In theory, it’s way too early on a Saturday morning to be typing, but a coughing son is wide awake and there’s little convincing him that bed is a better option than dragging me downstairs. Perhaps he’s just too excited about the Merseyside Derby cup match this morning to sleep? Not likely, as he’s sitting on the main computer playing pbskids.org games as I type away on a laptop.
So be it. The blog is dusty and I’m awake. Not only that, but I’m going to miss tonight’s New England Revolution home game versus D.C. United as we have important birthday plans with a friend. DVR (or MLS Live) to the rescue, once again. Without the game to watch tonight, this is my outlet then, early and bleary eyed, but still hoping for a Revolution victory.
More than that, actually, I’m hoping for more signs that the team continues to build toward something than can make me, and the rest of the fans, smile. Now, let’s be clear. Victories bring smiles. And I’d like to see more of them.
But as we touched on in a recent “The Midnight Ride Podcast” (you do listen, right?) there’s also something about how a team plays that drives the “smile” factor. OK, perhaps that was my babbling only, and it involved talk of Fernando Cardenas and how he plays. Stepovers? Yup. Try that (seemingly random) shot? Sure. Smile-worthy. If you cannot tell, I forgive and often celebrate the unexepected – at least as far as offensive creativity is concerned.
Other players are doing things that make me smile too… Lee Nguyen for example. Benny, I suspect, will when he returns. Crafty? Creative? Sure. Effective? Admittedly, the jury is out on some of this so far for the Revolution.
But that brings up the eternal debate, is there a necessary trade-off between creative (attractive) play and success? On the world stage, one would think that Brazil squashed this years ago, or that Barcelona/Spain had driven the final nail into the coffin. Closer to home, teams like Real Salt Lake have made a compelling argument that winning can come with a good brand of soccer. But of course, this debate will continue for as long as we talk about the sport.
However, let’s not let the validity of the debate stop any progress that this team has shown in building something new and exciting. There’s a fragile hope, a tentative excitement, building within the fan base that is fueled by a better than expected showing against LA and an attempt to keep the ball and play good soccer.
Coach Jay Heaps has instilled a new energy, new attempts at possession soccer and a positive attitude. He took his first real criticism related to late substitutions during the 0-1 loss to F.C. Dallas. Starting in the 64th minute, offense either replaced offense, or offense replaced defense. And then gave up a last-minute goal. The calls for “wiser” substitutions came quickly.
Of course, the knee jerk reaction here is to blame the coach for not “battening down the hatches” and filling the field with defense minded players. And sure, that would be a standard response by coaches around the world. But ponder these two thoughts…
First, offensive solutions didn’t lose the last game. Not playing the ball out when our player was down, hopeful long balls out of the back (which was intercepted and sent immediately back down field), a foul by a hurting and frustrated center-back and poor marking on a free kick… that’s what lost the game and erased 94+ minutes of effort. Those errors, mind you, didn’t come from those “unreliable” creative players.
Second, would you rather support a team that throws defensive bruisers at a problem, or looks to offense and hopefully possession to solve a challenge. Who keeps it the ball up by the opponents goal or who tends toward desperate clearances out of the defensive third? Critics will criticize both… either “too defensive, too soon” or “too naïve, why didn’t they lock down their lead with defense?”
I choose offense. I prefer possession.
But let’s be clear, with a young coach and inevitable questions and pressures that come, the temptation to batten down the hatches and only “boot the ball to the big men up front” will always be there. Heck, with the addition of Bjorn Runstrom, the team now has three six foot or taller forwards eager to jump around after the long ball.
But please, Revolution, keep the faith. Spring is in the air and there are seedlings of optimism growing in the fanbase. There is some excitement that you now have creative players who might be able to play attractive soccer.
Realize that criticism will come, no matter what you choose. So choose wisely, and stay the course.
Because I sat through the “successful” season of 2002 as a season ticket holder. I remember the wonderfully large (if not particularly animated) crowd that filled Gillette Stadium for the MLS Cup final. Winning got the Revolution there and got butts in the seats. But most of that season, what was on display was ugly, sad soccer. Ugly soccer doesn’t do much to stir the soul nowadays.
A decade later, and following a “fresh start” with a new coach there is a chance for something new.
Keep the faith Revolution. And keep the ball.