The Revolution’s Familiar “Fracaso”

Well, we’re there.  We are at that part of the season in New England Revolution-ville where the natives are restless, everything sucks, the world is grey and the sun may never shine again.

Along with this (pretty darn well deserved) angst, comes a buckshot worth of vitriol.

  • Fire Heaps.  (He’s winging it and is tactically overwhelmed.)
  • Fire Burns. (He gets lousy players and couldn’t find a star in the sky.)
  • Kraft apathy is killing us.  (MLS 3.0? We’re still in Beta.)

Generally the anger is expressed in some combination of those three.  Usually, with all three.

It’s easy to get caught up in it and join the chorus. This blog post, however, isn’t intending to explain who should be fired or why – though you could fill volumes with explaining how each of them have a shot at that crown.

Instead, I’m not exactly sure where this post ends – but here’s how it begins. I feel my own angst about this team, its current losing streak, and its general “uninterestingness.”  (It’s now a word.  Deal with it.)

I’ve never made any secret of the fact that I hoped for a more creative team. A more intricate style of soccer.  Better passing. Some more “did you see that?” moments. A more Latin style, if you will.

That’s not right or wrong, but it’s what I prefer.

And I can discuss how I see the current team and if I think it has any discernible style in another post, but this topic of my hoped-for of Latinizing (yup, new word, enjoy…) got me thinking. Why can’t we get some Latin American influence to maybe put the ball in the back of the net?  Or add a creative pass?  Or, something…

The reality? The team has tried. And failed.  And my presumption was this: we stink at finding good Latin talent, they come in and are just not up to MLS standards.

FIRE BURNS.

What came next, however, was the eye opener.  Because it feels quite a bit more complicated than that.  And that may not be a good thing, because Mike Burns is replaceable.

This all started in a rather roundabout way.

 

Benny Feilhaber.

Remember #BringBennytoBoston.  Yeah.  They did.  It didn’t work out.

But oddly enough, it seems to be working out OK for Benny in Kansas City.  In fact, he’s the current MLS Player of the Week.  Check out the recent highlights. Not bad.

Thought not really the Latin American influence I was craving, he potentially fit the bill for better passing and some creativity.

Why couldn’t he have worked out here?

Before we presume an answer, it made me think of the “true” Latin American players which were “not up to it” and flushed out of town before making the impact Revolution fans had hoped for.

Let’s start with one of our pretty big flops. One that really got people’s attention.

Our first “Designated Player.”

 

Milton Caraglio.

After confusing career moves, extended injury recoveries and a very interesting resume, Caraglio played 15 games for the Revolution, scored five goals and was sent on his way.

So maybe Diego Maradona (who called him in to Argenina’s National Team before he injured his knee) and West Ham (where he went on trial) were mistaken, or maybe he’d never really recover from the knee  injury he’d suffered.

Oh well, we tried. He’s past it. Let’s move on.

Except, for one issue.

YouTube seems to think that in 2014, in Argentina, he is doing this:

and this:

and this:

And this cheeky scoop in 2013:

You know, being a goal scorer.  In the Argentine first division.  You see, after joining Chilean Club Social de Deportes Rangers (CSD Rangers) he played a few games in Italy, and came home to Argentina.

Why not for New England?  Isn’t that the exact story we hoped for? Take the risk, have him make his professional resurgence in Foxboro?

Frustrating.

So let’s restore the Revolution’s image a bit, and at least all agree on the biggest, most obvious, most glaring failure.

 

José “Pepe” Moreno.

I mean, talk about a disaster.

You sign a player who apparently doesn’t want to join and who flirts with other clubs after you announce him.

But he arrived. And didn’t do much. We called him porky and talked more about his pizza and attire than much else.

What a waste of space, right?

Well, if it were only that simple.

You see, Pepe, it turns out is still playing this funny game of ours.  In fact, he’s a member of Colombian First Division club, La Equidad.

And, last year he scored this STUNNER… seriously watch this (and try not to punch the device you are using to watch it on):

And apparently wasn’t afraid to mix it up in the box –> see here.

You know, that whole elusive goal-scoring thing we need so bad? The one he was brought to Foxboro to do, he’s doing it.  But not for New England.

7 games and one MLS goal later. He was gone.

Mouth agape, I decided this was clearly another weird anomaly.  Maybe if we look back a bit further, I’ll feel better about some of the outcomes.

 

Gabriel Badilla.

