Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Diary of a Losing Club 8/24

It's often said that when a team is hot, it's all about chemistry. Not goals, not defending, not goalkeeping, not managing, and not the mascot. No. It's always more than just statistics, no matter how pertinent they are. For many, it's always more than what meets the eye.

You've probably heard that cliche about chemistry before. The reason why some teams consistently win is due to their ability to get along with each other. To be on the same page. To pack themselves into two Navis and hit the club as a group. To attend each other's barbeques. To do shots of Jack before important games.*

(*You may have heard that the Boston Red Sox attempted this little stunt prior to Game 4 of the 2004 American League Championship Series. Down 0-3 in the series, the Sox threw back a few minutes before the game. Of course, we all know the end result. They never lost again for the remainder of the postseason. Bonding or brainless? You decide. But they didn't call themselves "the Idiots" for no reason.)

Now, I personally don't give a ton of weight to the whole chemistry argument. Don't get me wrong: chemistry is great. It is. So much so I took it twice in high school.* It makes sports really fun and enjoyable. I've been on a few teams that featured a bunch of really cool guys. But on a pair of those teams, we just stunk it up. We had a great time during one such season. I can't remember a better winless team - we went 0-10 - than the one I played for in sixth grade.

(*Because I failed it the first time.)

Is it important to get along with your teammates? Yeah, of course, especially in soccer, where it's clear as stripper heels that a group of eleven players are all on the same page. But chemistry alone doesn't send magical balls into the back of the net. It doesn't make up for the crater-sized holes in the midfield. And it sure as heck doesn't elevate a mediocre team to greatness.

Having said all that, allow me to make the point I intended to make like five minutes ago: the Revolution lack that chemistry to simply have fun and play fluid soccer. You can see it pretty much everywhere. At the back. In the midfield. Up top. On the bench. Even the locker room appears to be split into noticeable cliques.

If you want proof, let's look at the manner in which the goals are being produced. You can talk about Marko Perovic's fantastic form and you would be right to say that he makes this team better. There's no doubt about it. But what's worrisome is the genesis of those goals. Of the five he's scored in league play, three have come from set pieces. Another was a one-man performance against the Red Bulls back in May. In other words, most were singular efforts, completely orchestrated by an individual.

This isn't to say that Perovic isn't a team player. He is. But when push comes to shove - and let's face it, he gets shoved alot - he has no problem taking the ball on his own and hoping to find some daylight. And that's fine, sometimes.

If you want to talk about the evidence of dissarray in the midfield, look no further than the central mids: Shalrie and Pat Phelan. Shalrie is head of the class, no question. He's probably the best player on this team. But, without Jeff Larentowicz, who went bye-bye in the offseason, him and Phelan have often found themselves painfully out of sync many a time this season.

Where do we start with the defending? Kevin Alston is an extremely talented defender. The guy pushes up at will, and has a nice attacking instinct to his game. But the tradeoff is that the left flank he's supposed to patrol is often left vacant. Last year, Steve Ralston, would often slide back to Alston's office and cover for him on the opposing counterattack. It was fairly seemless, until Rally left, came back, then retired.

Then, there's everyone's favorite defender/goalkeeper pairing this side of the Mississippi: Emmanuel Osei and Matt Reis. Let's get to the bottom of it: these guys probably don't exchange snowflake sweaters at Christmas. The rumblings about Osei's communication, or lack thereof, has been hard to ignore. Then, something like Jack Jewsbury's goal happens. Chemistry? That train left the station a long time ago.

In my mind, the Revolution aren't a great team. Although Shalrie and Matt Reis remain, this team struggles to resemble the Revolution teams of the mid-2000s that dominated the East. And that's to be expected. It's not easy to overcome the losses of Larentowicz, Rally, Taylor Twellman, Jay Heaps, Clint Dempsey, Michael Parkhust, Andy Dorman, Jose Cancela, and Pat Noonan. If it were, Steve Nicol would probably stop blaming the refs for this team's predicaments.*

(*Probably, but not definitely.)

Despite how badly they've played at times, this team is talented. Alston is a pretty good fullback. Darrius Barnes is quality centerback. Perovic is a force on the attack. Ilija Stolica looks like he's ready to make some contributions. Meanwhile, Shalrie is still Shalrie, Reis is still Reis, and the young talent (Zak Boggs, Zack Schilawski, and Seth Sinovic) that has shown itself well at times this season.

That's not to say that once these guys mesh and start organizing team trips to Ruth's Chris that the problems will fix themselves. They won't. Though, it is a start. At least they'll look like a pro soccer team, and not a collection of individuals with a set of 11 different ideas.

The Revolution don't need a designated player. A single player won't change this club's fortunes. What they need is cohesion. They need a common understanding. What they need is the wisdom contained in that little cliche: chemistry.

It starts with the manager. Stevie Nicol cannot rest on the laurels of past league success and simply think that the team will automatically regain its swagger. He can't be fooled into thinking he can manage this club the same way he guided the ones that made it to MLS Cup. This is a very different team than the ones the gaffer gaffed during those golden years. Much different. The Revolution of 2010 is almost entirely different than the one that went to the MLS Championship three years ago. Thus, different ideas and different approaches must be made to motivate this group.

From there, the players themselves have to be held accountable, specifically, the leaders. Shalrie, Chris Tierney, Matt Reis, Cory Gibbs and even Pat Phelan to a lesser extent, need to do their jobs to create some dialogue on the training pitch and in the locker room. The guys from the mid-2000s used to play fantasy football amongst themselves. Obviously, that alone didn't steer them to four Eastern Conference titles. But it didn't hurt, either.

A team's successes aren't often the sole result of good team chemistry, but a lack thereof can certainly lead to a team's failures, no matter how talented they are.


Boston Ultras said...

You're right that a DP won't fix everything on the field. But I think a DP would help on the field. More importantly I think a DP would show the supporters that the organization is serious about investing in the team. I think it would create some goodwill between the team and the supporters.


BrianTheOC said...

The right one definitely would, Andrew. But the Revs would also have to surround that DP with a couple more talented players. Look at the JP Angel and the Red Bulls before they went out and got Henry and Marquez...they were still a pretty bad team. To make a DP work here in New England, you also have to commit the necessary funds to surround him with a supporting cast and I just don't see the Krafts undertaking that kind of project anytime soon.