Friday, July 09, 2010

Defending Mike Burns

Back in 2005, when Mike Burns entered the Revolution front office with the new, shiny "Director of Soccer"* title, things in Revolutionland were alot rosier

(*Am I the only one who doesn't love that title? "Director of Soccer." Imagine how cool it would be to go to a party or an event, shaking hands and mingling with a bunch of people you don't know, and having them ask you what you do. "Well, I'll have you know that I'm the Director of Soccer." The clincher, of course, is then handing out a business card with "Director of Soccer" on it. It's the kind of title that business cards were made for. )

The Revs had just come off a pretty good season. A season of quality performances. A season that came within a missed PK of sending the local lads to their second MLS Cup appearance. You may remember some of the players from that squad- Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Matt Reis, Pepe Cancela, Steve Ralston, Jay Heaps, Shalrie Joseph, and some brash, shaggy-haired kid from Furman named Clint Dempsey.

The team was probably one the best squads ever assembled by the Revolution braintrust.* They had youth, talent, and experience and it meshed extraordinarily well. They had a keen manager. And Mike Burns, a native New Englander, a former USMNT player who'd seen two World Cups, collected 75 caps, and a pioneer in bringing pro soccer back to the region, must have smiled often and asked himself how the heck had he become so lucky.

(*Many will argue that the 2005 was the best Revolution squad they'd ever seen. What's there to argue? They were the best, bar none. But the 2004 team wasn't exactly a pushover, by any means.)

Those were, of course, the halcyon days of Revolution lore. It was before the advent of designated player allocations, which undeniably, altered the landscape of pro soccer in the U.S. Supporters, along with the media, were no longer content with a field full of college kids and international busts. The DPA changed the way teams built their rosters. And everyone wanted one on their team.

L.A., naturally jumped on board by signing the biggest name available: David Beckham. Chicago, FC Dallas, Kansas City, FC Dallas, and New York soon followed suit. Within two years, nearly every MLS team had a DPA of their own.

Meanwhile, the Revolution, with Burns being promoted to VP of Player Personnel*, managed to avoid the temptation of buying into a multi-million dollar proposition. The line went that the team would look into one if he was good fit, not only for the club, but for the fanbase. Getting a DP for the sake of having one was an idea that Burns often publicly, and rightly, shunned.

(*I never understood this, but if Mike Burns is the VP of Player Personnel, then who is the President? Is there a President of Player Personnel. I always see VP, but never President of Player Personnel. If someone could educate me here, I'm all ears. I mean, eyes, since this is a blog.)

That mantra - DP for the sake of having a DP - was first relayed back on Media Day in 2007, and again in 2008, 2009, and 2010. Today, Mike Burns is essentially saying the same exact thing he's said for the past three years, without skipping a beat.

In the wake of the latest reiteration - during an online Q & A on the Revolution Blog - Revolution supporters, both young and old, lit into him like an alien in Halo.

How dare he say the same things he's been saying for years.

How could he simply issue corporate speak to the fans who have heard it ad nausem?

Does he think we're stupid?


Didn't he respect them - "them" being season ticket holders, supporters, die-hards, (i.e. people who have obviously invested considerable time and money to the club) - enough to give it to them straight?

Mike Burns does respect the fanbase, moreso than his answers probably give. There's no doubt in my mind that Mike Burns wishes he could tell it like it is. The first thing he would probably say is, "Look, I would love to bring in Ronaldinho, Ronaldo, or Alex de Souza, but my hands are really tied, guys. I wish I could, but it's not like I've been handed a blank check to sign these guys."

I think this because in my experience with him, Mike Burns is straightforward guy who, after having a conversation with him, is one of the least evasive executives you will run into. He is blunt, informative, and straight to the point. He is smart and insightful, and fails to regurgitate the PR jargon you often read. Most of all, he's a guy who knows his soccer, of which the same cannot be said for the gentlemen he reports to.

All of which leads me to believe that Mike is simply doing the best he can. He knows the fans are frustrated as hell. He is, too. This is his team, after all. I'm sure he takes no pride in telling his friends that he oversees a losing side.

He's taking alot of heat. Some of it, of course, is perfectly justified. His job is to provide Stevie Nicol with quality players. And maybe it's just me, but when I think of quality players, I have to say that Joseph Niouky and Emmanuel Osei haven't cracked my Top 10 Quality Revolution Players.

When it comes to signing high-profile players, swinging trades, and creating buzz, the criticism is unwarranted, and wholly unfair.

We all know Mike Burns doesn't sign the checks. That's Bob Kraft's duty. And as owner/operator, he's the one that gets the final say in who laces up the boots for the boys in navy blue.

From what's been relayed to me by fairly reliable sources, Burns and Stevie Nicol have indeed talked to a few internationals you may have heard of. Now, neither has dropped names because, well, that's not Kraft Sports policy. Especially since the unnecessarily secretive Bill Belichick arrived a decade ago.

According to these sources, they have talked to Pauleta. They have talked with Robbie Fowler. Heck, they even talked to Joao Pinto. But they weren't given the greenlight to sign these players. Guess who's in charge of that greenlight? There are precious few things in life I can guarantee, and one such thing I can guarantee is that Mike Burns ain't the one giving the order.

Whether you like, love or despise him with every fiber of your being, you have to appreciate that Mike has the guts to answer some very pointed questions. When was the last time Bob Kraft took questions from Revs supporters? How about Sunil Gulati? Jonathan Kraft comments on the team about once every blue moon. Seriously. I think he schedules his appearances on the Mikey Adams Show based upon the lunar calendar. The real decision makers stay in the shadows, while Mike and Brian Bilello get publicly skewered on a regular basis.

To his credit, he hasn't resigned, even though most of us wouldn't have the let the door hit us on the way out. He wants to fix this. He wants to bring the Revs back to the MLS Cup. He wants a picture of the Anschutz/Whatever-It's-Called-This-Year Trophy at the top of the homepage. He wants to deliver a championship for his hometown, much like his counterpart on Yawkey Way first did six years ago.

You know, Mike Burns once had a dream job. A job that alot of soccerheads around here would've killed for not too long ago. Now, he has one of the most thankless jobs this side of 95. And he's doing something alot of us wouldn't do: he's sticking with it.

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