Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Diary of a Losing Club, 7/6

Saturday night's nailbiting 5-0 loss to Real Salt Lake may have been a blessing in disguise. And I say that with all seriousness. For reals.

The humiliation of the Revolution at the hands of the defending champs should be the wakeup call that finally jolts the front office after hitting the snooze button for months on end.

The 3,981 unique weaknesses the club had apparently hidden from the front office through the first 13 matches leading up to the RSL massacre were neatly wrapped up and showcased in a single league match. Even my girlfriend, who is fairly new to soccer, noticed about half of them. In the first ten minutes.

I suspect, by now, that the folks in the Revolution front office are fully aware of the club's numerous needs. Mike Burns knows. Steve Nicol knows. Brian Billelo knows. Slyde probably knows as well.

There are probably a few reasons - good reasons - why they haven't addressed these deficiencies before. Good players are hard to find. We're in a bad economy. Injuries. Unreliable wi-fi. Bad advice from inside contacts.* All very valid excuses as to why the club boasts not only a -14 goal differential, but a fairly lucky 11 points through 14 matches.

(*Now, I'm often wrong - very wrong - on this blog, but I'm thinking that the guy who recommended Joseph Niouky probably won't be having his calls returned anytime soon.)

Here's the problem: those excuses apply to every single MLS team on the planet. The Galaxy are playing in a bad economy to the tune of 36 points. Granted, their murses are quite a bit fatter than the league average. But if there's one thing "The Beckham Experiment" taught us, it's that you can dump a small fortune on players and still play terribly.

The Dynamo? They've been dogged by injuries. Goodbye to Geoff Cameron for the season. Brian Ching's been bruised all season. Cam Weaver probably wishes he wasn't as breakable as he's been in the 20-10. But the boys from H-town have somehow avoided the sloppy play and chaotic form (see: 5-0 RSL, 4-0 Chivas USA, and 3-0 Seattle defeats) that have ravaged the Revs all season.

When it comes to player acquisitions, there's absolutely no doubt that good players are like good women: hard to find. Sometimes, you luck out, though. RSL with Alvaro Saborio. Columbus with Guillermo Barros Schelotto. Ashton with Demi. Jake with Vienna. OK, I totally lied about that Jake and Vienna part. Keep your head up, bruh.

The front office has fed the above reasons to the fans, media, blogosphere, and Earth-2 for the better part of the past three seasons, going back to the club's evermore distant 2007 MLS Cup appearance. It is not easy to win an MLS Cup for these reasons, they say. And that is, of course, absolutely true.

Up until this year, they've managed injuries reasonably well, more often by moving players around the pitch rather than adding new names. From the arrival of Stevie Nicol in '02 up until this season, the Revs masterfully managed their roster. It was easy when you had Taylor, Clint, Parky, Shalrie, Rally, Pepe Cancela, Pat Noonan, Jay Heaps and Avery John. They went to four MLS Cups in six seasons.

But when players started leaving, started getting hurt, and started retiring, the Revs tried to do what they'd always done: draft their way out of trouble. They refused to spend their money on the top-flight players that fled Foxboro. They thought that if they drafted well, and played reasonably decent soccer, and not spend money in the process, they could always spit the "good player is hard to find" line.

Alas, it was only a matter of time before that credo caught up to them. What's worse is that if there was ever a time when resources needed to be carefully culled and intelligently invested it was, oh, six months ago.

Take the Hot Tub Time Machine back to February, and the knowns went a little like this: Taylor Twellman, despite what the club vehemently held, could NOT be counted on this season. Brain injuries are just too risky. Jay Heaps had retired. Steve Ralston signed with AC St. Louis. Sure, he eventually returned, but the season began without him. Matt Reis would be out until June. Jeff Larentowicz was traded away. Brad Knighton, a serviceable backup keeper in his own right, also went vamoose.

To counter these titanic losses, the Revs went out and tried to draft their way out of trouble again. They selected Zack Schilawski. Then, Zak Boggs. After that, Seth Sinovic. And for good measure, they signed another draftee, Jason Griffiths, in June.

Oh, and of course, they took the obligatory flier on an international when they signed Marko Pervoic, the former Red Star playmaker who's YouTube footage impressed even the most critical of observers.

In summary, the Revs brought in four college kids and a curiously-free international to address the crater-sized holes on their squad list.

It's now July 6th, and the Revs currently have a total of 11 points. They've been shut out in eight of their last nine matches, including the pair of friendlies against Benfica and Cruzeiro. Think about that. In the last 59 days, the Revs have scored exactly the same amount of goals that Justin Braun - as in, the same Justin Braun currently signed to a developmental contract with the Goats - scored tonight against Houston.

The Revs aren't just a bad team right now. Why stop there? After getting PWNED by RSL, they are now constructing new club standards for futility.

And in light of that televised late-night embarrassment, the situtation is about as clear as it gets: the Revolution backline of Alston-Gibbs-Osei-Sinovic/Tierney is about as solid as a cup of Jell-O pudding. The Joseph-Niouky/Phelan central midfield has FAIL written all over it. Schilawski could have wallet brimming with Black Cards, and still could not buy decent service. They could expand the goals like they were thinking of doing back in the APSL days and Dube would continue find a way to miss. The communication between Perovic - the team's alleged attacking midfielder - and his teammates is comprised of ambiguous hand gestrues, misunderstood instructions, and indecipherable criticisms.

Suffice to say, New England needs good players now. Not tomorrow. Not after the All-Star match. Not after the transfer window opens and they're mathematically eliminated from the cakewalk that is MLS playoff qualification. Now as in "NOW."

One good player is hard to find, indeed. Finding two is like winning ten G's on a scratch ticket. It's going to take a lottery-winner's luck to find the three or four that this team needs to regain its rapidly-deteriorating form.

Let's be honest: it's probably too late. This season is a lost cause. The Easten Conference semis will probably not return to Foxboro in the fall. Given the braintrust's recent track record of uncovering talents such as Niouky, Edgaras Jankauskas, and Stephen Assengue, it's very unlikely that the Revs will find the quality players it needs to burrow out of the MLS basement.

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