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Zerka’s play is a good sign

Approach paying off for Revolution

Monsef Zerka (right) battles Jair Benitez #5 of the FC Dallas at Gillette Stadium. ( (Photo by Jim Rogash/Getty Images)) Monsef Zerka (right) battles Jair Benitez #5 of the FC Dallas at Gillette Stadium.
By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / September 12, 2011

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Some MLS teams spend $1 million annually scouting players. The Revolution are following a low-budget plan.

But the Revolution’s scouting setup, which relies on contacts, DVDs, phone calls, and a software analysis program, has produced results recently. The best example is Monsef Zerka, a French-Moroccan outside midfielder who scored in his Revolution debut Wednesday and assisted on the opening goal in a 2-0 victory over FC Dallas Saturday night.

Zerka, 29, became available on a free transfer because his Greek club, Iraklis, encountered financial problems that led to the release of several players. Zerka played only nine games for the Salonika team and during his free time studied English, which he said was a common language among the players.

Little did Zerka know those lessons would pay off so soon. When Zerka arrived in Boston three weeks ago, it was the first time he had been in the United States. But the combination of Zerka’s gregarious personality, his confident ball-handling, and language skills helped him quickly assimilate with teammates.

“I came to New England to give my experience and help, if I can,’’ Zerka said after Saturday’s game. “I am very happy to be playing here because I have wanted for a while now to play in the United States. It was an appropriate time to come and I wanted to take the opportunity to come here.’’

Zak Boggs and Sainey Nyassi had split the starting role on the right wing for most of the season, contributing energy and speed to the attack. Zerka adds a different dynamic, his ability to anticipate plays and his clean touches providing a missing ingredient to the Revolution’s 4-4-2 alignment.

Zerka scored with one of his first touches, heading in a Chris Tierney cross in the 25th minute of a 4-4 tie at Philadelphia. Against Dallas, Zerka’s cross led to a Shalrie Joseph score in the 14th minute as the Revolution (5-11-12, 27 points) revived their slim playoff hopes.

The Revolution had been struggling for several weeks, snapping a seven-game winless streak against FC Dallas. The additions of Milton Caraglio and Zerka have helped change the team’s identity and kick-started the offense. And, after several late-game breakdowns, the Revolution solidified their defense.

Both Caraglio and Zerka were signed by the Revolution without having been scouted in person by a member of the organization. Caraglio has added a target-man presence to the offense, freeing Rajko Lekic to run at defenses. Lekic scored the second goal off a corner kick against Dallas in the 85th minute.

“Super content,’’ Zerka said in an interview mixing English and French. “I was very happy to score my first goal in MLS. But I was a little disappointed because it finished 4-4. The season is not finished and I hope to have a very good season with this team.

“After the result we had in Philadelphia, where we should have won the game, [Saturday] night’s performance reflects the spirit that the team has. We have good spirit and we are a good team.’’

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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