Tuesday, September 09, 2008

How Nicol is undermining his own success


That's not the type of score you want to see on a Saturday night, nevermind a Saturday night in which you were holding down the fort at home while braving the remnants of Tropical Storm Hannah. The sound of branches snapping off the trees and rain pelting the windows only added to the sense of portentousness that pervaded through the flickering television screen as it struggled mightily to carry the Revolution-Crew match into the living room.

For those of you who love stats - and those of you who hate them - this is the third 0-4 match in the past 21 days for the Revs. Losing 0-4 to top of the table Columbus is one thing. Losing 0-4 to expansion San Jose (8/16) and Trinidad's fourth-best club, Joe Public (9/2), is reason enough to seek witness protection in PDL or USASA.

Steve Nicol will be the first to tell you that his club is tired. They've "got nothing in the tank." Good excuse. I can't tell you how many times I accompanied a tardy term paper with that very explanation. Unsurprisingly, it didn't work with many of my professors, and I can tell you that its shelf life is particularly short with much of the media, myself included.

Yes, I know, the club has will finish a grueling 38-day, 11-match stretch on Thursday against Chivas USA. The press releases remind me of that after each loss. Injuries, call-ups and suspensions have chewed into the club's first team significantly. I understand the manager can do little about these situations. I'll grant him a couple of mulligans. After all, he's not a shaman. His powers are not of the metaphysical variety. So I don't expect that the club will be fully fit and at the pinnacle of its power during this especially concentrated period of true football.

However, I have a suggestion to help alleviate the heavy toll.

Full disclosure: I never played at Liverpool. Nor have I ever managed a side where my charges were old enough to ride a ferris wheel unsupervised. But, I do have some managerial advice. The gaffer can do himself a tremendous favor by - get this - assigning players to their natural positions, rather than adehering to the continued practice of juxtaposing the starting eleven to point of borderline experimentation.

Case in point: the deployment of Amaechi Igwe at centerback. Igwe, when positioned on the left, is a pretty good attack-minded defender that gives the opposing defense something to think about when he crosses the centerline. Plus, he has to the speed to get back and defend after pursuing such an attack. He's not great but, if given the minutes, he can develop into a quality left back. So you can imagine why I'm puzzled that he's stationed in the center.

Another is Chris Tierney at left back. Tierney is a midfielder by trade, but apparently, Nicol has grand illusions for him at left back. Why? Tierney isn't particularly fast, and often struggles to contain even the most speed-deficient attackers. While his service is decent, he'd far better off playing in his customary role at left wing, rather than getting regularly dusted by the average right-sided midfielder.

Now, Nicol's tinkered with the above ideas at various points since the All-Star match. The worst such example of this was complete and utter failure vs. Joe Public last Tuesday. I'm guessing the four goals allowed in that match won't make it to the club's highlight reel this season.

The Revolution will get a welcome 10-day respite after Thursday's Chivas match. Hopefully, the break will allow Nicol to clear his mind and assign players to their actual positions. And by then, the "tired" excuses will be tired. The extra-MLS tournament crutch no longer remains. The woe-is-us-the-schedule's-a-beast quote will be the soccer equivilent of the boy who cried wolf. The expiration dates on these excuses will have expired. Bill Parcells once said, "You are what you are." And if the Revs hope to convince the rest of us that they are more than just a tired, mediocre club, they will have to leave the excuses at the door and step it up.

I think Danity Kane said it best: "Actions speak louder than words/You gotta show me somethin'."

No comments: