Joseph ready for fresh start

With Taylor Twellman retired, Shalrie Joseph could be the undisputed face of the New England Revolution. Considered the team’s best all-around player, that should come as no surprise.

It’s better than being the face of the local medical marijuana movement. While that distinction was never heaped on Joseph, his six-game suspension last season after testing positive for hemp put a stain on the player’s superlative reputation. Combined with an awful season for the Revolution, who watched the playoffs from home, it was not a good year for the 32-year-old native of Grenada.

But Joseph, a key player for the Revolution since 2003 who has amassed 210 regular-season matches with the team, is planning to put that bitter experience behind him. Backed by the hope of new teammates, a fresh perspective and the chance to set it all right, the four-time member of the MLS Best XI team said he is anticipating nothing less than a full-scale personal revival in 2011.

“Definitely, for me, last year was a frustrating and disappointing year, personally, in terms of my career,’’ he said. “It was definitely one of my low points in terms of MLS. I had to deal with the drug situation and now I finally feel like I’m back to healthy. I had my offseason … and I worked hard to get myself back to where I was a couple of years ago. I think for me, personally, I want to set some goals and some standards that I’m going to be one of the best players in this league, if not the best, and I want to push my team to the top and get back to that championship level that this team is capable of.’’

Speaking Thursday by conference call from Orlando, where the Revolution are in the midst of their first preseason training camp away from New England, Joseph said he has been energized by the team’s possibilities this season.

“The excitement level is high,’’ added Joseph. “You have guys who have played at a high level, like [Frenchman] Didier [Domi] and the guy [Franco Coria] we brought in from Argentina … and all of these guys have come in ready to practice and are really working hard and pushing each other.

“For me, I think this preseason is one of the most competitive, I can say,’’ added Joseph. “Practice has been going two hours, guys have been getting in on tackles. All of these things are going to translate to the field as we start pushing each other and being better. Hopefully, we can get it clicking as soon as possible, but it is a work in progress.

"But with me, being here, I’ve seen guys come in and I’ve seen guys gone, and I know what this team is capable of becoming a unit.’’

Coach Steve Nicol believes that Joseph can get back to doing one primary function this season, as opposed to last year, when he might be in midfield at one moment, passing or winning the ball, and then in the opposing team’s penalty area the next minute, vying for head balls.

“It’s tough because Shalrie always tries to take everything on board anyway [despite] whoever’s playing with him,’’ said Nicol. “But, I think, if we are better with the ball, he is going to have to do a hell of a lot less defending and it will allow him to get further up the field.

"So, yes, sometimes you got to throw the reins on him because he wants to help everybody and do everything. But this year, hopefully, we can do that. We have some good guys around him, and try and get him to play further up the field [so] he can relax and just play.’’

It sounds as though Nicol could be planning to play Joseph as the team’s creative midfielder. Newcomer Ousmane Dabo, another French player with experience in Italy’s Serie A, is expected to accompany Joseph. Marko Perovic and Ilija Stolica will most likely be the team’s front players. On paper, the Revolution could be shaping into a better team, and that would suit Joseph just fine.

“We’ve turned over a lot of personnel,’’ he said. “A lot of guys have moved onto different parts of their career. Some guys have moved overseas and to other teams in MLS. But that’s the nature of the business, and you just got to take it as it comes each year. With me and Matt [Reis], being the guys who have been there the longest, we’ve got to step up and bring that leadership role and lead the other guys. We’ve just got to be leaders for these guys and try to steer them in the right way.’’

Blending the newcomers with the returning players could take a bit of time, and Joseph said the organic process should not be rushed.

“I think we would definitely like to speed it up, but it is something you can’t really do,’’ he said. “You just got to take it game by game, practice by practice, and work from there on. The more we try to hurry it and we don’t get it right, it’s going to come back to hurt us. So we just got to take it one game at a time, and one practice at a time, and just be there for each other no matter what it is.’’

Notes: The Revolution will begin the first of three friendly matches Friday night with a game against the University of Central Florida. Additional matches will be played against the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team (Feb. 21) and FC Dallas (Feb. 23).