The Revolution Deliver A Welcome “Éxito”

I’ve been bothered about something for a while, and I have an empty house, a keyboard and the ability to rectify it.  It’s been brewing for a while, but came to a head when I was watching a fun Revolution passing sequence against the Columbus Crew last week.

I thought about how many years I’ve been watching this team, and how many times I yearned for passes that connected and skillful play that could make a watcher grin.

I saw it. It wasn’t perfect. But there was enough there for me to realize, I needed to set something straight.

You see, critics are critics. And bloggers can excel at amplifying frustration.

And let’s face it, the New England Revolution have proven to be a fairly easy target for criticism and a darn good creator of frustration for quite some time.

Thus my last blog: The Revolution’s Familiar “Fracaso.” It talked about a history of repetitive failures (or “fracasos” in Spanish) of the Revolution to find, bring in and maintain productive, skillful and (and yes, Latin) talent.

That challenge, for all intents and purposes, remains.

But, for the only recent Soccer Soap Box blog to be about failures is, well, a failure considering the season this team has put together.

The reality is the blog is mostly quiet now, with blame being on a very busy job, pretty crazy travel schedule and even new professional blogging responsibility. All useful excuses, but just that, excuses.

This New England Revolution team deserves a bit more.

Because, while it’s been a roller coaster type season, overall, this season has been a respect-worthy “éxito” (success.)

This organization and even this team still has challenges. Fine.

The stadium is, um, imperfect.

Our fans, generally, are low on the league’s totem poll of passion.

Jay Heaps may or may not be a master tactician.

Nobody ever seems quite sure of Bobby’s ability to be a leading MLS goaltender.

Our owner is not, let’s call it, “as involved” as others.

All, I submit, true.  And there are probably more.

But, none of that is worth focus right now and any team has its own wish-list. However, it turns out that there are as many, or more, things that are worthy of praise this season.

Would I like to see more of a Latin influence? Sure.

But I’m not going to argue with a mostly-American lineup with a heavy local New England influence. Especially not when that team tries to play the game with an attractive style, which this Revolution team does.

And while certainly not a Latin player, Lee Nguyen has grown into the creative influence we all hoped he could be.  He has provided a few of those, “wait, rewind that” moments that have been so hard to find for quite some time in Foxboro. League MVP or otherwise, he’s been worth watching, week in and week out.

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Do I worry about the passion our owner has for this team? Sure.

He could be more active, vocal and yes, certainly, I (like so many others) would love a soccer-specific stadium. But let’s not pretend that it’s a simple or inexpensive proposition.

And, when it counted this year, he managed to get the job done.

Because it wasn’t MY money that brought what was probably the USA’s best field player in this year’s World Cup to the turf of Gillette, now was it? If I recall correctly, Jermaine Jones is the 8th highest paid Kraft player across all sports (correct me if I got that wrong!), but does ANYONE think the retail or TV response is nearly like what a Patriot player brings?  Probably not.

So, an imperfect owner. But perhaps not the devil he’s portrayed as.

And props need to be paid to Jermaine. Unlike so many players we’ve brought in, as Designated Player or otherwise, he immediately fit in, immediately contributed and has helped lift this team when it needed it. And you know what, he probably preferred Chicago. He hasn’t shown it. That’s professional, all the way through.

And fan may have yearned for a big-name keeper to replace fan-favorite Matt Reis and continue to hem and haw about Bobby Shuttleworth’s ability to fill those gloves.  But results matter, and he’s been getting it done.

Coach Heaps saw something in Bobby, and made a call that he was first-team ready. That is what he’s paid to do. And at times, it’s been hard to feel confident in Coach Heaps also.  But Jay Heaps has managed this team through hills and valleys and has them playing well. He may still be learning on the job. You know what? Fine. He has experienced assistants, he is diligent and he clearly “bleeds” for this team.

And at this point in the Revolution’s existence, passion is more important than perfection. Jermaine fits that. Jay Heaps fits that too.

And passion is a hard thing to spark. So major thanks to the supporters’ clubs for their efforts. The Rebellion and Midnight Riders battle against a stadium, a dispassionate fan base and restrictive policies that work against their success. But they haven’t stopped, they haven’t slowed and they won’t go away quietly.

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I thank you, personally. Because I am nearly as imperfect a fan as I am a blogger.

Though I am a member of both groups, it is mostly as a small symbolic nod of my cap for their passion. I’ve not missed many minutes of Revolution soccer, but most have not been in person. Blame all the same things that have slowed the blog production, having kids or whatever other excuse fits the bill.

But this team deserves credit for this éxito of a season and the supporters deserve the same continuing to expand the local passion for the game.

The team isn’t perfect. Neither are the New England fans. Both, however, are showing signs of maturity that bode well for the future. Whether that future means much more action in MLS in 2014 or not, we learn tomorrow.

Changing this blog from being failure-focused to acknowledging some success had to change today.

The Revolution’s Familiar “Fracaso”

Well, we’re there.  We are at that part of the season in New England Revolution-ville where the natives are restless, everything sucks, the world is grey and the sun may never shine again.

Along with this (pretty darn well deserved) angst, comes a buckshot worth of vitriol.

  • Fire Heaps.  (He’s winging it and is tactically overwhelmed.)
  • Fire Burns. (He gets lousy players and couldn’t find a star in the sky.)
  • Kraft apathy is killing us.  (MLS 3.0? We’re still in Beta.)

Generally the anger is expressed in some combination of those three.  Usually, with all three.

It’s easy to get caught up in it and join the chorus. This blog post, however, isn’t intending to explain who should be fired or why – though you could fill volumes with explaining how each of them have a shot at that crown.

Instead, I’m not exactly sure where this post ends – but here’s how it begins. I feel my own angst about this team, its current losing streak, and its general “uninterestingness.”  (It’s now a word.  Deal with it.)

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I hoped for a more creative team. A more intricate style of soccer.  Better passing. Some more “did you see that?” moments. A more Latin style, if you will.

