Monday, May 18, 2009

Anemic Attack

Prior to the game on Saturday, word came out that both Ralston and Joseph would be playing up top in the striker roles. After the initial shock of the announcement I realized the decision to make a great deal of sense. The team has lacked a real scoring threat from striker for well over a year now. They had relied upon the creative genius of Steve Ralston, and the endeavor and work-rate of Shalrie to provide almost all of their attack. Twellman's absence from the lineup is only proving to be more and more painful for the team, as it has yet to find anyone to fill in the role of scoring goals.

Last season the teams attack was hoisted on the shoulders of Steve Ralston. Without a striker who could hold the ball up, knock balls down or create a chance inside the 18, Ralston was relied upon to do almost everything in the offensive third. When he went down late in the season the impact was felt almost immediately, and the team ultimately fell off quite precipitously, and ultimately bowed out of MLS Cup.

Coming into this season, Twellman has still failed to regain fitness after a serious concussion. Still, the team did not seriously pursue any new attacking options during the off season. Instead, it seems, they decided to rely on the growth of some young attacking players like Mansally and Nyassi. Kheli Dube while not very young, was still only coming into his second season, and hopes of his growth as a professional was also to be relied upon. Neither of the three aforementioned players has shown much growth this season. In the cases of Mansally and Dube they have only shown their inability to hold a ball up on attack, be patient, and create opportunities on their own. Mansally showed brief flashes of ability only when playing alongside the maestro Ralston. Nyassi has found himself on an island on the right side of field. He is much more willing to attack players down the flank, but his poor final balls, and turnovers have been frustrating to no end.

The team also saw the loss of Khano Smith to the expansion draft. Khano received a lot of criticism from fans and media during his career with the Revs, but the impact of his loss has been shown this season. With Castro also out with injury, the left hand side of the field has been an adventure for the Revs all season. Thompson shows a lot of effort during games, but his skills and decision making cause many more problems than they solve. Recently Tierny has been given a shot down the left, but his lack of pace, and skill only leaves the Revs with a void of attack from the left hand flank.

Through all of this it should be noted that the team has scored just 7 goals in 8 games, with Ralston and Joseph both leading the way with a pair of goals each. Both of Ralston's goals have come from the spot, so the Revs have only scored 5 goals within the run of play. Dating back to last season, the team has only score 12 goals in it's last 16 matches (including MLS Cup playoff games vs. Chicago). Ralston missed the last 5 games of last season (including the game against KC where he picked up his season ending injury), and the team only score 2 goals in those final 5 games.

So after I considered everything I stated above, the pregame lineup announcement was really not a shock to me. This team has lacked true scoring threat, and ability to possess the ball in the offensive third for far too long now. While poor marking may have led to the goal against Colorado, it is hardly time to criticize a defense which has let up just 7 goals in 7 games outside of the RSL debacle. The ability to attack and posses the ball for long stretches of games has limited the teams scoring chances, and put far too much pressure on it's defensive unit. Ralston and Shalrie did a fine job up top on Saturday, but their absence in the midfield was also felt. Larentowicz and Phelan are what they are, and they do not have the same creativity or play making ability as Shalrie or Ralston.

They have brought in the young Cameroonian striker Stephen Assengue, but right now he looks to be more of a project than a solution. Michael Videira is also a very raw central/attacking midfield player, who at the current time cannot be relied upon to score goals, or create goals. Mauricio Castro also fights to gain fitness, and his creative (although frustratingly tentative at times) play is also missed. So, where will the goals come from? Without a healthy Twellman, the team may need to look away from their current roster to answer that question. A trade possibly? Waiting for the European closed season, and potential free agents? DP? Other international signing? The team has been reluctant to go those routes in the past, but they may be lead to go down no other path. The window for players like Reis, Ralston, Shalrie, and even potential free agent Larentowicz, is closing quickly. Those players are not getting younger, and although still among the most talented in the league, they will not be around forever.

If the team has any aspirations for glory this season, they rely almost solely on the health of a couple aging veterans who have seen some significant injuries in the last year or so. With Ralston, Reis and Twellman healthy and in the lineup, I will take my chances against any team in the league. Without one or all of them, the team will languish near the bottom of the table, fail to score enough goals and be threatened to miss the playoffs for the first time in years. Maybe now is as good a time as any to bring in a quality high profile international striker, but that may be hoping against hope at this point.


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