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From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

Too Late To Try Triage or Transfusion? A Template For A Grocery List For The 2009 Season

Posted by tonybiscaia on May 27, 2009

Plus an Interview With Chris Tierney

A VIEW FROM THE FORT: By Jim Dow

As a result of years of staying in less than first class motels from Texarkana to Tucumcari I know the signs of a shoddy carpet better than most. They generally take the form of a nauseatingly ersatz grassy green matted surface, sticky in parts, slippery when wet and covered with moldering markings of past indiscretions. Sound familiar?

This is precisely what was has been on offer when the Revolution have taken the field for three of the past four matches, two at home at Gillette Stadium and one on the road in Toronto and while the most recent kafuffle, a 3-1 loss that could easily have gone the other way, the fact remains artificial turf is awful under any conditions; fog, rain or even a bright, brisk spring day north of the border, it doesn’t matter, proper football should be played on proper grass.

The home pitch of the New England Revolution offers an unkempt surface worthy of a motel room rented by the hour, so perhaps those in charge at Revland could put a note to Kraft Sports on the door asking to please arrange to clean and buff the carpet in #1 Patriot Place, it is getting a bit skanky. Somehow I think that this wouldn’t do at the Renaissance Boston Hotel & Spa just across the way or even at the lowbrow Lord Fox a mile or two down Rte 1.

At the same time creeping doubts re. playing surface hygiene and logistics are compounded by the present competitive situation. The coaching staff has been forced to execute an offensive triage given the dearth of available front line talent, which has obliged them to bring their two most complete footballers forward to try and address a dearth of goals.

But neither Joseph nor Ralston possess that instant first step when playing back to frame and thus cannot turn the assault zombies and resident muggers that populate most MLS rear guards quite quickly enough to get clear shots. As a result these two seriously great players (and Ralston may be the most skilful and subtle U.S, offensive footballer to ever grace MLS) are forced to operate at less than full effect, despite the appearance that Shalrie actually enjoys being up front and leads the team in tallies with three hard won goals.

Prototypical gridiron puntball coaches endlessly babble about drafting the “best athlete available” with the outrageous implication that a 190 lb. flanker might be able to last for one nanosecond as a defensive end. Prototypical footy managers, carrot topped Scotsmen included, speak similar blather about “proper footballers being good footballers anywhere,” but neither of the breed, Jesus freak gorilla guru or Euro suave soccer savant, really believe himself or herself for a second.

At the highest level, can you imagine Leo Messi posting up, Twellman style, to receive the loving attentions of the likes of Fabbio Cannavaro or John Terry while waiting for a ball to his feet? Not! If the best all around footballer on the planet can’t do it, what hope does Kenny Mansally have when he turns his butt end to Jimmy Conrad, Wade Barrett or, God help him, Dema Kovalenko? No chance in hell and, one step further, other than TnT, the Revolution currently have no regular forward capable of withstanding the gaff and holding the ball to allow for a continued, useful buildup, particularly if Steve Ralston and Shalrie Joseph are alongside waiting rather than a bit farther back, delivering.

The match against Toronto brought all the aforementioned problems to the fore. The TFC skill players, De Rosario, Guevara and the seemingly lumpen but actually dexterous Dichio all were playing in their proper positions, with an appropriate supporting cast laboring on their behalf while their New England counterparts, Joseph, Ralston minus the still absent Twellman, worked flicks, back heels, layoffs and dummies, sometimes effectively but were caught short by physical and mental mistakes made by others in the middle of the park where they normally play. The New England midfield isn’t the same without #’s 14 and 21 and their replacements aren’t currently up to either conceptualizing or executing the offensive/defensive multitasking that is required in the Nicol system.

It could be that when Albright and Twellman return the clearly skillful, tough as nails Emmanuel Osei may move up into a position that approximates his number five shirt and if this happens he might effectively pair with Larentowicz, leaving Ralston to roam across the midfield and Twellman to partner with Shalrie in the frontline. While this lineup would be significantly more effective offensively, it is gallingly obvious that the Revs need another established forward immediately if they aspire to make the playoffs, no matter who returns from the current hospital list.