That’s not right or wrong, but it’s what I prefer.

And I can discuss how I see the current team and if I think it has any discernible style in another post, but this topic of my hoped-for of Latinizing (yup, new word, enjoy…) got me thinking. Why can’t we get some Latin American influence to maybe put the ball in the back of the net?  Or add a creative pass?  Or, something…

The reality? The team has tried. And failed.  And my presumption was this: we stink at finding good Latin talent, they come in and are just not up to MLS standards.

FIRE BURNS.

What came next, however, was the eye opener.  Because it feels quite a bit more complicated than that.  And that may not be a good thing, because Mike Burns is replaceable.

This all started in a rather roundabout way.

 

Benny Feilhaber.

Remember #BringBennytoBoston.  Yeah.  They did.  It didn’t work out.

But oddly enough, it seems to be working out OK for Benny in Kansas City.  In fact, he’s the current MLS Player of the Week.  Check out the recent highlights. Not bad.

Thought not really the Latin American influence I was craving, he potentially fit the bill for better passing and some creativity.

Why couldn’t he have worked out here?

Before we presume an answer, it made me think of the “true” Latin American players which were “not up to it” and flushed out of town before making the impact Revolution fans had hoped for.

Let’s start with one of our pretty big flops. One that really got people’s attention.

Our first “Designated Player.”

 

Milton Caraglio.

After confusing career moves, extended injury recoveries and a very interesting resume, Caraglio played 15 games for the Revolution, scored five goals and was sent on his way.

So maybe Diego Maradona (who called him in to Argenina’s National Team before he injured his knee) and West Ham (where he went on trial) were mistaken, or maybe he’d never really recover from the knee  injury he’d suffered.

Oh well, we tried. He’s past it. Let’s move on.

Except, for one issue.

YouTube seems to think that in 2014, in Argentina, he is doing this:

and this:

and this:

And this cheeky scoop in 2013:

You know, being a goal scorer.  In the Argentine first division.  You see, after joining Chilean Club Social de Deportes Rangers (CSD Rangers) he played a few games in Italy, and came home to Argentina.

Why not for New England?  Isn’t that the exact story we hoped for? Take the risk, have him make his professional resurgence in Foxboro?

Frustrating.

So let’s restore the Revolution’s image a bit, and at least all agree on the biggest, most obvious, most glaring failure.

 

José “Pepe” Moreno.

I mean, talk about a disaster.

You sign a player who apparently doesn’t want to join and who flirts with other clubs after you announce him.

But he arrived. And didn’t do much. We called him porky and talked more about his pizza and attire than much else.

What a waste of space, right?

Well, if it were only that simple.

You see, Pepe, it turns out is still playing this funny game of ours.  In fact, he’s a member of Colombian First Division club, La Equidad.

And, last year he scored this STUNNER… seriously watch this (and try not to punch the device you are using to watch it on):

And apparently wasn’t afraid to mix it up in the box –> see here.

You know, that whole elusive goal-scoring thing we need so bad? The one he was brought to Foxboro to do, he’s doing it.  But not for New England.

7 games and one MLS goal later. He was gone.

Mouth agape, I decided this was clearly another weird anomaly.  Maybe if we look back a bit further, I’ll feel better about some of the outcomes.

 

Gabriel Badilla.

Remember him?  No?

Signed in 2008.  Got six games.  Didn’t do much.  Was gone in 2009.

It happens.  “It’s a physical league.”  Etc. Etc. Sometimes people just don’t have what it takes.

Except he went back to Costa Rica, and to his prior club, Saprissa – a team I don’t think the Revolution would fancy playing frequently – and for last year?  He was its Captain.

And he’s still there now, 5 years after it was decided he couldn’t cut it in Foxboro.

Because in 2009, ironically in a release that also included our re-signing Kahno Smith (I cannot make this stuff up), he was gone.

Face. Palm.

Ok, so a midfielder got away, right?  Not that big a deal.

Well, that is true I guess. Any others to replace him?

 

Mauricio Castro.

Can you guess where this is headed?

Well, to be fair, the talented midfielder isn’t ripping up a big league, but he was still setting up goals last year in Honduras for Atlético Choloma.  That’s three years after he was waived by New England.

I wonder what we missed?  I’m guessing that maybe we missed some of the creativity that he could have brought to our midfield and showed in flashes.

Maybe not the league leading Number 10 I may have wanted, but a start that I enjoyed watching.

However, the Revolution DID have a player, a fan favorite as I recall, that while not quite a traditional “Number 10” perhaps, but who came pretty close.

And fans missed him when he left.

 

José Carlos Cancela.

Pepe Cancela.  Yup, another Pepe.

Now, this story is a bit different. Cancela had a good run with the Revolution.  Hard to argue that.

In fact, in that critical midfield role he still has the (rather obscure) record of having more assists per 90 minutes than any other Revolution player, ever.  And he’s tied with Steve Ralston for the most post-season assists.

But there was a feeling that we lost him too soon.  That there was more to be had.  But he was taken by Toronto F.C. in an expansion draft, and ended up in Colorado, and was eventually bounced from MLS.

And look, he was past 30 at that point.  So no harm done. Right?

But of course, there’s a twist.

Not only did Cancela continue playing, but he played over 150 games in Costa Rica.  There is even a Facebook page that proclaims “Yo también creo que Pepe Cancela es el mejor jugador de Costa Rica” – or for the less Spanish-inclined “I too think Pepe Cancela is the best player in Costa Rica.”  499 Likes. Adorable.

If you think the Revolution fans remember him fondly (they do) after 90 games, impressive assists and seven goals.  Imagine the impact he had on Herediano, where he played a similar amount of games and scored over thirty goals.  Yeah.  They liked him. A lot.

And what did old-man Cancela (now 38) do less than a month ago, he signed with small, first-division Costa Rican club Belén FC.  And they don’t look too sad to have him. 

