Time for Revs to End the Nicol Era
Posted by Mike Marshall on May 18, 2009
By: Mike Marshall
Watching the Revolution hold on to a 1-1 draw for dear life at home against the Colorado Rapids, you got the sense that you were witness to a Dead Team Walking. Sure, the Revs still have a host of players making daily trips to the trainer’s room, but with all due respect to the job that Gary Smith and Paul Bravo are doing, they weren’t exactly facing Manchester United.
As the MLS season hits the quarter pole, New England finds itself struggling to stay in the pack. Far more concerning then the team’s 2-2-4 record is how they’ve looked. Eight games down, and the Revs have probably been outplayed in six or seven of them. They’ve been outshot 136-57. They’re last or next to last in the league in goals, assists, shots, shots on goal, shots allowed, fouls committed, and corner kicks. All of which suggests that to this point, New England hasn’t don’t much of anything well, with the possible exception of keeping the team’s goals against fairly respectable.
Yes, things will get better. Taylor Twellman should eventually return to action, as should Mauricio Castro and Chris Albright. But Albright and Castro were key members of the squad that failed spectacularly down the stretch in 2008. Can they really be expected to bring the Revs to the top of the tables a year later?
It seems doubtful. Albright might not even be the best right back on the team any more, and even Steve Nicol calls Castro a disappointment.
So, even when healthy, this club seems destined to assume a familiar position – that of pretender, rather than a true contender to the MLS crown. It could be argued that this has been the natural state of affairs for the Revs and their fans for the last eight years, dating back to when Steve Nicol rescued the organization from the depths of the MLS standings in 2001.
Perhaps it’s time to turn the attention to Nicol. There’s no denying that his overall impact on club has been overwhelmingly positive. New England was known for their status as perennial underachievers prior to his hiring on May 22, 2001. Of course, Nicol and Twellman combined to lead the team on a magical late season run to the MLS Cup Finals where 61,316 would have all gone home happy if Winston Griffiths’ deflected volley was six inches lower.
Fast forward six and a half years (…and three more MLS Cup losses), and more than ever, Nicol and erstwhile assistant Paul Mariner seem like they’re out of ideas to break through the glass ceiling.
I’ve always believed that the second you don’t have complete confidence in a manager’s ability to lead your team to a championship, then it’s time to part ways. Is it risky? Sure. In this case, there’s no telling that the next guy would be better than Nicol, or if he’d even be a good manager at all. But keeping someone you’ve lost faith in simply because you’re scared to pull the trigger strikes me as a recipe for prolonged mediocrity. And if you haven’t noticed, that’s where the Revs seem to be headed. While I don’t want the Revs to return to the pre-Nicol era where squeezing into the post-season was cause for a two hour celebration in the parking lot, I can’t say I’m having a lot of fun the club’s current state of perpetual “almost”.
I’m not for a moment suggesting that Nicol has done a bad job in New England. And in that sense, should the organization decide to move on, it won’t be entirely fair. But there’s clearly no denying that the franchise has stagnated the last two years, if it hasn’t already begun a full-fledged backslide.
So, at what point do you give Nicol a firm handshake and say to him, “Thanks for everything you’ve done here, Steve, but it’s time for us to go in a different direction.”
Personally, I’ve reached that point watching the team struggle badly over the past few weeks. And the frustration only grows when when I look at the holes in the roster that have been there for years in many cases and wonder why more wasn’t done to address them. Or when I look at the likes of Wells Thompson and flashback to the Holy Trinity of “I know better than anyone else” first round busts Leandro de Oliveira, Rob Valentino, and Ryan Maxwell.
Steve Nicol has had a very long and comprehensive opportunity to win an MLS Cup. The fact that he hasn’t accomplished his stated goal does not make him a bad person or even a bad coach. But the Revs simply can not keep conducting business as usual and expect different results. No manager in any sport should expect an indefinite number of chances to win a Championship – and Nicol and his staff have more opportunities without success than any in league history.
It’s time for new blood with new ideas. Unless you’re OK with settling for what you’ve seen from the Revs so far this season.