After a long, often frustrating search, it appears that the MLS salary cap for 2009 is somewhere around $2.5 million (one finds reports from $2.3 up to $2.8) and the Revolution total pay packet, with generous adjustments for the addition of Assengue, Barnes and Osei (who aren’t included on the Players Union listings), plus the waiving of Fernandez, etc. somewhere over $2 million.
While much has been written regarding additional expenses for 2009, which range from the Rev Girls to the development teams, the salary cap $$$ are strictly for playing staff, not for jiggle factor, gunpowder for the Sons of Liberty’s blunderbusses or jockstraps for the Baby Revs. There may be a significant line for bonuses, incentive clauses, etc, for the senior side that aren’t published but even things like transfer fees should be coming from different lines, like allocation money.

Over the past couple of years the coaches have had their passports stamped multiple times in a variety of countries and have returned from their travels with long grocery lists, ranging from the ideal prime cut choice to more affordable options and, it seems, in each case those upstairs at league and team level have gone for lower priced talent, resulting in signings like Gabriel Badilla, Mauricio Castro, the aforementioned Gambians, Emmanuel Osei and the talented but truly raw Assengue who replaces the talented but tiny Argenis Fernandez. While the Ghanaian, Osei has stepped right in and won a place in the first eleven on merit and Badilla and Castro may do the same when and if they return from the treatment table, the younger signings are suffering from being without any development matches to gain experience and are having to learn and adapt on the job at senior level, something quite beyond them at the moment. But now in late May, with leagues all around the world winding down, perhaps an alternative, higher priced player might be procured, if only to buy time and respectability.

Of course there will be pots of candidates to pick from, presuming the cash and circumstances are right, an already questionable proposition based on the team’s past record but for the sake of argument what follows is a list of offensive players that I have actually seen play and who are in good health and physically able to stand the gaff in MLS. This lets out current rumor faves, Luis Figo and Michael Owen, great players both, the best in their time but total gambles in 2009s even on the softest of grass pitches. Summer heat, plastic turf, long flights in chicken class are not for these two I should think and would be risky in the actuarial sense as well. The suggestions below are only to establish a standard for discussion, they are many equally excellent alternatives.

Of players who could step right in and contribute and likely go the distance, let’s start with Jose Sand, a goal-scoring machine currently playing for Lanus in Argentina. At 29 years of age he is La Primera’s version of Taylor Twellman, minus the injuries who pots goals in bunches in the league but hasn’t attracted Euro attention until recently and has only two caps with the albicelste and these for friendlies. Transfer cost aside, he might want a couple of million, he was reportedly the best player seen when Nicol and Mariner were shopping in Buenos Aires a year ago. While there are some rumors that big clubs in Europe want him, it hasn’t happened yet, so why not try? Imagine the quality of Juan Pablo Angel here, that’s what you would get.

Then there is Adolfo “Bofo” Bautista, a magical Mexican midfielder cum forward, at present just finishing up his contract with Jaguares of Chiapas. He’s moody, 30 years old but absolutely brilliant when on song. Forwards get serious physical attention in MLF, so he could certainly take the gaff Stateside and he is still in his prime. He would make beautiful music with Ralston, etc. and can play in the hole behind the forwards or straight up front. He too could easily want well more than $1,000,000.

A tough, gritty, bull of a striker is Bruno Marioni, an Argentine now playing with Atlas, who has often spoken of trying his hand in the States. He is older, 33, but hard and skilled, well suited to prosper in the rigors of our domestic league, maybe needs a million as well. You can scout him yourself come SuperLiga, he’ll play two at the Morgue and would thrive with service from Ralston and Joseph, plus make a fine partner for TnT.

Another hard rock target man is Barros Schelloto’s old Boca buddy, Martin Palermo who might require a bit less, perhaps $850,000 now that he is winding down at La Bonbonera. He is fearless, can both knock down balls for others and score, a Connor Casey/ Danny Dicio with Latin flair and even at 35 he would be a ninety-minute grinder in the box.

Or how about Eddie Johnson, currently a cult figure at Cardiff City, on loan from Fulham, where he was The Duce’s homie off the pitch but absolutely hopeless on it. This has put him below the US Nats radar and exiled to Wales where he has been doing well, however starring with the Revs might get him back to where he was before WC 06; he might play for $750,000, but it could take more. Lower down, perhaps a stretch but very attractive for the money is Stern John, out of contract and formerly a great success in MLS, maybe $250,000 could bring him into the fold.

It would take a difficult double of swallowing pride and burying the hatchet to bring back Pat Noonan at $175,000, presently picking up splinters in Columbus. It isn’t clear if he still has the ability to sell his cutback but other than unrealized potential he has a great deal more going for him than the incumbents at the moment. Finally San Jose might let go of Ryan Johnson, a fast, strong local product, listed at $70,000 on the MLS salary sheet. These last two suggestions would require a trade, likely of a defender, probably a young one.

Of course signing any forward is a toss of the bones, none of them are cheap, costing between two and sixty times more than the $34,500, plus transfer fees and/or trade(s), that Dube, Mansally and Nyassi are each presently pulling down. Yet the need for a quality front player is painfully obvious, if the team’s full potential is to be realized. Imagine the current lineup against Atlas or Santos Laguna, to say nothing of Chivas USA, or even D.C. United this weekend.

At the end of the day, figures like these, or even higher, spent on either acquiring new talent or rewarding players who have proven themselves in league play are beginning to become the cost of doing the business on the field as MLS strives to become more major league. The question the current situation seems to ask is be can the New England organization adapt to the changing ways of building and maintaining competitive quality?

Chris TierneyCompletely at the other end of the pay scale is second year midfielder Chris Tierney, who seems to be slowly, steadily elevating his game from week to week to the point where he can be counted upon for four or five great southpaw setup passes, corners, free kicks or crosses per match. If the front line, as currently composed, were slightly sharper at converting his service the Revs might have had at least a couple more goals and, perhaps, wins. Not pacey enough to be left out wide without cover behind, he appears to be thriving playing in front of Jay Heaps and would benefit even more from being next to and not trying to set up Shalrie Joseph although as it is he is finding the classy Grenadian with a variety of accurately struck balls of differing distance, weight and spin. I caught up with the well spoken Nobles and UVA product after a recent training session.

JIM: This is your second year with the Revolution, what are some of your impressions based on your experience thus far as a professional?

CHRIS: It is definitely a lot different than my first year was, the first year I was trying to sort out how I was going to fit into the team and see where my personality would fit within the team and get along with the guys. So this year has definitely been a little easier for me… it’s just been easier adjusting with the team, I’ve been more comfortable with the guys, I sort of have a more established role on the team, I got to pick up a little bit of experience last year and I think it is paying off this year.

JIM: In most pro sports in the States the players aren’t from the area where they actually play, in the rest of the world, maybe half the team comes from the local side’s youth setup and most of those players are from nearby. With the Revs, it must be an interesting combination, with a significant number of you now being relatively local and yet other players being from as far away as one could possibly be. How does that work in terms of the team fitting together?

CHRIS: Definitely our group of local guys all grew up watching the team, coming to games, always aspiring to play for the local team, which was the Revolution, when I came here it really was a dream come true, I’ve always wanted to (be here) and it’s great to play in front of family and friends but also to have those other local guys on the team who sort of know what it is all about here, so it definitely adds a good dynamic to the team.

JIM: Do you guys tend to help the folks from out of town, telling them where to go, etc, or do people tend to scatter off into their own bubbles out here in the far suburbs?

CHRIS: In terms of going into the city and stuff we always give guys hints and try to help them out with some spots and apartments and stuff like that and where to live, so it definitely doesn’t hurt to be from around here.