So, a good run with the Revolution, but the sense we could have had more of a potential “legacy” player.

Another Ralston?  Another Twellman? Maybe, maybe not. But the kind of player you’d think we would like to have associated with this team at a much deeper level.

 

Franco Coria.

Hardly a loss of a similar character by any means, Coria came in a from the Argentine 2nd division team Chacarita Junior, and is now at a different Argentine 2nd division club, called Club Atlético Sarmiento.

Maybe that’s the right level for him. Though arguably that’s also a good feeder level for MLS “fill in” players.  And being that he’s only 26, and we let him go in 2011, it does make you wonder how he could have developed.

But, no harm, no foul on this one. It seems to me.  Though, I would have liked to see a bit more of him, no crying here.

Perhaps we have a better beat on defenders.  Steve Nicol was world renowned defender.  Mike Burns had quite a career, as did Jay Heaps.

Maybe that’s why one decision always puzzled me so much.

 

John Jairo Lozano.

After arriving from America de Cali, he saw six MLS Reserve League games and two MLS starts.  And about six months later, he was gone.

Of course, maybe he didn’t show well in practice.  Maybe it was something else.

But America de Cali’s not a bad team.  And, as you may have guessed, John Lozano still soldiers on.  After a season or so with Cúcuta Deportivo in Colombia first division, he signed with Atlético Huila on May 01, 2014.

Not a world-beater, perhaps, but you would think a player capable of first-division South American soccer would have seemingly gotten more than a two-game run at our not-quite-World-beater Revolution.

 

So what now? 

There are two more players I’d like to mention, but let’s first call out the obvious: something certainly feels awry.  Coming into this, I wanted to believe the “Fire Burns” story that these players are just not MLS worthy.  I am forced to believe there’s a bigger issue here.  Some quick examples of why…

  • We were told that Pepe Moreno was “…a strong, target forward who has a lot of experience playing at the highest levels in both South America and Europe.”
  • We were told that Gabriel Badilla was “… a strong, versatile defender who has gained tremendous club and international experience at a young age.”
  • We were told that Milton Caraglio was “…a talented player who has played against some of South America’s best competition.”

I could go on and on… but the point here is that all those statements actually appear true – or close to it.  But none of them came true for New England.

Why?

And why am I bothering to ask this now?

Because clearly within the fan base there’s a big desire for change, and maybe there are some opportunities still left.

In researching this, I also saw a similar story pattern with a player I really enjoyed watching. He was at times frustrating, but talented. Tricky and elusive. He seemed desperate to make an impact.

 

Fernando Cárdenas.

And while I don’t know anything beyond what Google helps me find, he seems to have done pretty well down in Colombia with Independiente Santa Fe.

But he’s appears to be on his way out.  I don’t know why.

But maybe he’s worth a call?  Our offense could maybe use a bit of a spark, no?

Would the result be any different than the before?  Than any of the others?

I sure don’t know, but I really have my doubts.  And that is what’s most worrying, this pattern seems unlikely to be broken.

Which brings us to fan favorite (choke, cough, ahem) and current Designated Player…

 

Jerry Bengtson.

I sometimes enjoy playing Jerry’s own personal Devil’s advocate, or in this case, the person who offers that maybe he’s not actually the devil.

And no, he’s not done what a New England fan would have hoped for. Not by a long shot. Not at all.

But, forget everything you’ve seen of Jerry for a moment.  I know, it’s tough.

Now imagine you are told that a player is joining the Revolution, that…

  • Scores at the Olympics
  • Scores in World Cup qualifiers
  • Scored 26 goals in 54 games for his last club
  • Is 27 and should be in his prime

One would imagine that, upon hearing this, any Revolution supporter would be buying Mike Burns a beer anytime they could.  But no, but both Burns and Bengtson are unloved figures.

Why?

Because Jerry’s not gotten it done.  Maybe not been given a REAL chance to, but certainly hasn’t made an impact.

But here’s the thing.  I really, really don’t want to be writing this same article next year about a player that stunk for the New England Revolution, and went on to be a star elsewhere.  I really don’t.

And we know that Jerry shows up in the right moments elsewhere, event when maybe we don’t want him to.

Maybe the goals aren’t always pretty. But they count. And that’s something for a Revolution team that cannot seem to score.

So, the question isn’t whether Jerry’s done what we wanted.  We know that answer.

The question is WHY hasn’t he?

Or Caraglio? Or Moreno? Or Badilla? Or even Feilhaber.

Maybe it is Mike Burns who is at fault.  That seems like the easy answer. But these are good players.

How many times can we say “that player would be great on another team” and not just admit, maybe it’s not THEM.  Maybe it’s US.

It seems to me another team could make a good strategy of picking up after each of our Latin American “fracasos” (failures) and laughing all the way to a very strong squad.

I think our problem runs deeper. Until the Revolution is seen a place where people want to play and know they can succeed, we’re not not going anywhere fast.

For me, that is worse than any single losing streak.

Keep Your Numbers, I’ll Keep The Beautiful Game

A good friend kept pointing me at fivethirtyeight.com for statistician extraordinaire Nate Silver’s (and team’s) views on the World Cup. In particular, he really thought I should read the following article (Why Isn’t the U.S. Men’s National Team Better at Soccer?) and that it would be interesting on an analytical level. So I did.

The problem was, I came in biased.  And that’s how I left.  And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Of course, it didn’t help that the silly title was followed by an opening paragraph that concluded with the idea that despite America’s riches and focus on sport it “can’t field a world-class men’s soccer team.”

I knew from there on I was going to struggle to maintain an open mind because I immediately formed a couple serious concerns.

First, this presumptions, misplaced opening premise starts the reader on the easy, but not particularly well-informed path that the USA isn’t good at this “foreign” sport.

Second, the desire to turn soccer into another statisticians dream the way Money Ball changed baseball frightens and dismays me.

