Revs, the Columbus Crew and the Houston Dynamo.
Here is a closer look at the New England Revolution's preseason plans:
NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION
Training schedule: Jan. 31-Feb. 13 in Foxborough; Feb. 14-24 in Orlando, Fla.; Feb. 28-March 2 in Foxborough; March 3-13 in Kennesaw, Ga.
Tentative game schedule: matches in Orlando TBA; March 6 vs. Columbus Crew; March 9 vs. Columbus Crew; March 13 vs. Houston Dynamo
Key arrivals: D A.J. Soares, D Didier Domi, D Ryan Cochrane
Key departures: F Taylor Twellman, D Cory Gibbs, D Emmanuel Osei
What to watch for: The Revolution gave up a league-high 50 goals last season, and their offseason transactions were almost all aimed at bolstering the back line. Gone are the unpredictable Osei and the oft-injured Gibbs, and added are veteran Frenchman Domi, former Dynamo Cochrane, and Superdraft selection Soares. The newcomers will join third-year pros Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston, both of whom will be looking to improve after less-than-stellar sophmore seasons. Depending on how quickly the group gels and how quickly the talented Soares adjusts to life in MLS, the unit has the potential to be much improved this season.
Of note: In addition to giving up a lot of goals, the Revs had a lot of trouble scoring in 2010, managing only 32 goals in 30 games. With few changes to the midfield and forward corps, the team seems likely to struggle again in this department. One potential long-term solution worth watching is Diego Fagundez, the Revs' first homegrown player. The 15 year-old has scored goals in bunches with the club's U-16 team, and signed a contract with the senior team in November. Fagundez will not be joining the full squad during the preseason, but expect Steve Nicol to give him a look sometime during the summer, especially if the team is having trouble finding the back of the net.