JIM: As for your playing, you’ve been playing two positions now, both outside midfield and left fullback, the accuracy and quality of your left foot is making a reputation for you, how have the adjustments to the two different positions been, or do you have to adjust, shift gears?

CHRIS: It is definitely an adjustment, playing left back in a 4-4-2 you get to go forward a little bit but I really like the chance to be in a little more advanced position on the field and put in some penetrating passes which is really what my game is centered around, so it is definitely an adjustment but, you know, good soccer players should be able to play a number of positions and sort of be a utility guy, so that is something that I always try to make sure that I have in my game.

JIM: And, for example, in a week like this one, building up in going to Toronto, you have three more training sessions before the match, do the coaches say, “O.K. this week you are going to be a midfielder, so work on that,” or is it pretty much that you just train regardless?

CHRIS: No, it’s pretty much (just) training, you know training is more about getting your touch right and as we get more towards the end of the week we start getting into positions and doing more of the tactical stuff, so that is the time I really focus on the positioning (involved in) that position. You know, left back and left mid are similar positions in a lot of ways, the central focus is a little different but there’s definitely a lot of overlap in the two spots.

JIM: In the way that you play, do you look for the ball to be given to you quickly, do to find positions to be open wide, how would you describe your style in the ways in which you look for the ball and then give it?

CHRIS: Ideally for me I always try to be as wide as possible and the part of my game that I need to work on more is trying to get at people at bit one on one… I’m more in the mold of a player who’s going to try and bend it around you and look for passes as opposed to being someone who is going to try and blaze by players which really isn’t my game, so I just try to be in good positions and get the ball in advanced positions where I’m already in a spot where I can make a dangerous pass instead of having to do that by running by people.

JIM: When I watched David Beckham play against the Revs in LA last year, he has one or two patented moves that he uses once he has controlled the ball to buy himself time to line up the pass or cross, he checks back on defense, he is obviously a very, very good player but he performs to the very best he can within certain limitations, do you aspire to that profile for yourself?

CHRIS: Absolutely, I’ve watched David Beckham a lot growing up and he’s the sort of player that I try to mold my game after, if you look at the way that he sets himself with his first touch he always puts himself in a good position to play the next pass and you don’t see him trying to dribble out of trouble and getting into sticky positions because he is so good at putting himself in a place where he receives the ball where there is no pressure around him and then he uses his passing accuracy which is, in my opinion, probably the best in the world, to really make dangerous passes which is his game.

JIM: the team has three new players at the back, plus Igwe, so there is a lot of youth on the back line, plus some experience in Albright and Heaps, would you say that at this point that is the strength of the team, to build up from the back, both literally with the ball but also for the future?

CHRIS: I think our backs this year have done a phenomenal job, the new guys coming in, Kevin and Darius, have gone above and beyond what anyone really expected, looking at two guys who are rookies, you rarely see guys who can come into the league and be as composed and (be) as much impact players as those two are. They are doing a great job; you really feel the sense of comfort when there are teams coming at us because of the ability of those guys to make plays.

JIM: A couple of years ago Jeff Larentowicz said that the hardest adjustment coming in from college is that you get to July and the season is only half over, what have you done or what will you do to deal with that reality?

CHRIS: That is absolutely true, it is a very long season, we’ve already played eight (now nine) games and you can already see it taking its toll on a bunch of players. You just have to try and pick stuff up from veteran guys who have been there, these older guys on our team who are still playing after twelve years (or more) in the league, Steve Ralston, Chris Albright, Taylor, those guys who take care of themselves like professionals, so you try to pick up on that stuff and make sure you are eating the right things, taking care of your body and that really pays off come the 28th, 30th games of the year.

JIM: Of course in college your whole life is sort of prescribed for you, you have classes, studying, a campus, you have to do this, you have to go there, then suddenly, you are training two hours a day and that’s it.

CHRIS: Exactly.

JIM: Now you are from here, so there is the familiarity with places to go, friends, family, etc. but still it must be a tremendous adjustment.

