The Revolution Re-Org: Reboot or Upgrade?

If first impressions matter most, it is hard for New England Revolution fans to take much solace in the recent organizational reorganizational announcements.

The Revolution is viewed as being stuck in MLS 1.0, while the league has largely moved on to MLS 2.0 (or more.) Apparently Revolution ownership seems to agree, with Robert Kraft suggesting: “Major League Soccer has evolved significantly in the last few years and while we felt we had a structure in place that had worked well earlier and led us to success, the last two years did not live up to our expectations.”

However, addressing such fundamental league changes by redrawing lines on an organization chart seems more like a reboot than a system upgrade.

Maybe they have patched the team to MLS 1.5?

Appearances Matter

If there were concerns about the on-field performance, player selection and overall treatment of players, adding responsibilities to the VP of Player Personnel Mike Burns, seems at first glance like an odd way to address it.

If there were challenges with moving your “number one, two and three priority” priority of a Soccer Specific Stadium forward (in the words of Brian Bilello), your in-stadium atmosphere is probably the worst in MLS and your fans cannot buy Revolution merchandise outside of the Patriots Pro Shop without jumping through flaming hoops, it would seem out of place to promote your Chief Operating Officer Brian Bilello to even greater responsibility.

Yet, that’s what happened.

Well, that and the enigmatic (for New England) Sunil Gulati being moved from his (way) behind the scenes role of President of Kraft Soccer to a pure advisory role for the Krafts. Ummm, Ok.

Welcome to a MLS 1.5…

Any Hope To Be Found?

If you are looking for good news, this isn’t a downgrade.

Brian Bilello, the once COO and now President of the New England Revolution, is clearly a smart guy. He seems to really care about the team, the sport and understands the business model and on-field/off-field challenges. If nothing else his having “surrendered his other leadership roles” with the Kraft’s means greater focus, and less Twitter/Blog/Facebook abuse.

Focus is good, but only time will tell if any of this translates into better results. And it seems with the removal of Sunil Gulati from day to day activity with the team (words that are hard to type, since his day to day roles were never understood), one would imagine Mr. Bilello will have greater control and ability to get changes made.

Mr. Bilello senses that new breath of fresh air from a redefined organization and refined role for Mr. Gulati, right? “How [Sunil Gulati]’s utilized on a day-to-day basis, I don’t have a great answer for you on that.” Ok, so there’s some confusion about how he’ll still advise on the Revolution.

Well, Mr. Gulati will clearly use his connections to get us some great international games, right? “I don’t have a great answer to that… If he can be helpful in that regard, sure, I’m sure he will be.”

Great Soccer On The Way?

Well, now that we’ve cleared all of that up… let’s talk about the vast “soccer” improvements we should expect from the expansion of responsibilities for Mr. Burns.

The idea of Mike Burns having a greater span of control will be the most frustrating one of this re-org for many Revolution faithful. The team hasn’t been the shining example of player management in most regards. What would have been interesting is a clearer statement as to what led to that particular decision, since the recent past hasn’t been a shining example of success.

Recent drafts? OK, I guess.

Bringing in impactful foreigners? Not great.

Keeping, or at least adequately replacing, talented players? Arguably the most obvious failure. Demspey and Parkhurst might have been Europe-bound no matter what, but who replaced them? Larentowicz, Dorman and others? Painful.

Parting ways at midseason with a player voted your team MVP the prior year? Bordering on absurd.

I have met, but don’t know, Mr. Burns but I do know he has a long history in the sport, was an accomplished US player (if not fan favorite) at all levels and should by all definitions “know the game.” But as in many professions, individual contributor success does not always define successful management and Mike Burns has a lot to prove. At least in this new clearer (I suppose) role he can be more easily judged on his success.

The problem many Revolution watchers have, is that it’s unclear how, other than having been a good soccer player, Mr. Burns is fully qualified to take on his added responsibility of managing “all aspects of the club’s soccer operations, which now includes the coaching staff and player acquisitions, in addition to continuing his oversight of the youth development program and the team’s operations and management.”

The last few years would be a blemish, if anything, not a vote of confidence. He doesn’t have a public soccer opinion nor does he engage well with the media. He hasn’t explained a Revolution soccer “point of view” and we’ve already discussed our player-management concerns.

Perhaps Mr. Burns is ideally suited for his new role. But when Jonathan Kraft says “During the last few years, he has proven to us that he is talented and more than capable to take on these responsibilities and lead our soccer operations.” It leaves many wondering, HOW that has been proven in something better than an MLS 1.0 world.

The team has rebooted, but the significance of any upgrade is clearly not yet known.

(There’s way more to cover on these changes, my public relations conspiracy theory, the role that should have been announced, and new coaching possibilities. But after watching the US get blanked in the Stade de France last night, I better go enjoy some of this wonderful city to soothe the pains of the loss. More to come very soon!)

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