[MLS]If any MLS team might be well-prepared to lose two of its best players, it's New England, which takes on Chicago Thursday in the first game of the ESPN2 doubleheader (7:30 p.m. ET) minus Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston.
In addition to the Revs' annual cleanup at the MLS SuperDraft, which last year produced not one but two capable replacements - Adam Cristman and Wells Thompson - at forward, they have former Gambian U-20 internationals Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally, and Honduran midfielder Mauricio Castro. Coming back from national duty with the Bermudan national team is Khano Smith, so once again, even without two of his stars, Coach Steve Nicol will have excess options to replace them.
Twellman missed last weekend's opener, yet the Revs thrashed defending champion Houston, 3-0, with Nyassi and Mansally scorching the Dynamo on numerous occasions. Upon further review, in Twellman's grouchy right knee was found a meniscus tear that will require surgery and approximately six weeks of rehabilitation.
In the same game, Ralston fell heavily under a challenge and suffered a dislocated shoulder. He will be re-examined Wednesday to determine the severity of the injury.
Nicol could move Castro, who played the left flank against Houston, to fill Ralston's central playmaking slot and use Smith on the left side, or jigger the formation. The Revs used a four-man back line several times in preseason as well as their standard 3-5-2 alignment that worked to great effect against Houston, thanks to stellar showings by central midfielders Shalrie Joseph and Jeff Larentowicz, and the back line of Jay Heaps, Michael Parkhurst and Chris Albright (Gary Flood replaced Ralston in the 63rd minute).
Earlier this week, the Revs signed former Clemson defender Chase Hilgenbrink, who trained with Colorado for two months before being released on the roster compliance date of March 3.
A veteran of several seasons in Chile, he can play left back, so Nicol could add him to a lineup with four in the back, yet Nicol might prefer to wait until 2008 first-round draft pick Rob Valentino, a rugged 6-foot-4 central defender who is scheduled to resume competitive action this week in a reserve match, is ready. Valentino would be an ideal complement to Parkhurst as a central partner in a four-man system.
Nicol sounded a cautious tone after the dismantling of the Dynamo and certainly teams will be better prepared to face the speedy, confident Gambian pair. Born two days apart in January, 1989, they inject elements of daring and pace into the Revs, somewhat similar to the impact of Smith the past few seasons. If Nicol puts all three of them on the field in Chicago, who have a few burners of their own as well as the roaming Cuauhtemoc Blanco, the cameras may not be able to keep up.