Mr. Silver’s website has lots of new World Cup coverage, and I’m sure it’s all quite thorough. There are percentages on what teams will advance, what games will be ties and other statistical discussions that can make newbies to the game sound smart at a cocktail party or at the office water cooler.

I don’t find such soccer statistics a thing of beauty.  And I don’t really want them coloring my view of the beautiful game.

Fivethirtyeight.com knows that there are people who feel like I do, they even address it head-on.  The site even makes the very specific claim that “In soccer, data and aesthetics are not mutually exclusive, just as they aren’t in any other sport.”

I hope they are wrong.

And I love when it the numbers don’t tell the story.  Like today.

The site predicted only 19% change of a Germany/Ghana tie and thought Argentina vs. Iran would turn into a blowout victory for the South Americans.  Very logical.

What happened? A Germany/Ghana tie. And a last second goal by Lionel Messi to save Argentina from an unexpected scoreless tie.

The unpredictability of those results made the day much more fun.

The beauty of the game comes from the decisions that need to be made on the field, by players, in real-time. It’s a game of emotion.  Of momentum. And yes, of luck.

There are few plays to be run from a playbook. Limiting the number of plays where success or failure can be tracked.

Can you predict pulled hamstrings, goals that happen within the first 30 seconds, the humidity or field conditions?

Can you predict players getting broken noses or head-butting one another?

Can you predict a poor decision by a referee?

Maybe in aggregate all of these things can be calculated, predicted and analyzed.

I hope not, because there’s more to a fluid team sport than any of that.  Especially a team sport that leaves so much responsibility on the hands of the players.  Not play calling.

What variable/value is assigned to team spirit, exactly?  Not so easy.

Did the USA outplay Ghana in its first game of this World Cup? No. But did it display an unbelievable commitment to each other on the field?  Absolutely.

And that proved to be enough. On that day. On that field. In this competition.

I don’t think that this game is predictable. And I hope it never is.

Despite all of my internal rejection of the ‘numberization’ of my chosen sport, the article’s premise was just as troubling as the fact that it was searching for something to analyze.

The overly-Americanized and ridiculously presumptive title started me down a path that’s hard to recover from.

It asked: “Why Isn’t the U.S. Men’s National Team Better at Soccer?”

Wow.  What a question. How much better should the USA be exactly?

The game against Ghana was clearly more grit than beauty… and I do not think the USA is the World’s best team, but how much better are we talking about, specifically?

Germany, I presume, is considered way better that the USA. And today, they tied the team we beat a few days back.

One measure of being “better” means getting results in the World Cup, right?

The USA has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. (Yes, in 1994 we did not need to, as hosts.)  This success is disregarded, since people think that our region is easy to qualify from.

Really?

Mexico, of our region, just tied Brazil.  How good are they?  Yeah, we qualified ahead of them.

Costa Rica, of our region, has already qualified for the second round beating both South American and European foes.  Yeah, we qualified ahead of them too.

And for Euro-soccer Snobs that think our region is easy  to qualify from, I suggest they play some competitive matches in San Jose, Costa Rica, Tegucigalpa, Honduras or in Azteca Stadium in Mexico, and see what they think afterward.

Think it’s easy?  Read this.

But the article asks, why aren’t we “better.”  Perhaps that means we need to beat the best teams in competition.

However, in REAL competitions, we’ve beaten Argentina by 3 goals (Copa America), stopped Spain’s ridiculously long winning streak (Confederations Cup), beaten Mexico and Portugal in World Cup play. Is that not enough?

When, exactly, will we qualify as being good enough for the statisticians to go back to baseball.

I get that in some way statistics may help explain soccer.  But having some foundational knowledge and understanding of the game – and its frustrating intricacies – might help form some better hypotheses to begin with.

During World Cup coverage, when players leaving the field, ESPN (who’s coverage has been quite good, actually) shows me how much the player has run.  As if that’s a metric of success.

It’s not.

We now see team possession statistics that aren’t particularly useful either, in my view, since for some teams it is a strategy and for others it is a necessity that happens without any meaningful offensive moves.

We now see percentages of passes completed.  Interesting, but flawed. One beautiful pass can be worth ten simple ones.

And please, don’t ask why the USA “aren’t better” unless you are willing to describe what better looks like.  Because the USA can and should get better, but I don’t think our improvement will be driven by a calculator and an algorithm.

So please, keep your statistics off in a fantasy league corner.  If you haven’t noticed, the USA is developing a passion for the beautiful game.

Let’s not bury it in, largely meaningless, numbers.

I plan to remain with my head firmly in the sand.  Preferring emotion to calculation. And beauty to analysis.

Yes, in my soccer book collection I have (and enjoyed) Soccernomics, by Simon Kuper and Stefan Szymanski.

But my favorite will always be “Soccer in Sun and Shadow” by Eduardo Galeano.

Toward the end of this glorious text, he writes “The more the technocrats program it down to the smallest detail, the more the powerful manipulate it, soccer continues to be the art of the unforseeable.”

That’s what computes for me.

 

 

 

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The Resurrection

I’ve not written a thing on this blog in over a year.  But I’ve clearly got plenty to blog about.

It’s a game day for the US Men’s National Team. Landon Donovan.  And heck, my two <10 year olds got their first “cap” last week.

IMG_6393

We’re on the cusp of a Brazilian World Cup and stars are dropping like flies in pre World Cup tune up matches. My adopted 2nd nation of Colombia has finally realized it has lost Falcao, but has a chance to advance nonetheless.

Falcao Goes Down

My first visit to Old Tafford came not long ago. Cool.

And heck, the 2014 New England Revolution are, well, thoroughly watchable.

Diego Fagundez

I have more than enough reason to rejoin the >140 character world of self-expression with relevant, meaningful and heartfelt ideas about soccer, the meaning it has on life, love and the world around us.

So what topic came to me in the shower the other day that finally tipped the scales for me to sit down and clack away at the keys?

It’s not any of those wonderful topics.

It’s hardly even a relevant topic at this juncture.

In fact, it’s the US Soccer’s third-rail.