Remember him?  No?

Signed in 2008.  Got six games.  Didn’t do much.  Was gone in 2009.

It happens.  “It’s a physical league.”  Etc. Etc. Sometimes people just don’t have what it takes.

Except he went back to Costa Rica, and to his prior club, Saprissa – a team I don’t think the Revolution would fancy playing frequently – and for last year?  He was its Captain.

And he’s still there now, 5 years after it was decided he couldn’t cut it in Foxboro.

Because in 2009, ironically in a release that also included our re-signing Kahno Smith (I cannot make this stuff up), he was gone.

Face. Palm.

Ok, so a midfielder got away, right?  Not that big a deal.

Well, that is true I guess. Any others to replace him?

 

Mauricio Castro.

Can you guess where this is headed?

Well, to be fair, the talented midfielder isn’t ripping up a big league, but he was still setting up goals last year in Honduras for Atlético Choloma.  That’s three years after he was waived by New England.

I wonder what we missed?  I’m guessing that maybe we missed some of the creativity that he could have brought to our midfield and showed in flashes.

Maybe not the league leading Number 10 I may have wanted, but a start that I enjoyed watching.

However, the Revolution DID have a player, a fan favorite as I recall, that while not quite a traditional “Number 10” perhaps, but who came pretty close.

And fans missed him when he left.

 

José Carlos Cancela.

Pepe Cancela.  Yup, another Pepe.

Now, this story is a bit different. Cancela had a good run with the Revolution.  Hard to argue that.

In fact, in that critical midfield role he still has the (rather obscure) record of having more assists per 90 minutes than any other Revolution player, ever.  And he’s tied with Steve Ralston for the most post-season assists.

But there was a feeling that we lost him too soon.  That there was more to be had.  But he was taken by Toronto F.C. in an expansion draft, and ended up in Colorado, and was eventually bounced from MLS.

And look, he was past 30 at that point.  So no harm done. Right?

But of course, there’s a twist.

Not only did Cancela continue playing, but he played over 150 games in Costa Rica.  There is even a Facebook page that proclaims “Yo también creo que Pepe Cancela es el mejor jugador de Costa Rica” – or for the less Spanish-inclined “I too think Pepe Cancela is the best player in Costa Rica.”  499 Likes. Adorable.

If you think the Revolution fans remember him fondly (they do) after 90 games, impressive assists and seven goals.  Imagine the impact he had on Herediano, where he played a similar amount of games and scored over thirty goals.  Yeah.  They liked him. A lot.

And what did old-man Cancela (now 38) do less than a month ago, he signed with small, first-division Costa Rican club Belén FC.  And they don’t look too sad to have him. 

So, a good run with the Revolution, but the sense we could have had more of a potential “legacy” player.

Another Ralston?  Another Twellman? Maybe, maybe not. But the kind of player you’d think we would like to have associated with this team at a much deeper level.

 

Franco Coria.

Hardly a loss of a similar character by any means, Coria came in a from the Argentine 2nd division team Chacarita Junior, and is now at a different Argentine 2nd division club, called Club Atlético Sarmiento.

Maybe that’s the right level for him. Though arguably that’s also a good feeder level for MLS “fill in” players.  And being that he’s only 26, and we let him go in 2011, it does make you wonder how he could have developed.

But, no harm, no foul on this one. It seems to me.  Though, I would have liked to see a bit more of him, no crying here.

Perhaps we have a better beat on defenders.  Steve Nicol was world renowned defender.  Mike Burns had quite a career, as did Jay Heaps.

Maybe that’s why one decision always puzzled me so much.

 

John Jairo Lozano.

After arriving from America de Cali, he saw six MLS Reserve League games and two MLS starts.  And about six months later, he was gone.

Of course, maybe he didn’t show well in practice.  Maybe it was something else.

But America de Cali’s not a bad team.  And, as you may have guessed, John Lozano still soldiers on.  After a season or so with Cúcuta Deportivo in Colombia first division, he signed with Atlético Huila on May 01, 2014.

Not a world-beater, perhaps, but you would think a player capable of first-division South American soccer would have seemingly gotten more than a two-game run at our not-quite-World-beater Revolution.

 

So what now? 

