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Soccernet: Nicol doing it with rookies again

In a piece today for ESPN Soccernet, Jeff Carlisle looks at the knack that Revolution coach Steve Nicol has a knack for discovering young players and his willingness to play them. This year, rookies Seth Sinovic and Zack Schilawski are already making an impact.

Carlisle writes:

It seems like every year the roster of the New England Revolution suffers more than its fair share of attrition. In fact, if you collected the Revolution players who have left for Europe or retired in the last three years, you'd have the beginnings of a pretty fair team that would include four current or former U.S. internationals. Yet rather than spend money on big-name replacements, New England coach Steve Nicol has retooled his roster with what is normally the bane of a manager's existence: Young players.

As the Revs lined up against Toronto FC last Saturday, seven of the 11 spots in Nicol's starting lineup were comprised of performers that the team either drafted or signed as teenagers. Included in that group were two rookies, defender Seth Sinovic and forward Zack Schilawski. Sinovic has looked right at home in assuming the left back spot, while Schilawski took apart TFC with three goals, becoming just the third rookie in league history to record a hat trick.

This is on the heels of a 2009 campaign in which Nicol relied heavily on rookie defenders Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes. And while a seventh-place finish in what was then a 15-team league might not seem like much of an accomplishment, the fact that Nicol did so after losing defensive mainstay Michael Parkhurst to Danish side Nordsjaelland, as well as Taylor Twellman due to injury for most of the season, certainly ranks as one of his more impressive managerial feats.

Nicol is by no means perfect. In 2006, he completely missed the mark with first-round selection Leandro de Oliveira, who was cut before the season was over. But more often than perhaps any other MLS coach, Nicol strikes draft gold, and just in the first round. Barnes was selected in the third round in 2009, while forward Kheli Dube was chosen in the Supplemental Draft a year earlier. For a club that is loath to take risks in terms of big salaries, such acumen has kept the team competitive.

So how does the Scot manage to restock his roster year after year primarily from the much-maligned college system? Nicol deadpans that he has "no idea." But further inspection reveals an approach that leans more towards art than science.

Click HERE to read all of Carlisle’s story.