CHRIS: It is an adjustment; it’s tough for young players a lot of the time, they don’t know how to take care of themselves and what to do with that down time. You can spend that time taking care of your body and strengthening whatever you need, getting stronger, getting more flexible, so that downtime is something that you need to learn how to utilize and make it work in your favor towards becoming a better player.

JIM: Besides Beckham, who were some of the other players that you grew up wanting to emulate, or really interested you as players.

CHRIS: Well Beckham would certainly be one and I’ve always watched the way Steve Ralston plays, growing up as a wide guy I always looked at the way he can spot passes and his service and his movement is something that I’ve always tried to emulate.

JIM: You came into this team knowing the reputation of the coaches because you’d worked with them before. What difference does it make for a young professional player to have a coach or coaches who were successful players themselves, over and above any reputation they may have as coaches?

CHRIS: First things first, it gives them credibility, if you look at the playing careers of guys like Stevie and Paul you know that they have played at the top levels and they have been top level professionals and so any advice that they can give you and you can take off of them you know is going to be helpful in trying to get to that level. MLS is not at the level of where they have played (as) yet, so having guys who have played at the very top level of world soccer is a situation that doesn’t come along every day, especially in MLS.

JIM: At the same time, it is pretty unique to have two ex-players with that level of accomplishment who have also coached up through the ranks in this country before they worked at MLS level, so they have an understanding of the U.S. player.

CHRIS: It is definitely a different setup than it is over there (in Europe) and you have to treat (senior) players and developing players completely differently, Stevie and Paul have that as well which is an understanding of where you can find players here, what the differences are in the ways players are developed which are vast, so it really pays off that they have been here and have made the adjustment and really understand what American soccer is.

JIM: Now that the team has a youth setup, do you guys as senior players have anything to do with those kids in terms of being mentors or role models?

CHRIS: No, we actually don’t have as much of a (role), I actually have little knowledge of the development academy, which is something that I think needs to change because it really is a great system in terms of being able to develop players. I played in a system that was very similar, I played with the Bolts, which is sort of what the development academy is turning into, a Premier League club system, so if they can start developing these home grown players when they are 16, 17 years old and start making them play and understand what it takes to be a professional, it can only help the club long term and that is something that I hope we really get involved with more.

JIM: And if you were talking to one of these kids, a young player who obviously had a lot of potential and was trying to make a decision as to whether to go to college or try turning pro right away, what would your advice tend to be?

CHRIS: Just from my experience I think where American soccer is right now I think education still should be a priority. There are obviously special exceptions to that but…

JIM: Do you see education as a sort of plan B or co-equal to trying to become a pro player?

CHRIS: I think right now it is at a point where it has to be on a case to case basis, I couldn’t really say either way, if a player is ready and can contribute and knows that soccer is something that they are going to be able to do for a career then go ahead, why not but if it is sort of a long shot, I think making sure that you get through the college system and get your education and your degree so in case soccer doesn’t work out, you have another outlet.

JIM: Do top level college coaches have the awareness of what is needed as a pro to sit down with one of their players who is thinking about trying MLS or Europe and offer them a realistic analysis of their chances? You played at the top level in college and was it your experience that those coaches had that level of insight into the professional game?

CHRIS: I think, again, it is a case to case basis, some who have been there know and there are others who still looking out for the best interests of their college programs, they’ll bring a player in knowing that they are only going to be able to keep him for a year or two but they’ll bring him in anyway whereas, on the other hand, there are some coaches who really believe in degree, degree, degree, education first and then go get a shot at the pros.

JIM: Well you studied with the soccer equivalent of a PhD level faculty when you were playing club and college soccer between Kerr, Mariner and Nicol, so advice that you would have gotten would have been very highly nuanced in terms of what the future might hold for you.

CHRIS: I wasn’t even close to the level of being able to be a professional when I was coming out of high school but when I started realizing that becoming a pro was an option I talked with John Kerr and he said education first, he thinks it is still the most important thing. There are obviously exceptions but for me and for players like me who develop a bit later on I think it is always important to graduate (with a college degree).

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