I’m almost serving up a troll’s paradise for my own ridicule and clear soccer illiteracy just by going here.

It’s Freddy.

Freddy Adu

I know, I know. But, bear with me, I think I’ve got an interesting twist on this one.

You see, this article is NOT about Freddy being a washed up player who should pack it in.

Nor is it about his incredible skill and the fact that just some bad contracts and unlucky breaks lead him to his current, club-less position.

Clearly, neither of those are completely true. At least not to me.

And I’ll go on the record and say that I’ve written more on Soccer Soap Box about Freddy in the past than is probably warranted or logical given his frustrating flirtations with the US National Team, confusing MLS tenure and unsuccessful stays abroad.

The most obvious of this vintage was “Much Adu About Something?” which gives you plenty to throw stones at, as a perspective from December 2009, but there are others.

So, it’s clear.  I have a curiosity and interest in Freddy’s career.  Probably more than justified.  So be it.

But the other day, with thoughts whipping around about Julian Green being included, and Landon Donovan being discarded, from the US team, I began thinking of other young talents that need to be watched. New England’s own Diego Fagundez central to those thoughts.

It brought me back to Freddy, and the tale of what went wrong and what could have been. If you don’t believe he can play, stop reading. Because, while none of what follows is an argument on why he is “the saviour”, it is built upon the idea that Freddy can play.

My evidence? You don’t get to the Olympics, National Team, MLS, Benfica contracts, etc. on marketing alone.  Argue if you’d like, but check out these quick clips to remind us of Freddy with the USMNT.

Flip to 2 minutes and 52 seconds of this one.

He was (is?) a good bit better than terrible.

Freddy, has a one-liner on his gone-pretty-quiet Twitter account that popped into my mind. “Never put a period where God put a comma.”  And I suppose he’s praying that’s true.

Capture

OK, religion is not my specialty, but it got me thinking, how on earth do you turn that period in Freddy’s career into a comma.

Most MLS coaches are probably not interested in the headache created by his return.

He’s probably too proud to play in a lower-level US Club.

He doesn’t have the best international track record.

So now what? Is there a way out?

Then, it hit me.  Why not leverage the machines that made (and ruined?) him to resurrect him.

Forget miracles, think ‘Murica: Marketing and money.

Imagine these ingredients, if you will:

  • A club team that wants to get some “noise” generated about it, but cannot be seen as being desperate.
  • A club that has a sister/mother club where a player can prove himself in some harsher-than-MLS conditions. Or at least interest-generating conditions.
  • A motivated Freddy Adu interested in a) regaining some former glory, b) playing the sport he loves, c) cashing in one last time, just in case.  Or, D) all of the above.
  • A creative agent and an even more creative contract, built largely on future performance.
  • Sponsor logos and product placements, lots of them.
  • And now imagine, cameras. Lots of cameras.

Huh?

Freddy Adu signs with MLS “Team X” (we’ll get back to that) on short-term “All Star Trial” contract. With lots of options that follow the trial period.

Included in the contract is an agreement for a “The Freddy Experiment” (or whatever it would be named), a reality show based on Freddy’s “trial period.”  Imagine the cameras tracking Freddy’s good days, and bad.  Playing and living. Confessionals. Girl troubles.  Whatever.  The whole sickening reality TV gambit.

At the end of the trial period, decision time on the options.

One is a “big” contract. The other is a hand-shake and a goodbye. (And yes, more quietly, lots of intermediate options are probably included.)

The contract meetings include the league, the team, the player and agent and two few key others: representatives from the companies MLS just signed a big TV deal with, Soccer United Marketing, and interested league sponsors.

Sponsors could be integrated into the show the way Spanish television has done for years.  He drinks Gatorade. He plays EA Sports games on his Panasonic TV to relax. Wears Adidas.  Uses a Visa card to pay for life’s needs. Calls home with AT&T.

Heck, you can even build in (raising the sum you’d need to pay Freddy up front), some “goodwill” or prove yourself events as part of the trial/show.  Go use Makita tools from the Home Depot to build a house and help the poor via an MLS Works project.

It’s almost sells itself.

So, where? What team?

Reality is, as we all know, MLS owns player contacts, so it could run the show and decide later.  The end contract could be provided to a club at a reduced cost and a lottery.  This way MLS gets the maximum sponsorship control and flexibility.

But, unless some odd exceptions are made, that probably breaks plenty of MLS/team player distribution rules.  And you lose the idea of a team gaining its own publicity, which is probably a major selling point.

So where then?

The best option is probably Chivas USA.

Of course, that is if the club has a real future, a concern at this point. But why such a great fit?

  1. It’s hard to think of a team more in need of “buzz” than Chivas USA.
  2. The trial period could be with Chivas Guadalajara, a perfect environment for a story line of “prove yourself” in another world.
  3. You could probably craft both English and Spanish versions of the show.  Call it “Sueño Adu” or something to build off of the very Latino-market focused “Sueño MLS” which is already in place.  MLS could leverage an Americanized name in the USA for the show, and get both Univision and one of the American networks onboard.
  4. If it actually works out, he could fit within a more Latin-style playing scheme the team should be leveraging.

Other options exist, of course…

  • BeckhamFC: Whatever this team will be called, it has time to build this story and campaign. It has David’s connections to get a trial situation set up. And c’mon, David could cameo on the show and be part of the story line to build interest.  Maybe he’s the Donald Trump of the decision meeting?
  • NYFC: One more way to leverage the media and marketing capability of the New York market.  No commitment.  Build Buzz.  Imagine rainy scenes from a Manchester City reserve practice showing if Freddy has the commitment… compelling, no?
  • Red Bull USA: Take the above, and turn Manchester into Salzburg, Austria. It works. Us this as a way to keep headlines while NYFC starts stealing attention.

I sense the Cosmos could weasel their way into this discussion somehow, because, credit where credit is due, they seem to be a creative bunch even if not at the top-level of US professional soccer.

