The (Revolution) Thrill Is Gone.

Judging by activity on Soccer Soap Box you wouldn’t think that I’ve been an active Revolution watcher in 2012.  In fact, you might have thought I fell off the earth if you weren’t following on Twitter. But job changes, family obligations and good weather conspired against blogging and pushed me towards the 140 character variety of self-expression.  Ah, yes, Twitter: blogging-lite. So easy, it’s like cheating.

So it turns out I’ve not fallen off the earth, but like most people, I haven’t been to many Revolution games in person either. I have, though, watched nearly every game.  So despite a clear enthusiasm lag, I’ve far from ignored the team. But there’s more, and it is undeniable… my emotional connection to the Revolution has been tested this year.  It’s like a long-term marriage that has kept all the familiarity but lost all of the energy and intrigue. (Mrs. Soap Box, please note, I speak only theoretically, we’re all good.  Now, back to the program…)

Soccer, for me, is a game of passion and beauty.  I want to be enthralled.  I want to think the team I’m watching can deliver something of an emotional connection both on the field and in how they view the game and conduct their business. Yes, I want to see victories, but the intangibles are probably, or nearly, as important for me.

Sadly, the Revolution aren’t living up to such expectations.  (Mine or pretty much anyone else’s.)   The team has largely been incapable of creating the beautiful game on the field, certainly have continued having trouble creating passion within the fan base and simply doesn’t make decisions I can defend with both my heart and head being in agreement.

The year started positively enough, at least relative to the debacle of 2011, with an attempt at a fresh style and with a young and popular (as a player) new head coach.  New players, like Lee Nguyen brought skill and optimism. Possession improved and we occasionally didn’t boot the ball up field. It was delusional bliss, and I miss it so.

On top of that, the addition of three Colombians appeared to add skill, experience and guile from my adopted second country – heck some of these player acquisitions were announced when I was vacationing in Colombia… things looked – and felt – pretty good.

And while I was worried that appointing Jay Heaps head coach was an underwhelming and risky decision – thinking he was too inexperienced to right a ship that clearly needed a special brand of leadership (or quite possibly an exorcism), he’s a hard character to root against and I was willing to buy into the “we will attack”  battle cry.

But it wasn’t to be, was it?

The Revolution will miss the playoffs again, and were simply not good enough to suggest they deserved better.

So where are we?

Ironically, the team is full of good players.  The problem, is that ‘goodness’ is no longer enough across a team – some level of greatness is required. And we lack greatness.

Let’s review… our most exciting import?  (Arguably) Saër Sène.  He’s good.  Is he great? Not clear.  Maybe, but ‘great’ would bring that left-footed magic as well as the ability to occasionally win a header and an intensity that sometimes seems missing.  There’s potential for greatness though if he’s not done growing.

Jerry Bengston? He had a great Olympics, but has only looked good for the Revolution.

Lee Nguyen.  Certainly a good MLS player.  Can he be great at this level?  Maybe.

I could go on and on, but fundamentally the Revolution lacks stand-out leaders. It lacks All-Stars, officially or otherwise.

So to find “greatness” shrewd personnel moves would be required. It is far from clear that the Revolution have made the wisest personnel moves or that they even get the best out of what they have. Though, this year it’s the personnel decisions that baffle me most and have sucked the much of the passion out of me.

I am on record as thinking that trading Shalrie wasn’t the worst idea – and I can still see the rationale. He was not the same player from a few years ago, yet he was being paid based on that history, and certainly not his current performance.  Of course, his presence hasn’t really be replaced.

The Pepe Moreno fiasco isn’t worth commenting on at this point.  His arrival was a mess so his departure certainly was neither a surprise nor a real disappointment.  But let’s be clear, though imperfect, the guy didn’t get into European clubs because he couldn’t kick a ball.  What a mess.

Another head-scratcher was the undying affection for the Bromance-duo of AJ Soares and Stephen McCarthy.  Fine guys, but would they be a center-back pairing on any other MLS team?  Doubtful.  Unless John Lozano keyed the coach’s car, I’ll never understand how we walked away from a center-back with good history in the Colombian league without giving him a real run out.

