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Revolution In Review: Forwards

2010 was not the year of the forward for the Revolution. In a season where the entire team set club records for impotence before goal, the entire compliment of forwards listed here accounted for just 15 tallies out of 32. That’s as many as some MLS strikers scored by themselves this season.

The Revs were missing over $600,000 worth of goalscoring talent due to injury with Taylor Twellman and Edgaras Jankauskas laid up all season, but it isn’t as though the striker contingent was all that potent in the previous season either. In fact, since losing Twellman just before the 2008 playoffs, the Revs haven’t seemed to be able to look truly threatening in the box and their record has suffered for it.

This season actually started with some promise from the players up top, with Mansally’s brace against DC, Schilawski’s home debut hat-trick, and Zak Boggs’ systematic dismantling of the Columbus defense. Unfortunately, it took until the arrival of Ilija Stolica for the Revolution’s front line to show any more signs of life, and even then the brilliance came in flashes, intermittent and brief.

2011 will be about moving on; Twellman has announced his retirement, and it will be up to the Revs to find a threat in front of goal to replace his production. Toward the end of last season Steve Nicol took to playing Marko Perovic up front with Stolica, but despite Perovic’s good form it seems that his best position is behind the strikers or wide on the left. Thus, the following players will need to step up their game if New England wants to have any success.

Zack Schilawski: Schilawski got thrust into the starting role early in his pro career thanks to injuries suffered by Kheli Dube and Taylor Twellman. Early on he didn’t disappoint: Schilawski charged right into the hearts of the Fort faithful with a second-half hat-trick versus Toronto in the home opener at Foxboro. In the following weeks he showed excellent work rate and a willingness to get himself in difficult positions to score, picking up two more goals along the way.

Then it all fell apart. As the goals dried up so did his playing time, and the acquisition of Ilija Stolica concluded his stretch as an integral contributor to the starting XI. The Wake Forest appeared in 25 MLS matches in 2010, and his final tally of five goals won’t be nearly enough to power the offense in 2011.

Schilawski was protected for the expansion draft a few weeks ago, indicating that the Revolution expect him to develop into a consistent contributor in the next few seasons. His abrupt drop in form could be attributed to his body’s lack of familiarity with the longer professional season – such difficulties are common in former collegiate players during their rookie year. He should remain on the roster going into 2011, hungry and ready to use the experience he gained in 2010 to his advantage.

Kheli Dube: Kheli shared the team’s golden boot in 2009 with Shalrie Joseph, knocking in eight goals in league play. Of course, three of those goals came in a victory over Real Salt Lake, but his tally remains respectable. 2010 ended as a year to forget for the Zimbabwean, with just two goals to his name in 20 appearances, although he recorded a career- and team-high five assists.

Dube was incredibly slow off the mark this season. Despite assisting on two of Schilawski’s hat-trick goals and running his count in that category to four by early May, he didn’t score his first goal until he netted what would be the game-winner in September against Seattle.

For a forward, two goals aren’t nearly enough. Dube, like many of the Revs’ strikers (and outfield players in general), is sorely lacking a quality first touch, and often this keeps him from taking advantage of any good positions in which he’s able to put himself.

One thing Kheli proved this season was his versatility: he played several matches on the right side of midfield and actually acquitted himself fairly well there. He’s valued by the coaching staff, but that good will could change quickly if he doesn’t produce this season.

Zak Boggs: Another member of the Revs’ 2010 rookie class, Boggs started out as a late substitute option but got his chance to impress against Columbus, and he took the opportunity and ran with it. The first goal he scored was a bit of a fluke, but his second was a masterclass in quality passing that he started and then calmly finished after involving several of his teammates in the build-up.

Boggs has the ability to play up front and out wide, and after putting in a good shift at Crew Stadium he started to see improved playing time but was slowed by knee and ankle sprains. Unfortunately, a concussion suffered in training forced him to miss the entire SuperLiga tournament and the last 17 matches of the MLS season.

Boggs definitely has a decent soccer brain and a good finishing touch, but there isn’t a lot to analyze because the time he saw was so limited. He made just nine appearances, and only four of those were starts. He was left unprotected but unselected in the expansion draft, but the roster spot and salary cap increases agreed to this season should almost guarantee him a spot on the 2011 squad.

Kenny Mansally: Mansally has performed much like his Gambian counterpart, Sainey Nyassi; flashes of astounding brilliance followed by long periods of frustrating mediocrity. In 2010, however, he had a bit of an emergence, showing his ability with an absolutely astounding second goal at RFK stadium that was a candidate for MLS Goal of the Season.

After that, he managed just one more goal in a season total of 21 appearances (8 starts). As with Dube, his production was just not up to par for a contributing forward and the drastic decrease he saw in playing time from 2009 to 2010 seemed to indicate a change in opinion amongst management.

However, in my eyes Mansally matured far beyond anything anyone could have expected in the second half of 2010. Even putting aside the goal he scored against Kansas City in the 4-1 debacle at CommunityAmerica Ballpark, his work up front in hold up play and passing was miles ahead of any other striker besides Ilija Stolica. The Gambian showed strength, intelligence, and a careful first-touch to help the Revolution maintain possession and build attacks.

Unfortunately, not too many players around him seemed willing to capitalize on his hard work. Still, his actions were certainly being noticed by opponents, and that was never more apparent than in the season finale in New York when he equaled a club record for fouls suffered with 10. Mansally remains a major part of the organization’s future plans, and if his closing performances in 2010 are any indication he should have quite a bit to show us in 2011.

Ilija Stolica: Stolica made his Revolution debut on August 7th as a substitute against DC at home – less than 24 hours after getting off his first flight into the country. His first start was the next week against Houston, and he marked it with a game-winning goal off a half-volley.

Stolica is 31 and paid well, two attributes that don’t generally sit well with the Revs organization, but his talents brought some bite to the New England attack and, at the same time, gave Shalrie Joseph and Marko Perovic a legitimate possession-keeping option up front. Stolica’s first touch can, at times, be a wonderful example of sport as art.

Stolica and Perovic developed a phenomenal understanding in his short time in Foxboro, combining to notch up 42.1% of the team’s entire scoring totals. The former Buducnost man accounted for 3 goals and 2 assists in 14 total appearances, totals that can be forgiven for their low number when one accounts for his skill in holding up the ball.

That said, he will need to show a bit more in 2011 to justify sticking around after the season, as he is already on the backside of his career. While the Serbian will probably never be a double-digit scorer in MLS, it isn’t unreasonable to expect a tally of 6-8 goals with at least 5 assists in 2011, now that he has become acclimated to the artificial pitch, travel and style of play. Anything less will have to be viewed as a failure.

Agree with this assessment? Have some opinions of your own? Leave a comment below!