Ironically, I don’t see a terrific play for my local New England Revolution unless Freddy goes to Patriot’s Training Camp. Though… given Mr. Kraft’s interests and portfolio, anything’s possible.

And why shouldn’t we, the global-we, try to make this work?

Because whether you like him, dislike him or wish never to think about this again, this our our journey as US soccer fans.

The spirit of the recent US Soccer match (and maybe the controversial captured soldier recovery in Afghanistan?) reminded me “We are the US, might *mighty* US.”

And we don’t leave a man behind.

Nor do we miss a marketing opportunity.  And maybe that’s more important here.

So maybe it’s true what Freddy says.

It’s God that puts in commas.  Freddy’s career needs a miracle and some prayers. But I’d be glad to see something work.

Is this the route to his resurrection?

What say you?

It’s Not Impossible, Right?

As I sit here realizing that the typical Revolution-supporter Twitter infighting might be starting at a record early point this year, I’ve decided to stop feeding the Twitter beast for a few minutes and actually justify the massive fifteen dollar or so investment I make each year to keep this silly URL by gracing the blog with an actual post.

I’d like to attribute my lack of recent blogging to one specific thing, but clearly that’s not reality. A new(ish) job has me knee-deep in to-do’s, Twitter is just so much darn easier to vent with and, most frustratingly, I typically write about the Revolution.

And, at least for me, they are… well… uninspiring.

(Important note… This is clearly an on-the-field commentary. As Matt Reis showed this week, and others have in the past, we have some inspirational individuals involved with this team. It’s the soccer I’m talking about here.)

Now, to level-set, I was at the opening game in “The Fort” with a frozen wife and kids, I have seen every game this year (though some on DVR) and am sitting here still wearing my Revs shirt after having let the kids stay up past bedtime to see the end of the Revolution game. (Hopefully they wake Mom, and not I, with the multiple-goals induced nightmares.)

I’m still here. And despite my venting, I’m probably not going anywhere.

I’m just not particularly motivated by it all.

I’ve been lucky. I’ve seen games in some of the world’s treasured stadiums and have tasted what – in some bizarro alternate world – we COULD have. It’s addicting.

I’ve been to versions of that reality in Seattle, no passport required. It’s a not-too-terrible facsimile of the experience that the rest of the world enjoys. Heck, the Portland atmosphere may have them trumped. And stadiums? We’ve got at least a couple that would make quite a few European teams envious.

At the best games there’s an electricity that carries through the crowd and onto the field. There’s a certain noise that simply cannot be recreated in any other venue. It’s intoxicating. In some of my first games internationally, I had to remind myself to look at the field, as I was so enthralled by the sights and sounds pulsating throughout the stadiums.

And then there’s the action on the field. There’s an unmistakable quality that means you are surprised when a cross flies desperately away from target, not the other way around. Being fair, I’m far from a Euro-snob and will defend the value of MLS and what it brings to anyone who cares to debate it. I can admit that – without a doubt – some of the games I’ve seen internationally were of no higher quality than what we get to see in many MLS games.

However, I know deep down inside that MLS isn’t at the level of on-field and off-field excellence I’ve been able to taste elsewhere. Since 1996 I’ve dealt with that just fine.

Oddly, what’s starting to get harder to deal with is that while MLS is starting to flirt with the reality of better leagues in both atmosphere and play, it’s not happening anywhere near home.

This reality causes me to vacillate pretty heavily from non-emotionally involved critic, to silly fan-boy, to angry blogger with some frequency. (Sometimes within 140 characters, it seems.) I’ll freely admit that, and I don’t expect it to change.

After my work and my family, I’ve invested pretty much all my mental energy into my interest in this ridiculous game. Those who know me, would agree that I am barely conversant in most other sports and don’t really care to change that fact. I’ve found my game.

So from time to time, I will vent.

I will vent that my local team fails to inspire me with the “style” they have played for all these years. A style that seems to quickly marginalize creative players for more athletic replacements. Where work-rate trumps creativity. Every time.

I will vent that I don’t always feel the team’s ownership is takes the Revolution as seriously as do its most dedicated fans. (Some of which are many, many times more dedicated than I.) I can rationalize why it’s the case, as the Patriots are quite the local institution, but that doesn’t make it OK anymore. We’ve seen what’s possible across MLS.

I will vent about inexperienced coaches who everyone likes and everyone quietly worries about. We can argue about Toja or Nguyen, if Bengtson is committed, if Benny was a basket case or any other tactical choices or personnel decisions. But to my eyes, there’s more in those players than we are getting. It’s eerily late-term Nicol-esque.

I will vent about a team management organization that’s undeniably smart and committed, but that perhaps lacks the spark or creativity to shake up this organization in a way that brings meaningful change. Competence is great, but dreaming big shouldn’t be seen as a silly enterprise. Leaders lead.

I will vent that it would have been hard to create such an emotional and poignant entrance like we saw pre-game today in our own home stadium. The atmosphere, size, logistics and overall environment require our Revolution supporter’s clubs to make superhero-like efforts to create something great from quite little.

I will vent about more.

And maybe I’ll blog about it occasionally.

All that said, I’d be much happier to blog about greatness. About goals. About cheering. About a noteworthy stadium atmosphere. About that no-look pass that actually led to something. And yes, about the spirit and dedication of our team to fight for a victory.

Playing the beautiful game well and being “Boston Strong” shouldn’t be in conflict.

It’s not impossible.

It just feels pretty improbable for 2013 right now.

If I’m proven wrong, I’ll be the happiest non-venting, infrequently posting blogger around.

The Revolution’s ‘Off The Record’ Dreaming

Having just returned from the New England Revolution’s “Media Round Table” it only felt logical to write something to justify my clearly trumped-up and hard to justify ‘media’ inclusion. (An inclusion I nonetheless remain quite grateful for.)

Interestingly, there’s already been some twitter reaction (from those not there) about the event having occured, including negativity about the off-the-record nature of some of the commentary and concerns about if we are hearing the real story.

