FOXBORO, MA - MAY 12: Saer Sene #39 of the New England Revolution brings the ball down field in a game against the Vancouver Whitecaps at Gillette Stadium May 12, 2012 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Sene scored a goal in the first half of the game. (Photo by Gail Oskin/Getty Images)
Weird. For the past few years whenever I read a pre-match analysis about the New England Revolution by their upcoming opponent, they typically pointed out two things: (1) Shalrie Joseph was the lead goal scorer and (2) the fact that the lead scorer was a defensive midfielder told a sad, sad story about the state of the team. This year, however, with the influx of new talent, there is a genuinely weird thing happening.
For the first time since 2010, a forward is leading the team in goals. Back in 2010 Marko Perovic had 7 goals in 29 games (at a strike-rate of 1 goal for every 4.14 games), this year Saer Sene has 4 goals in 9 games (a strike-rate of 1 goal for every 2.25 games) . To find a recent Revolution player with a higher striker rate you have to go all the way back to Taylor Twellman in 2007 where he had 16 goals in 26 games (for an astoundingly, ungodly strike-rate of 1 goal for every 1.63 games).
That is partially why Revolution supporters are relatively excited about Sene. A young 25-year-old striker, with flamboyant hair, a lanky frame and surprising speed who could just be the best forward New England has had since Twellman graced the plastic pitch of Gillette. But remember Zack Shilawski had a hat-trick in his first home game as a Rev. And further than the untimely decay of Shilawski's career as a Rev, there was also a lot of excitement around Lekic.
Supporters and media alike have wondered if Rajko Lekic could have put up similar numbers to Sene with the much improved service this year. But they are not the same player, not even close. While both Lekic and Sene do make some very nice, tricky runs they have far different games. Lekic liked to stay, for the most part, in the offensive third. He towed the offside line and - more often than not - didn't do it too well. Meanwhile, Sene, like his idol Thierry Henry, travels way back into the midfield to get the ball and even help defend. Add in the fact that Sene appears to be a better header of the ball (which was surprising because that is not how he was originally advertised), a better passer and a better player on the ball, and I would imagine that even with the service Lekic's strike-rate would not equal that of Sene's.
The Revolution, lucky or otherwise, stumbled onto Sene. This is a player who, regardless of the majority of his career being in Germany's 3.Liga, did have some first-team minutes with Bayern Munich and did make the roster for the 2009-10 UEFA Champions League season - currently, Lekic is having trouble breaking onto the game-day 18 for Lyngby BK.
The reality is that despite not getting minutes in the Bundesliga, for the first time in a long time, Sene is playing regular first team minutes - even if MLS is not exactly the Bundesliga. This is giving him the opportunity to show what he can do to a larger crowd.
And as he shows and proves, the hype is following him and growing beyond a whispering murmur. He was a bit of an enigma before the season started, but now people are aware of him. Teams are now beginning to focus part of their defensive duties on shutting down the big Frenchman. If you look at Lee Nguyen's first goal from the game against the Vancouver Whitecaps, there are three Whitecap defenders triangulating around Sene. This helps leave Nguyen with enough space to get a good shot off. Perhaps Sene's presence will allow more goals to come from Nguyen, Benny Feilhaber, Kelyn Rowe, Fernando Cardenas or others.
Sene has been impressive. People are noticing (listen to any MLS podcast, read any MLS blog or just follow MLS fans on Twitter and you'll see). It is how Sene will adjust for the rest of the season that will determine whether he is New England's best forward since Taylor Twellman or just Zack Schilawski version 2.0.
What are your thoughts on the big Frenchman? How will he adjust as defenses adjust to him? Comment below.