The Long Road That is Shalrie Joseph's Return to New England

Jim Rogash

It's clear that Shalrie Joseph will not be a Seattle Sounder in 2014. But will the long road that led the 4-time MLS First XI selection away from New England perhaps return to the place where it all began?

It will be difficult to find a New England Revolution fan who doesn't have fond memories of Shalrie Joseph. The long time Revs midfielder and former captain spent a decade wearing navy and was a big part of the clubs numerous trips to the MLS Cup Finals along with other greats like Taylor Twellman, Steve Ralston and Matt Reis

But Joseph, now in camp as a trialist, left during the 2012 season after being traded to Chivas USA for and then was traded again to the Seattle Sounders in before the 2013 season. After struggling during the 2013 season, he had to restructure his contract to allow United States international Clint Dempsey to join as a DP and now it appears that Joseph is no longer in the plans of Sigi Schmid in Seattle.

And that's not a bad thing, because in theory the Revs are in the market for a defensive midfielder (another trialist, Spanish midfielder Gorka Larrea is also in camp) and for the usually thrifty Revolution front office, it could be possible to obtain a former club great on the cheap. And the long road that has led Shalrie around the entire United States, literally and figuratively, might just be circling back to where it all began for the 2002 14th overall SuperDraft pick.

However, this is not going to be a process where the Revs can just sign Joseph to a nice hometown discount contract, although that would be ideal.

There are two main obstacles in the way of a potential deal. The first being that Seattle still owns Joesph's rights but have the potential to buy out his contract before the start of the regular season. Since it's already well known that Seattle is looking to move Joseph, they're not bargaining from a position of strength. If I'm the Revs, or any other team for that matter, I'm not sending Seattle anything: no draft picks and not even a hundred dollars of allocation.

So that leaves Seattle with the only option of buying out Shalrie's contract. For more expertise on the subject I e-mailed SBNation.com's MLS and Sounder at Heart editor Jeremiah Oshan, who speculates (again, this is guess work since MLS contracts are rarely, if ever, disclosed) that the money from Shalrie's restructured deal from 2013 is owed to him for this season and that number should be around $300K. And that's probably a pretty good guess. Shalrie was slated to make about $600K guaranteed last year, with Chivas USA paying a good chuck of that according to the Seattle Times. But after the restructured deal, Shalrie was only making $60K in base salary and $105K according to the September release from the MLS Players Union (MLSPU).

Seattle can buy out the contract, which according to the MLS Roster Rules and Regulations, would free up the cap space for the Sounders. They're still on the hook for the entirety of the contract when he leaves and theoretically any money Joseph makes with a new team would be subtracted from the total salary owed to him from the Sounders from the buy out.

As far as how much Joseph will make with the Revs, initially I couldn't envision a base salary anywhere near $100K but could I see a contract around the $75K range with incentives for Joseph, sure. With that information above, the Revs could sign him to a league minimum deal around $40K and put the Sounders on the hook for the rest of his guaranteed money.

Quite frankly, I'm less concerned with what he makes and more concerned with how he can help the Revs in 2014. Which brings be to the second and probably bigger issue in my opinion, Shalrie's role with the team this season and how he will fit with a team he left not to long ago.

Shalrie is not going to be a full time starter. At least, he's probably not going to be a full time starter unless he wins the job at CDM from Scott Caldwell or even Andy Dorman at some point during the season. Does that mean he won't start at all during 2014, no, absolutely not. There are always injuries and suspensions during the regular season that give opportunities to players on the squad. The most likely scenario is that Shalrie has an opportunity to claim that "enforcer" role in the holding midfield, particularly late in games with the Revs in the lead. Coming on for Caldwell for the final 15-20 minutes would add a big 6-foot-3-inch body in front of the already really good Revs backline. This is a good idea and with a contract that compares to a substitute in MLS, is one that I can agree with in principle.

But even where Shalrie is playing right now is a bit of an unknown, even Jay Heaps acknowledged that when talking on a conference call and from this ESPNBoston.com article from Brian O'Connell:

"Shalrie is just someone that we have a lot of respect for," Heaps said via conference call on Sunday. "We brought him into camp to see where he is. (We're) having a dialogue with him going forward, but at this time, we're just kind of in a reconnecting phase."

I don't think that Heaps harbors any grudge from having to trade Shalrie a few seasons ago, or at least he's taking the professional high road about it. Judging from the overall reaction around the team when the trade was announced it wasn't like Shalrie was a malcontent in the locker room.

But that doesn't mean I don't have reservations about Shalrie rejoining the Revolution. This is still the same team that he had some sort of falling out with and was subsequently traded from only 18 months ago and in those 18 months...well, let's just say that Joseph has looked like a shell of his former Revolution self that was once a 4-time All-MLS First XI selection in five years from 2005-2009.

But his performance on the pitch aside, it's tough to ignore his exit from the Revolution and then rookie head coach Jay Heaps, a longtime teammate of Joseph's on the field. Joseph had this to say to MLSSoccer.com in 2012 following his trade to Chivas USA:

"We had a rocky relationship for the last couple of weeks," noted Joseph. "Me and Jay started off great, and it just hit a road where both of us weren't seeing in the same direction, we weren't going in the same direction. With me, it's all about moving forward, trying to better myself, trying to better the team and that wasn't happening."

Now when the Revs traded Joseph in 2012, they were in the midst of a win-less streak that would stretch over two months and include a 5-game losing streak in a season where the Revs would finish second to last in the Eastern Conference and 16th in the overall Supporter's Shield standings. Jay Heaps and Mike Burns were kind of stuck between a rock and a hard place with a rebuilding effort and Joseph wanted to play regular minutes. Chivas USA wanted to acquire Joseph and a deal was made. At the time, it made sense to deal Joseph since it gave both parties what they wanted: a chance for more playing time for Shalrie and pieces to build and improve the club for New England.

But now the situation has been flipped. Joseph is out of favor in Seattle and perhaps is looking for a little redemption. And going back to New England, a team that is on the rise since he last played for them, might just be the place for Shalrie to make one last run at the elusive MLS Cup that has escaped so many Revolution legends. And I'm willing to forget the last 18 months of what Shalrie Joseph has done on the field if he is willing to accept more of a support/mentoring role with this current Revolution team.

The Revolution have one of the youngest rosters in MLS with only Andy Dorman over the age of 30 on the roster. Adding a little veteran leadership and at the same time bringing back a club legend seems like a pretty good idea. Jay Heaps might have been forshadowing a bit when he said this in that same article on he and Burns trading Shalrie mentioned above:

"That guy's a legend," Heaps said. "He'll always be a legend. He'll always be a Rev when it's all said and done. In sports, you want everything to be a storybook ending. When you look at how careers and organization, they may cross paths for a little while, they may separate for a little while, but, in the end, every fan here knows - and I'm one of them - that Shalrie will be a Rev."

Maybe that storybook ending includes another deep playoff run in New England. Or something better.

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