Let me alleviate some of that angst by spilling the beans on the hottest off-the-record thing I learned, and I’ll admit it was quite a surprise.

The idea of building the country’s first subterranean soccer stadium (SSS) is so brilliant and progressive, I was blown away by its potential. It alleviates so many of the above-ground of the real-estate issues that were plaguing the project. It also explains why the team already advertises on the “T” … what a hint they had dropped. Sadly, since no sun shines underground, it’ll still be artificial turf.

OK, I kid.

But, since I won’t speak to any REAL off-the-record commentary, let me at least explain some impressions that I was left with.

The team’s outreach to the non-traditional media types is needed, logical, appropriate and gracious.

It’s needed because the Revolution’s lack of local “traditional media” coverage is both clear and frustrating for both fans and (we can only presume) management alike.

It’s logical, because it both informs the blogger/writer corps with some facts that are otherwise hard to share in other forums while building a level of understanding and a potential disincentive to jump on the “rant” wave that so easily takes over after any questionable decision.

It’s appropriate, because despite traditional media’s place atop the news food chain, it’s not a growth market and soccer has always thrived in alternative and online media anyway.

And it’s gracious, because however much the team officials might REALLY want to swat us away like some annoying, blogging, know-it-all gnats, they don’t. In fact, they hide that potential desire really, really well. Kudos.

I’ll offer this: largely, the event works.

As anyone whose spent time on Soccer Soap Box or following me on Twitter probably knows, I’m frequently pretty critical of the organization. And no doubt that it will continue to be that way when needed.

I realize that one (of a number) of reasons the team would host such an event is to humanize team management and explain (spin?) certain decisions in the light that they’d prefer. I undersand that as an objective writer about the team (well, mostly objective) that I must remain immune to such obvious ploys. (Mmm, desserts.)

But the fact remains that events like tonight’s nevertheless help deflate some of the most egregious of our fantastically negative assumptions.

Frankly, it’s easy, and often intellectually lazy, to throw 140 character bombs on Twitter about how clueless management is. Heck, I admittedly have tread pretty close to that line myself.

(One thing that should be made clear: is that despite their sharing of rules and information, and my having had an on-going dialogue with the team’s communications staff, they’ve never – ever – tried to change or influence anything I’ve written. I find that both noteworthy and commendable.)

But it must be said that Mike Burns and Brian Bilello (the front office stars of the night) are not clueless. In fact, they are both quite smart and super-knowledgable. That isn’t to say they are infallible or above criticism, as they most certainly are neither. In fact, after the last few seasons they’ll probably admit that without much pushback.

Nor can I see, however, how anyone argue that the front office doesn’t do what it thinks is best for the team. They do. We can, and will, argue that perhaps it’s not actually the right thing, or that they have skimped on certain investments, or made lousy decisions – clearly that’s all true in certain instances.

Now, can I really offer any real insight about things like how involved the Krafts are, or should be, in this team? Or will I ever truly understand how closely (or not) Sunil Gulati remains? Or know for sure the true aggression with which the team is driving for a soccer specific stadium?

No.

No on-the-record or off-the-record conversations can ever eliminate the conspiracy theories that the blogosphere and twittersphere can conjure up. And that’s OK.  It gives us something to talk about.

I can imagine that at this point, some of you have decided that after a dinner-date at Gillette, I’ve jumped ship and I’m in the front-office’s pocket, right?  Let me offer that I see it a bit differently.

I think it’s OK to acknowledge that the job of the Revolution management has is not an easy one. It’s not simple to build stadiums in the Boston area or keep fan interest in a market that offers champions in all major sports. It’s not easy getting foreign player transfers done or deciding which veterans to trade and which DP’s to pursue.

The good news: the Revolution front office has the smarts and knowledge understand their plight and plot logical moves forward.

And since that is the case, we should demand that their decisions are as good – no, BETTER – than other teams in the league.

And despite how smart they are, if it doesn’t work out, we: the fans, the bloggers, the real media, should continue to let them know about it.

And we will.

But frankly, given the toughness of their market and situation, I’m not left with a concern about them being smart or knowledgeable enough. They seem to have that covered.

If there was an area that concerns me, it is that their smarts has led them to a pragmatism that means they can appear devoid of the passion that they probably do indeed have for this team. It’s as if they are afraid to dream; afraid to weave a story of “what could be.”

Pragmatism is good for management, but not for passionate leadership.

And that worries the “media” side of me as well as the “fan” side of me. Because passion and creativity can be contagious, but smarts rarely are.

So Thank you, Revolution leadership for sharing your time and expertise in an open and very worthwhile discussion.  And while I’m certain to disagree from time to time, I’m convinced that efforts are being made to do what you think are the right things to make the Revolution succeed on the field and in a crowded and difficult market.

Now, maybe it’s time to stop thinking so much, and start building and sharing the dreams your fan base so desperately needs to hear.  Maybe then they’ll display more of that ‘Pride and Passion’ they’ve already been told they have.

Improving and Improv-ing the Supporters Summit

I couldn’t attend today’s New England Revolution Supporter Summit event, but did follow the tweet stream quite closely. (Major props to The Bent Musket crew for an amazing Tweet-stream of the event.)

For full disclosure, as I start typing this (with the family finishing dinner in the other room) I am a member of TWO New England supporters groups. In fact, I’ve been a member of The Midnight Riders and The Rebellion since about 11AM today.  (Though after this post, I may be denied entry after all…)

Of course, I’ve been a Revolution supporter for much longer and a blogger/twitter/general-pain-in-the-backside for a couple years now. I hadn’t joined the groups earlier because I never wanted to leap over the fence of self-proclaimed distance-keeper to full-fledged fanboy. For some reason, I thought it would be hard to write unbiased thoughts if I was a “New England Till I Die” guy, but in the end, I felt the supporters groups deserved MY support. And I have no doubt I’ll continue to be a vocal and unbiased believer that it’s not above my local team’s reach to play the game in a way that enthralls.