There are two more players I’d like to mention, but let’s first call out the obvious: something certainly feels awry.  Coming into this, I wanted to believe the “Fire Burns” story that these players are just not MLS worthy.  I am forced to believe there’s a bigger issue here.  Some quick examples of why…

  • We were told that Pepe Moreno was “…a strong, target forward who has a lot of experience playing at the highest levels in both South America and Europe.”
  • We were told that Gabriel Badilla was “… a strong, versatile defender who has gained tremendous club and international experience at a young age.”
  • We were told that Milton Caraglio was “…a talented player who has played against some of South America’s best competition.”

I could go on and on… but the point here is that all those statements actually appear true – or close to it.  But none of them came true for New England.

Why?

And why am I bothering to ask this now?

Because clearly within the fan base there’s a big desire for change, and maybe there are some opportunities still left.

In researching this, I also saw a similar story pattern with a player I really enjoyed watching. He was at times frustrating, but talented. Tricky and elusive. He seemed desperate to make an impact.

 

Fernando Cárdenas.

And while I don’t know anything beyond what Google helps me find, he seems to have done pretty well down in Colombia with Independiente Santa Fe.

But he’s appears to be on his way out.  I don’t know why.

But maybe he’s worth a call?  Our offense could maybe use a bit of a spark, no?

Would the result be any different than the before?  Than any of the others?

I sure don’t know, but I really have my doubts.  And that is what’s most worrying, this pattern seems unlikely to be broken.

Which brings us to fan favorite (choke, cough, ahem) and current Designated Player…

 

Jerry Bengtson.

I sometimes enjoy playing Jerry’s own personal Devil’s advocate, or in this case, the person who offers that maybe he’s not actually the devil.

And no, he’s not done what a New England fan would have hoped for. Not by a long shot. Not at all.

But, forget everything you’ve seen of Jerry for a moment.  I know, it’s tough.

Now imagine you are told that a player is joining the Revolution, that…

  • Scores at the Olympics
  • Scores in World Cup qualifiers
  • Scored 26 goals in 54 games for his last club
  • Is 27 and should be in his prime

One would imagine that, upon hearing this, any Revolution supporter would be buying Mike Burns a beer anytime they could.  But no, but both Burns and Bengtson are unloved figures.

Why?

Because Jerry’s not gotten it done.  Maybe not been given a REAL chance to, but certainly hasn’t made an impact.

But here’s the thing.  I really, really don’t want to be writing this same article next year about a player that stunk for the New England Revolution, and went on to be a star elsewhere.  I really don’t.

And we know that Jerry shows up in the right moments elsewhere, event when maybe we don’t want him to.

Maybe the goals aren’t always pretty. But they count. And that’s something for a Revolution team that cannot seem to score.

So, the question isn’t whether Jerry’s done what we wanted.  We know that answer.

The question is WHY hasn’t he?

Or Caraglio? Or Moreno? Or Badilla? Or even Feilhaber.

Maybe it is Mike Burns who is at fault.  That seems like the easy answer. But these are good players.

How many times can we say “that player would be great on another team” and not just admit, maybe it’s not THEM.  Maybe it’s US.

It seems to me another team could make a good strategy of picking up after each of our Latin American “fracasos” (failures) and laughing all the way to a very strong squad.

I think our problem runs deeper. Until the Revolution is seen a place where people want to play and know they can succeed, we’re not not going anywhere fast.

For me, that is worse than any single losing streak.

The Colombians Said What?

As the New England Revolution prepare for a Wednesday night clash with the Colorado Rapids there are questions about tactics, lineups and what we can expect to see out on the plastic pitch of Gillette Stadium.

Among the lineup questions, the introduction and integration of the new international players is key among them, and as far as this blog is concerned, there’s a clear interest in the status and progress of our new Colombian signings and if we should expect to see more of them.

According to revolutionsoccer.net John Lozano has seen 90 minutes of 2012 action, Fernando Cárdenas has seen 138 minutes, and Jose “Pepe” Moreno has seen 165 minutes after his late arrival.  This compares to 540 minutes for rookie Kelyn Rowe, for one possible comparison of a player you would think should be fighting for playing time.

So while the verdict is out on these players, there was clearly a reason they were brought in and there remains a hope that they will help right a ship that has seen three straight losses. What adds to the mystique around these players (especially Pepe “I’m coming… No, I’m not coming… I’m here” Moreno) is that the fans never hear from or about them.  I don’t recall a feature article, video or any quotes of significance, in English or Spanish that provides much insight. (So much for that Latin community outreach…)

All this made it very interesting to see (clearly unscripted) videos of Moreno and Cárdenas from the visitor’s locker room at Red Bull Arena in NJ. Of course, these videos follow a frustrating loss, so all commentary comes with that important backdrop, but certainly the comments add some level of insight that wasn’t there before.

