New England Revolution: Stink, Brink and Other Over-Reactions.

Having last written about budding optimism about the New England Revolution’s current state, I now sit here at 36,000 feet on a cross country flight worried.  

About what?  Stink and brink.  Stink, as in “they stink.”   Brink, as in “franchise on the brink.”

I’ll freely admit that before going off the grid for my flight’s take-off, I was barraged in the Twitter-sphere about Shalrie Joseph’s “indefinite leave” from the Revolution to take care of personal matters.  (I wish him all the best and a quick return.)   This barrage has spun me into a reactionary state . . . which I’m sure is bad for my sanity, but turns out to be pretty good for blogging.

The importance of Shalrie to the New England Revolution is no secret, and something I’ve talked about before in “The Steve and Shalrie Show” and elsewhere – but that anyone who watches the Revolution with their eyes open can see.

Do the Revs stink?  Maybe not.  But they’re not great.

The Revs have always found ways to have terrible performances mixed in with their usually Eastern Division strength.  “This too shall pass” we might think.

Perhaps winning isn’t out of the question, I remember sitting in the 2002 MLS Final with 61,000-plus friends cheering the Revolution though for much of the season I found the (hard working team’s) soccer hard to watch.

Watching how Steve Nicol deals with the cards he’s been dealt – including indefinite absences of two of his best players and two largest salaries – Taylor Twellman and Shalrie Joseph – will be very interesting.  

There’s always talk of building the “spine” of a team . . . right up the center of the field.   The Revs first choice goal keeper is out injured.   The Revs center-back, Cory Gibbs, is new to the Revs system.  The star midfielder is, uh, on hiatus.   The star forward is still dizzy, or at least not playing.  

Nicol (and Mike Burns, and company) did what he had to – including the clearly difficult decision to trade Jeff Larentowicz – to shore up that spine.   Capable Preston Burpo came in to man the nets in the same trade that brought us the solid Gibbs.   They have tried every forward we can afford to replace Taylor Twellman, and they’d still not hesitate to stick him in the starting eleven immediately if/when he says he’s ready.

Now that Shalrie’s taking care of personal business, that trade suddenly stings – especially as Jeff came into town and with mid-field counterpart Pablo Mastoeni – controlled the Revolution’s home pitch for most of the game.   Meanwhile, Burpo watched a few awkward long-range shots sail into the net.   

All is not lost . . . as examples, my optimistic view from a couple weeks ago still holds in some areas. Sainey Nyassi appears to have matured significantly and Marko Perović seems to have unique and impressive skills.   The Revolution rookies appear to be MLS caliber.  Etc.  Etc.

What I just described though is a group of maturing – or otherwise unproven – players that will need to play out of their skin to make this season something to remember.

Which brings me to this franchise being on the “brink.”   The on-field challenges are one thing, and if anyone will steer them to a good show this year, it’s Steve Nicol.   Being “memorable” though, is a bigger challenge.

But who will steer the franchise into relevance?  Who will help it become loved?   I’ve not seen signs that there is an answer forthcoming.   I do believe that people are trying, but the Revolution are from where they need to be.

One plane ride isn’t enough to come up with the ingredients of a successful MLS franchise.  But a common sense top-five list of what a team must have, might look something like this:

  1. Recognizable star players with skill, personality and a fan following.
  2. An attractive brand of soccer. (especially important in winning over skeptical MLS fans)
  3. A trophy winning record.  (especially in a market that’s grown accustomed to winners)
  4. Professional credibility that merits respect.
  5. A lively, community-oriented, memorable experience for fans.

I’ll likely want to expand on that list after more thought . . . but even if we consider that 5 of 20 things that a successful franchise needs, the Revolution are clearly on the brink.

How do they line up? 

  1. Most recognizable star?  Taylor Twellman.  Currently easier to find on Twitter than on the field.  (Not his preference, I’m sure.  I hope for his speedy return and full recovery.)
  2. Style?  Given the challenges to personnel this seems like quite a reach.
  3. Winning some games is probably more likely than attractive soccer – but at risk as well.
  4. Credibility? The Revolution playing in Gillette look like a little boy in daddy’s suit.   Speaking of clothes, why no shirt-sponsor?  Wait, I cannot find a jersey to buy anyway.
  5. There are two communities.  Supporters and those sitting on their hands. And they are separated by a stadium.

So I’ll be on the lookout for signs that I’m wrong and that the lackluster attendance, local chatter and momentum is just a temporary phenomenon.  Or signs that I’m right and major changes are coming.  

But aside from that, I’ll fly across the country over-reacting as I fester in bad news for the Revolution and for one of our greatest ever players that actually does engender fan “love.”

Was my optimism in my last post premature?  Yes.

Are my “stink” and “brink” concerns an over-reaction?  I sure hope so.

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