Maybe it’s because I crossed that chasm today and needed a clear counter-balance, or maybe I just needed a release from the daily grind, but following the event on Twitter, I quickly realized that I couldn’t keep my ridiculous commentary to myself tonight, so now you, dear reader, are subject to it.

Note: I think the team does a great thing by bringing in the supporters and is trying to do its best to run the team the way they believe will be most successful. Honestly. The Front Office probably doesn’t deserve any of the below commentary, but I couldn’t help myself with having a bit of fun with them. I take that back, they might deserve SOME of it…

So as I saw the questions and answers go by, I wondered… What if Revolution Management ended up like Jim Carrey in Liar, Liar? What if there was absolutely no filter between management’s thoughts and their words? What if we all saw behind the curtain?

Are these the real answers we’d get? Nah, of course not. Well, maybe a couple of them are, but most are the delusional ranting of a soccer blogger who really needs to get out to a game soon.

But since I found them amusing, maybe you will too. I tried to capture them more-or-less the way they flew by on Twitter, often keying off a theme provided by the front office. Sometimes not doing that at all. Enjoy.

(By the way, I’d really stop here if you didn’t show up with a sense of humor…)

———–

Why don’t you seem to take US Open Cup seriously?

Are you kidding? Spend money, tire the ridiculously thin roster and travel to some god-awful place for a game that exactly 237 New Englanders know is happening? Please.

What’s the deal about the Soccer Specific Stadium we are all desperate for?

It’s all about feasibility. You know, how feasible that we can keep dangling this in front of you year after year the right times before you all just give up. Do you really think we’d leave our owner’s palace and let it sit idly until our football team comes back for pre-season training?

Have you ranked potential sites for the Soccer Specific Stadium?

Yes, currently Gillette Stadium occupies spots 1-3. The practice bubble is right behind though.

Will David Vaudreuil be replaced?

Who?

How will the partnership with the Rochester Rhinos actually work?

We have no idea at this point. That said, we figure it cannot be any less impactful than the reserve league has been, so what the heck, we’ll give it a whirl. We’ve strategically committed to a one year, long term development relationship.

What’s up with playing during US Qualifiers?

We are one of a bunch of teams that is OK for playing on those dates. We don’t ever lose any US players anyway, and nobody, anywhere, with a remote interest in soccer, wants more rainy, Wednesday-night games in the echo chamber. It actually kind of spooks the players.

Is it true you lost the chance to play at Harvard for the US Open Cup on a coin flip?

Yes, who knew our tried and true player acquisition decision system would backfire on us? We need new coins.

How’s Sainey Nyassi coming along?

Great. He’s getting a bit pricey for a water boy, but he’s super-fast.

How’s Saër Sène’s recovery coming along?

Pretty well. It’d be quicker if he didn’t have to walk everywhere, but if you’ve seen him drive you’d make him walk too.

Are you still trying to sign Chad Barret?

Yes, there are a number of fans in The Fort who still sing the YSA chant and deserve to get whacked in the head for their foul language by stray shots gone wide and high.  It’s cheaper than adding more TeamOps folks.

Do you plan on doing more to engage with the region’s Portuguese population?

Yes, that’s why we signed Goncalves. Oh, and we’re planning a Nacho night.

Why do you think Jerry Bengston will have a better year in 2013 with the Revolution?

After we traded the Spanish speakers he was distracted by, we figure he’ll be more focused. And, we bought him a Spanish-English dictionary. We may also shred his passport, but that move is not finalized.

What can be done to get the folks in the “morgue” to be louder?

You’re thinking of it the wrong way. We’ve decided to go with the fans, not against them. There are some plans to offer Retirement Home discounts in sections that are a comfortable distance from The Fort. We call it Community seating.

What about using the Jumbotron to get people involved?

We’ve considered hiding cameras in the restrooms and taking pictures of the quiet fans at inopportune moments and then threatening to show them on the screen if they didn’t start making some noise. It didn’t test well in our focus groups though. We don’t get it, we heard other stadiums are getting more interactive.

How about getting people to stand up for the last few minutes of the game?

Well, the stadium has installed tazers in the seats in certain sections, they’ve been working wonders on drunk Pats fans and we are very optimistic for the 2013 season on their implementation for the Revs. We call them, “The Awakeners.”

Why are Season Ticket Holder counts shrinking?

Have you watched the team the last two years? Next question…

Why can’t we find more Revolution merchandise?

It’s simple it if won’t sell Adidas has no reason to make it. We are working with other like-minded teams on an answer. In fact, we have asked Adidas to consider making reversible shirts with FC Dallas on the other side. Win/win.

When do you think the Revolution would look to employ a full time scout?

You mean other than YouTube?

What do you think of Grant Wahl’s assessment of how ambitious the team is?

We’ve never spoken to Grant Wahl or most other media. Besides, we are at least 17th in that regard, and everyone knows it.

Would you consider having Shalrie Joseph back at some point so he could retire as a Revolution player?

Well, we sent him to Chivas, that’s a bit like retirement already, no? I suppose we’d welcome him come back, but we figure he’d punch out Heaps, so it might need to wait a season until we give up on that experiment.

How involved are the Kraft’s with the Revolution?

They are very involved at the MLS level. So, in that way, yes they are aware they have a team. We run big decisions by them. You know, stuff like should we trade Shalrie? How low to cut the turf on game day. Where to order pizza for Jose Moreno. Big stuff. 

Do you think the team performed up to its full potential last year?

No, but we blame Vaudreuil. Heaps dresses too nicely to be part of the problem.

And this year?

We’re going to be better. We haven’t played a game yet, but until we do, we’re better. No doubts.

————

Well, that’s all folks. If I haven’t had my Supporters Group memberships revoked by next year’s event (or by the time this gets read), maybe I’ll attend the event and actually write something of use in 2014.

Until then, it’s sport.

Enjoy it.