I’m not about to provide word-by-word translations because a) the audio is terrible, b) my Spanish is pretty darn good, but not perfect, and most importantly, c) I’m not paid nearly enough for this to spend that much energy.  So remember, aside from a few quick quotes, this is NOT VERBATIM.

So, without further adieu, here’s a most unusual Soccer Soap Box posting…

Of the points that Pepe Moreno talks through, here are the most interesting to me.

He touched on the team’s lack of energy/drive early on in the game that led to a goal (“we started practically asleep“) which was addressed by the coach.

When talking about the team’s inability to break down a Red Bull team that he called “worthy of respect” but also “vulnerable”, he suggested that it was mostly due to the lack of communication, “tranquility” (ability to slow down the game), and better thinking with the ball.

He suggests that the team was (as the advertisements promise) looking to attack, but that it lacked a vocal attacking leader to communicate and organize the team around the effort. He suggested that instead of making the killer passes they ended up playing it sideways, back and “kicking it all over the place” which didn’t allow them enough attacks to create the goals they needed. [Note: Sounds like a any forward looking for better service to feed off of, no?]

A leading question follows this, that asked: are you missing a leader on the field or off the field, or both? His answer is both, and that there are errors to correct for both “us” in attack and defense. [Not sure what to make of that one.]

The interviewer turns the questioning to the fact that though Moreno was the last of the Colombian players to arrive, he’s been getting the most playing time, and for his thoughts on this. Moreno suggests that it’s complicated and that he’s been where they are and it takes time. He notes that they had not played outside of Colombia before, and that these situations are something to be expected and you just need to continue to work hard.

The interviewer asks what the Coach is asking of the players such that they will see the field. Moreno largely dodges this question, but basically offers that here, everyone works hard, the type of work is very different than in Colombia. He suggests that the team is a good group, but only needs to be calmer on the field and more organized. However, he quickly notes that this is very typical of teams in the United States, and not only an issue for the Revolution.

He also suggests that he was familiar with the league before arriving, since there are many Colombians here already, and that he was glad to get a goal already to add to his confidence, thought he still needs to adjust to the MLS game.

[Note: Then, we get to what the team has inexplicably not provided us despite such noise and confusion in the fanbase: what was the deal with your wanting to come then not wanting to come?  How the team didn’t come up with a well scripted version of this and get it out to friendly media to answer any critics is beyond me and a major oversight.]

Moreno says he that he did reconsider joining MLS.  He wanted to come when they called him because he wanted another chapter in his career and already followed the league because of the all of the Colombians here.  Moreno thought it would be a something interesting and different.

Then Once Caldas made it clear that it didn’t want him to leave and “they were very happy with me, and though I had an injury I was recovering well.”  Later, when he was back with his family [visiting?] and was calm/happy, he started thinking maybe he shouldn’t leave Colombia. In the end though, it was his decision (not the local club’s) and so he came.

He ends saying that he’s here to work, and that if the team doesn’t get it done, he needs to do the work to pull his load and get the victories.

There was much less to cover in the recording of Fernando Cárdenas, and what jumped out more than the words on his video was the overall sense that he is clearly yearning to get on the field and prove himself. He’s never played for a club outside of Colombia and probably worried about making the impact he thinks he can… especially after watching the Revolution lose a few games because of a sputtering killer instinct.

Of course, none of this on its own means any player should see the field because they have that desire, but it puts the plight of young internationals that join MLS into an interesting perspective.

Cárdenas says that it was a complicated game, one where the Red Bulls got an early goal and the Revolution simply could not break them down, and that hopefully with hard work every day we’ll do better and hopefully see the field and make the team, “because, of course, us foreigners and everyone are hoping to see the field.

Cárdenas quickly says that lineups are the coach’s decision, he respects the coach’s decision and that you need to work hard everyday so that you can respond when you get the chance.

Asked about how he feels about the style of play in the league now that he’s playing in it, he says its very competitive, but more “hit and run” than the Colombian league.

The (very difficult to understand) last question poked at whether he was sorry to have come here, and though clearly disappointed to not see the field, he said now, that it’s in gods hands and he’ll keep moving forward.

So there you have it… now have your say.

Will The Revolution Keep The Faith?

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.