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Joseph's sum greater than his stats

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Shalrie Joseph may be soccer's biggest victim of the love of statistics that is inherent in North American sports culture.

The New England Revolution midfielder is one of the most influential players in Major League Soccer, having recently topped the Yahoo! Sports 20 – our list of the leading lights in MLS. Yet despite his consistently outstanding form over several seasons, Joseph isn't even the best-known player at his club.

Forward Taylor Twellman is the face of the Revs. However, most observers who appreciate that soccer is not a game of numbers or percentages acknowledge that Joseph is the one who's had the greater impact on coach Steve Nicol's team.

"My position doesn't get as much fame as a goal scorer," Joseph said of his defensive midfielder role. "But I love it because I have a lot of influence in controlling the game. I try to dominate, to have an outstanding game, and if I do that it will give us a good opportunity to win.

"You don't get much glory. American sports like numbers and statistics, but it is no problem. I just go about doing my job for the benefit of the team."

NEW ENGLAND REVOLUTION

New England Revolution
2007 RECORD:
14-8-8 (50 points), second in Eastern Conference, fourth overall. Lost to Houston in MLS Cup final.

KEY MAN: Shalrie Joseph. The 29-year-old is the driving force behind the team and the enforcer who makes things happen. He is big, strong, skillfull – and determined to help the Revs go one better this year.

NEWCOMER: Spencer Wadsworth. Head coach Steve Nicol is an expert at picking up quality players late in the draft and he may have found another good one in this Duke graduate. The 55th overall selection's final college season was unspectacular following foot surgery, but he has impressed in preseason, operating up front or in midfield.

OUTLOOK: A consistent regular season and a solid run through the playoffs is no longer good enough for New England. After three straight MLS Cup defeats, nothing but the championship will be considered acceptable. However, the departures of Andy Dorman, Pat Noonan and Avery John cost the team some experience. Chris Albright will be a welcome addition if he can stay healthy.

It's good then that the 29-year-old is not too obsessed with the limelight. Indeed, his No. 1 priority right now is simple and predictable, but he will pursue it to the point of obsession.

After being involved in each of New England's three successive MLS Cup final defeats, Joseph's burning desire is directed towards the league trophy and little else.

Last year's championship game loss to the Houston Dynamo at RFK Stadium was even more painful than the Revs' defeat to the same opponent on penalty kicks 12 months previously. At halftime and a goal ahead, New England appeared to have the title in the bag before a loss of nerve and concentration, combined with an impressive comeback from an organized Houston team, changed the outcome.

At least one English Premiership club took a serious look at Joseph last season, but his age and his lengthy contract mean he is likely to see out his career in Massachusetts. So he has even more reason to win that elusive MLS Cup.

"I love Boston and being here," Joseph said. "Lifting that trophy is the only thing that would satisfy me. That would make everything worthwhile.

"We have been to the final four times in six years. Just getting there is not enough for us anymore."

Trying to devise a stat that measures a midfielder's position sense, or his vision, or the way he makes others around him better, would give even the eggheads at MIT some sleepless nights. But those are the factors that make Joseph so effective and why the Revolution are able to control possession in most of their matches.

As the league and its supporters become more sophisticated over time, Joseph's achievements will probably earn greater recognition. He is reasonably laidback about the whole thing.

It would be easy to harbor regrets – like not having played in Europe, or choosing to represent Grenada (where he lived until he was 11) instead of the United States – but there is no visible bitterness in either his personality or his play.

"I sometimes wonder to myself what it would have been like if things had been different, but the main thing is I am happy here and want to do well for this club," Joseph said. "If people say I am one of the best players in the league that is great. I won't classify myself that way, but I do try to push myself every day and I want to strive to be the best player.

"But for me, to be the greatest, you have to help your team win the trophy and I haven't done that. Not yet anyway."