New England’s Summer of (Player) Discontent

When I actually get moving on an update for Soccer Soap Box there is generally an uncanny intersection of an interesting topic related to the New England Revolution or US Soccer, personal time to write and the hope that I have something interesting to add to the discussion.

Clearly there have been interesting topics lately. The Women’s World Cup, the ongoing fall out from another blown two-goal lead by the USA Men’s National team in a Cup Final, various MLS topics and yes, the near-implosion of the New England Revolution.

The New England Revolution are clearly my backyard story. And yet, despite all of that, of the last five posts that I’ve written here only two are about the Revolution – one post was about the “summit” between the Revolution Front Office and Gillette Stadium security team and the supporters groups, and the other post was admitting that I didn’t bother watching a late away game.

Not a good record for me.

Now I sit here with some personal time, and yet there is more Revolution news that I can easily parse through in any sane manner and I’m struggling to find perspective. Since I can’t reasonably wrap my brain around everything going on with this team right now – let alone write about it sensibly, I’m going to hit on a couple the main concerns that I’ve had over the last week or so over two posts.

My last post centered on the frustration of the supporters’ groups and the team’s Front Office. Let’s stick with the idea of frustration, but turn our focus a bit closer to the field.

It seems to me that on top of the pressures of being last in the east and not having won in two months, the New England Revolution’s off-field challenges are now weighing on the players as well.

We now need to add players and coaches to the list of frustrated parties around Foxboro.

First, after watching Benny Feilhaber’s melt-down as he was ejected from the Revolution’s 0-3 loss to the Philadelphia Union it was clear that he had reached a level of frustration that had been brewing for some time. This is the same player who is (I would say rightfully) generally lauded by his coach as having a “soccer brain” and who would hopefully be seen as a calming influence on the field.

Among the many comments Revolution Coach Steve Nicol had for and about his team after that game, he included this this gem: “…We talked about it before the game – about growing a pair. And that doesn’t mean you can run fighting with people and kicking people, it means that you do the basics well and you do your own job well.”

New star player melting down? Coach taking a not-too-hidden jab at it? Two points for frustration.

But this funk that surrounds the team isn’t JUST about what is happening on the field – which is where I suspect Benny’s frustrations grew. Players are clearly feeling the pressures of the off-field challenges the team is facing, and how could you blame them?

When Manchester United came to town, there were many opportunities for players to comment on the occasion, and many of the comments were revelatory.

Before his press conference with Steve Nicol, Sir Alex Ferguson and Rio Ferdinand, Shalrie Joseph tweeted the following:

Ouch. Seems Shalrie hasn’t missed the empty seats at the cavernous Gillette Stadium.

But Shalrie isn’t alone. Newcomer A.J. Soares has avoided most of the criticism other on-field players have had leveled at them. I think part of this is because despite the situation he has been solid for an MLS rookie, seems to be level headed, and has been active in engaging fans with video blogs on the Revolution Website and blog posts on boston.com.

One such post happened during the run-up to the Manchester United match, and while well intentioned and admirably honest, A.J.’s comment that he “…will have a special appreciation for the people who come out with their Revolution gear on, ready to cheer on the home team” vs. those who were there rooting for the visiting team felt more like a (desperate) plea than a simple comment.

Let’s be fair, many (real?) Revolution fans agree with A.J. as do, I would assume, many other players. Kenny Mansally is likely one of those players. Kenny was quoted on RevolutionSoccer.net talking about the Manchester United game, and also saw the crowd as something worthy of mention. He said, “Wow. For me, like if you told me we were going to get this kind crowd every game I don’t think we would lose any points. Because you know you get the home support and this kind of crowd, it’s unbelievable…”

Is there anything wrong with Kenny making those comments after an emotional game in front of 50,000+ fans? Absolutely not. But taken in context of Shalrie’s tweet and A.J.’s blog post it adds to a theme of players feeling, and publicly speaking about, crowd-related concerns.   And knowing that the team travels to so many other stadiums – many soccer specific – that have a raised-bar in terms of MLS team support, means we shouldn’t be surprised that they’d want similar support at home.

So, the players are frustrated and it is starting to show.

But, at least their coach, the eminently respected, hugely experienced and historically successful Steve Nicol has what it takes to wrestle the situation back under control. Right?

More on that next time…

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2 thoughts on “New England’s Summer of (Player) Discontent

  1. MLS has evolved since 2002. The Revs have not. And it’s sad. This is a club that regularly drew 18,000 fans in the early years to watch a poor product. If we ever get a truly exciting product in a great environment, I’d like to think we could get that again. But maybe bridges have already been burnt.

    The worst situation for management is not angry fans, it’s an apathetic, disillusioned ones. Angry fans still care. Anger is emotion. Apathy is lack of emotion.

    MLB didn’t start its downward spiral after 1994 when fans were angry about the cancelation of the season. It started when fans became apathetic and disillusioned when they realized that the so many of the game’s top players were cheating.

    An angry fan is still a fan. We have too few of them.

  2. Let’s face it… the only members of our starting XI that would be starters on a quality MLS team are Shalrie, Benny and Reis. And those three recognize that and I’m sure it frustrates them to be a non-contender that’s moving in the wrong direction, while other teams are moving in the right direction, both on and off the field.

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