Now, this will probably set off some warning bells for folks, but the last games, for me, are perfect examples of how my views of what I want to watch are nearly not the same as what the team is thinking.  On the bench Benny Feilhaber and Fernando Cardenas watched Ryan Guy and Kelyn Rowe get the start.

Really?

Sure, Rowe got a (deflected) goal.  And he’s a good player, a solid rookie who probably has a nice little MLS career in front of him if he keeps improving.  Heck, the Revolution fans even voted him “Man of the Match” for last game. (Oh those Revs fans, they never miss a goal…)

But for my eyes, when Cardenas is on the field the team the moves the ball more quickly and play wakes up. It becomes watchable and interesting.  He’s imperfect too, no doubt, but it is baffling he’s on the bench for this team – one that is static and constantly in search of the unexpected.  Yeah, yeah, “super-sub.”  We’ve all heard it – and some of you are guilty of saying it, “clearly, Fernando is better coming on late and running at tired defenders.” (When isn’t that the case?  Isn’t that patently true of any player? “Messi would be more effective coming on against tired defenders.”  Ugh.)

The Super-sub cliché is a great way to write off a player you cannot figure out how to properly integrate.  On a team this devoid of movement and ideas, that’s a darn shame.

And Ryan Guy. He works hard and is a good player. Better than Benny Feilhaber?  Not for my money.

My last blog (from what seems like years ago) was about how – during an almost-good stretch of Revolution soccer – Benny seemed to have a vastly improved on-field demeanor attitude.  Well, he’s struggled to get time recently and the team hasn’t done that well either.

Both of these examples show a lack of conviction to prioritizing skill and creativity in choosing players. Rowe and Guy instead of Cardenas and Feilhaber suggests effort over style is still the plan.  The team’s style has taken a step backwards since the beginning of the year, which points to a lack of belief that they can win with attractive football.  I blogged earlier this year that if nothing else, I hoped the Revolution would “keep the faith.” That faith seems betrayed.

Let’s be clear… I know it’s not exactly Rowe vs. Cardenas or Feilhaber vs. Guy, but the comparison it creates is illustrative as far as priorities, decision-making and what type of product we’ll see on the field. Maybe if the Revs were winning ugly, it would be forgiven.  But it’s not.   The team appears half-committed to half-attractive soccer.  It remains a team without a discernible style.

This all points back to an initial worry – is Jay Heaps really ready to fix this mess?

The evidence before us is damning. Young players that aren’t game changers get more faith that seems logical. One time stars fall out of favor (Joseph, Feilhaber.) Commitment to attractive soccer has waned. Players that might be on the verge of “great” are stuck squarely in “good.”

I’m not sure what the final games of another throw-away season can show us, and despite my sliding passion… but I’m sure I’ll watch.  I’ll almost certainly tweet.  I may even blog.

But will I be connected?  Enthralled?

Right now I sense that might it take World Cup qualifying, not the Revs, to rebuild such passion.

And you tell me, what does all that say for MLS?  It is bad that a team can so frustrate a die-hard fan and squelch his hope for seeing attractive soccer in his own backyard, or it is a positive development that the league has improved enough to have marginalized teams that simply are good, but not great.

I’d normally close this post with a request for ‘greatness.’  But I’m tired: of the night, of the season, of the same-old, same-old.

So screw greatness, just give me a sign you and I speak the same soccer language. I am not writing off the idea that I could fall in love all over again.  But as they say, once-bitten twice-shy.  I have a couple season’ worth of really bad bite marks on me, so you better get working.

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2 thoughts on “The (Revolution) Thrill Is Gone.

  1. Perhaps “We’re going to attack!” was meant to be the rallying cry of the STHs. It’s been more fitting in that usage than in the team’s play. The personnel decisions on-the-field are the biggest piece of the puzzle during the Revs dreadful July/August run. It should not have taken this long to sit down poorly playing pieces (like AJ). It’s pretty simple: if the team is playing poorly, put in different players. It took Jay too long to pull the trigger on the defensive substitutions.

    • Well, we agree there. Now, there could be massive attitude issues in the lockerroom… but until we learn more, it seems we default to effort and not skill, and that’s sad.

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