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This complement is unspoken
Cancela, Joseph click in midfield
The Boston Globe
11/9/2003
By Frank Dell'Apa, Globe Staff

OXBOROUGH -- Jose Carlos ''Pepe'' Cancela and Shalrie Joseph have little to say to each other. Actually, Cancela and Joseph have an excellent rapport, but it is an unspoken understanding since Cancela speaks little English and Joseph little Spanish.

The Revolution threw Cancela and Joseph together in what seemed an alchemic experiment midway through the Major League Soccer season, and the combination has produced some of the most effective midfield play in the team's history. The Revolution, who meet the MetroStars at 4 p.m. today in an Eastern Conference semifinal at Gillette Stadium, are two games away from a second successive MLS Cup appearance.

Cancela is the playmaker, poised and technical on the ball, precise in finding the open man, frustrating to opponents because of his ability to keep possession. Joseph is the midfield metronome, dictating the rhythm of play, recovering possession and restarting the offense with bionic endurance and persistence.

Cancela, from Santa Lucia, Uruguay, and Joseph, who lived for 16 years in St. George's, Grenada, before moving to Brooklyn, are from dissimilar backgrounds. But they both talk of growing up with soccer as a focal point of their community.

Cancela, 27, was fast-tracked into professional soccer, developing with the powerful Club Atletico Penarol, then moving on to clubs in Mexico and Costa Rica before joining the Revolution in July. Uruguay regularly produces extremely talented players, and the best have been placed on the world market, providing a pipeline to Europe since the 1920s.

Cancela exemplifies the Uruguayan midfielder -- clever but pragmatic. And he is durable. When the MetroStars' Joey DiGiamarino and Eddie Pope took full-speed runs to chop him down in recent games, Cancela recovered rapidly and resisted the urge to retaliate.

''In all leagues, they play with a lot of intensity,'' Cancela said. ''It's the same in Uruguay. They defend with intensity, but it's a little more controlled.''

Uruguay's soccer history is rich, its standards high. The Uruguayans won the 1924 and '28 Olympic titles in Europe, then played host to the first World Cup in 1930 and won that, and won the 1950 World Cup.This is Cancela's first experience in a non-Latino culture. Though Cancela is clearly a high-level player, he has kept a low profile, absorbing the strangeness of a new country. ''In my country, the only thing is football,'' Cancela said. ''When I was young we were on the field all day, always playing, and when I go back on vacation now, it's the same. The kids are out there all day. It is so different than here. We don't have all these other sports. Here, you have baseball, basketball. We have about 5,000 people living in my barrio and the only thing we have is football, and everybody plays.''

Joseph, 25, has defied odds to become a professional, albeit at the league's $24,000 minimum salary. Only one player from Grenada is performing in Europe: Jason Roberts, a forward with West Bromwich Albion. Joseph began shedding his soccer anonymity after moving to Crown Heights, playing in New York's ethnic leagues against older opponents, adjusting to their ruthless style. Joseph earned a scholarship to St. John's University, then rejected the Revolution to try out for teams in Germany and Italy. The vibes, Joseph said, were negative in Mannheim, and the Italian club declared bankruptcy. So he returned to the Revolution last December.

''There are a lot of soccer-oriented people in New York, and I was surprised by that,'' Joseph said. ''The fields, the people, the environment were all better in New York than what I was used to in Grenada. It's a real melting pot, players and teams from everywhere. The weekend games were very competitive and physical. The key word is `survive.' ''

Caribbean players have a reputation for being skillful but unrefined. Their influences derive from their proximity to South America, but also from the days of British colonialism. ''Every Caribbean island plays a physical style,'' Joseph said. ''But the talent is more individual than team-oriented.''

Before the season, the Revolution acquired Polish veteran Peter Nowak and were planning to pair him with either Leo Cullen or Daniel Hernandez in midfield. Joseph was slated to be a reserve central defender. Cancela was performing for CD Saprissa in Costa Rica. Then Nowak retired and Revolution coach Steve Nicol began auditioning midfielders.Cancela is a pure setup midfielder, his touches precise, his passes often spectacular. Opponents have zeroed in on Cancela and he was fouled 64 times, more than any other Revolution player, in 13 regular-season games. Joseph short-circuits opponents' play, often dropping into position just in front of the defenders, but is remarkably quick in recovering the ball and accurate in transitioning to attack.

''We understand each other very well, even though we didn't know each other before,'' said Cancela. ''We developed an understanding very fast.''

Copyright 2003 Globe Newspaper Company.