Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Stray thoughts

I’m going to talk about the Revs in a bit, but before I do, let me ask this:

Is there not a better time of the year than this?

Seriously, unless you live near the North Pole or that area off the Jersey Turnpike that smells like a Taco Bell bathroom, mid-April is a wonderful time. How can you not stop to smile? The buds on the trees are bright white. Mornings aren’t as frigid as they were a month ago. And it’s still early enough when every MLS club - even D.C. and Toronto* - still has a legitimate shot at making the playoffs.

(*Oh, Toronto. I’ll get to them in a minute.)

Spring is a yearly reminder of why it’s great to be alive. You’ve got the birds singing. Daylight extends past seven o’clock. Neighbors start firing up their grills. All the while, J.P. Dellacamera and John Harkes mutually affirm that soccer is, in fact, back. Yes, it’s like walking on sunshine. And doesn’t it feel good?

Anyway, about those goal-crazy Revs. If you had asked me back during the frosty days of February how many points they’d have after three matches, I’d probably venture a guess of, say, oh, one point. A single point. After all, the Revs defensive posture is almost always good for a draw. So yeah, one point. And this is precisely why I am not a professional day trader. Or a weatherman.

Let’s talk about Saturday night for a minute. The early parts of it had all the makings of a First Kick reprise. The defending was Snuggle soft. The midfield had all the cohesion of a riot. And no one, and I mean no one, could get the ball to a forward.

Fortunately for the Revs, matches are cut into halves. And for the second half, I could’ve sworn Steve Nicol sent out an entirely different set of players.

Who were these guys? And where has Sainey Nyassi's confidence been hiding? I’ve always said that Nyassi’s most formidable enemy on the pitch is himself. When he gets discouraged, he plays tentatively. Note: guys with pace should not slow down. He questions himself. He hesitates. And suddenly, guys like Schilawski, Edgarus Jankauskas, Shalrie Joseph (when he freelances), and Kheli Dube are wondering if they’ll ever see another ball before they retire.

But when Nyassi’s “on” button is pushed, he is a sight to behold. Look at video of the TFC match. Almost every single attack comes from the right. Nyassi’s side. Isn’t confidence a beautiful thing?

And, OMG, who knew Schilawski had a hat trick in him only three games in? I mean really, who knew? Do you think that Stevie Nicol ever thought to himself “well, we drafted this kid because he’s got a triple in him”? Two words: Heck. No. MLS defenders typically kick the crap out of young forwards, which makes the dazzling displays of guys like Fredy Montero and Schilawski that much more…well, dazzling. The antidote to tight marking is confidence. The confidence to take a guy on and then shatter him. And Schilawski’s hot-button word after the game? “Confidence.” I’m pretty sure he said it at least ten times.

Of course, playing against the Toronto backline would probably give a gerbil confidence going forward. For all the things Preki did at Chivas, you don’t fire someone who’s delivered the playoffs each year unless something is terribly wrong. From my humble abode here in New England, I can’t speak on it extensively, but the theory goes something along the lines of Preki being the antithesis of a “player’s manager.” In other words, his own players did not particularly care much for him.

I’m not saying that you have to be a loveable, huggable type of guy and have feasts in your honor to succeed in this league. But look at the last three MLS championship managers. Jason Kreis, who just hung his cleats like two weeks ago, is a player’s manager. Heck, he’s still practically a player himself. You could tell in L.A., Columbus, and now Seattle, Sigi Schmid’s players really play for him. There’s almost no trace of disunity between Sigi and his players. And then there’s Dominic Kinnear – is there a better example of a player’s manager?

Now, that’s not to say that Preki should change his personality and adopt this approach. Sometimes, being an affable manager gets you nowhere. It’s still very early, but does anyone think the player-friendly Curt Onalfo can steer DC out of its recent run of U-8 performances? Same goes for Frank Yallop, who’s San Jose squad is better than D.C., but that’s like saying Pat Sajak is funnier than Alex Trebek.

However, when your skipper quits the club in the middle of the week a.k.a THE MIDDLE OF THE WEEK before the second a.k.a SECOND match of the season, it leads many to believe that the manager has some serious flaws with his interpersonal skills. Now, Preki's no buster. You don't hold a job for three years without a having a clue. He obviously knows something about managing.

But is there a more crucial quality - charisma, if you will - when leading a team? Doesn’t it help not be reviled by your own charges? Again, I’m not saying every manager has to be likeable. But every manager should have the respect of his players. The hasty retirement of Jim Brennan only shows that Preki may soon have a mutiny on his hands, if he hasn’t already (see: New England-Toronto FC, circa 4/10/2010).


Speaking of managers, I have to give it up to Steve Nicol. The ol’ gaffer picked up his 100th career MLS victory over the weekend. Hey, not bad for a guy who once subbed for Walter Zenga (who, by the way, has much, much less than 100 MLS victories) on the backspin.

Say what you will about his teams’ inability to clinch the ultimate prize, but let me ask you this: Since he took the job permanently in 2002, how many clubs have gone to the MLS Cup finals four times? Answer: One.

For all of his club’s shortcomings (low spending, high-profile departures, no soccer-spec stadium), is there anyone else in the league who milks the most out of the players he’s given? Answer: Not likely.

Hitting the century mark for MLS victories isn’t a fluke or good fortune. Just ask Bob Bradley or Sigi Schmid.

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