RevsNet

From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

A View From Afar, Plus An Interview with Sainey Nyassi

Posted by tonybiscaia on August 25, 2010

A VIEW FROM THE FORT

By Jim Dow

Over the past fifteen years I’ve missed only a handful of Revolution matches, the circumstances being either weddings or travel and in both cases grudgingly. While it is impossible to make matrimonial plans for other people, trips can sometimes be scheduled around home games and when the schedule is released each year is when the planning begins. In this case, however, a chance to go to Uruguay meant that there would be a two-week Revless window with only late night radio on the computer in the hotel room for a chance to see how the games were going.

Drinking whiskey while the boyz held out for a win against the less than dynamic
Dynamo was followed by two terribly disappointing losses that have
effectively squelched the season and quasi-officially rung in the
rebuilding process with the only succor being a two week affair with
Patricia porter, a Uruguayan beer, not an Uruguaya with an anglicized
family name (not uncommon here).

With three league games to be played within a week’s time the small but
increasingly healthy Revolution squad faced their make or break period
of the season but given the results little Jane and Johnny will shoulder
their backpacks to toddle off to school with the die cast and the
remainder of the campaign evolving into a scramble for a place in next
year’s plans, or, bluntly, a ticket out to greener pastures. Either way,
the recent tight-fisted, defensive renaissance offers some qualified
hope for the future, despite falling completely flat against the
supposed offensively feckless Wizards.

Without an in-town stadium, shirt sponsor or a striker to speak of the
Revs recently went on the road only to slink back to Bost- er,
Foxborough after engaging in ill-tempered, losing playoff, er,
relegation battles. Truth be known, the Revs could have been put to the
sword by penalties and/or clear-cut but squandered opportunities by the
opposition during their recent winning streak and they were lucky to get
a point in Philly and three from D.C. and Houston while maintaining
their perplexing but enjoyable hex on Mexican teams to gain a spot in
the final of the Superliga.

A fun statistic is that two of their recent opponents wore the high
modernist, circular symbol of the German People’s Car on their chests
which engendered a passing thought; if the Revs cannot get a sponsor to
pony up for the whole shirt, why not try a parlay like Puebla? There
were at least four different advertisers on the Mexican Primera player’s
upper garments, maybe five if you count the graphics on the shorts. You
could split it up with Double D spread across the front, Ocean Spray
circles on the sleeves, a Harpoon or Sam Adams logo below the nape of
the neck and American Airlines or Best Buy branded just above the rump;
a multi-national and New England combo pack. It certainly would be
colorful and maybe, at a lower bite to the individual backer’s budgets,
more appealing money-wise, while collectively managing to meet the MLS
minimum for flogging off a uniform to a gaggle of patrons and not just
one.

Recent times have been tough for Kraft FC in the image department, being
called out on the internet, by the captain and in the mainstream media
for malfeasance, mediocrity and much more. The response from the F.O.
was first to announce that there will be wrap-around seating in 2011 and
then to trot out a much-traveled second Serb and a youthful Brazilian
refugee from the Romanian and indoor game as potential answers to an
anemic offense on free kick life support courtesy of the team’s original
Belgrade bomber, King Marko of the golden left peg.

Given Perovic’s demonstrated quality, who is to argue with bringing in
another Balkan player, but while the former Red Star prospect is 26
years old and in his physical prime, the new signing, Ilija Stolica, who
has played for the deadly Belgrade enemy Partizan in matches against his
new teammate’s former club that are known as “The Eternal Derby,” is, at
31, possibly a bit on the downside of his prowess as he faces a late
summer and fall in a clearly physical league. With a beautifully taken
strike vs. Houston this may be moot but the arc of Stolica’s career
means that there is everything to prove over the next weeks to be
certain not to join the legions of less than satisfactory striker
signings that seems to be the club’s curse.

An unintentional irony has been the sight of club employees scurrying
about The Morgue clad in t-shirts with the message “midfielders wanted,”
while behind them the ball barely touches the turf from thumps and
bloots by those currently occupying that position. If you subtract
players of the technical skill and patience on the ball of Dempsey,
Dorman, Larentowicz and Ralston, the result is a more hurried, often
formless game that is difficult to watch and the quality of football on
offer has suffered deeply as far as the Revs are concerned.

Yet regardless of the fortunes of the Revolution the remainder of the
2010 MLS season will be interesting, indeed gripping until the last ball
is kicked. Why? Because of the sudden breakthrough of what has come to
be called MLS 2.0, specifically brought about by the serious spending of
Chicago, Seattle, Toronto and, most of all (ugh), New York Red Bull(s).
Suddenly there are players whose last ports of call have been with clubs
like Atlante, Barcelona, Deportivo La Coruna, Shakhtar Donetsk and
Universidad de Chile and national sides like France, Mexico and Uruguay.
Other than the World Cup teams or the Catalan giants, casual fans may
likely go “huh?” but these are serious sides playing in excellent
leagues and if the players coming into MLS from such teams clubs aren’t
creaky or on a final fling for a foreign fortune, their demonstrated
quality will only make MLS a better place to play and watch for everyone
involved. Compare the CV’s of recent MLS signings to the Revolution
prospects and, well, it is embarrassing. Plus, observing league lifers
like C.J. Brown and Mike Petke interact and play with and against the
newly signed DP’s makes it clear that a rising tide does float all
boats.

At the same time, there are teams like Salt Lake who have assiduously
avoided splashing for any DP’s, opting to build a team of middle-class
players (pay packet-wise) who function together like a budget version of
the recent World Cup winners, Spain; by anyone’s standards the ultimate
contemporary t-e-a-m. Imagine an MLS Cup Final between these honest yet
skillful toilers and the energy drink millionaires: Houston (not the
Dynamo but New Britain, i.e, ESPN), we have a story line! This is not to
offer any excuses to the Revolution management; unquestionably they need
to seriously look themselves in the mirror, particularly if their
quasi-accidental, hyper-self-serving business plan is to gain “synergy”
in the seats from the profligacy of Red Bull and others. Such a strategy
would be not only cynical but shortsighted as well; in competitive sport
you can only succeed by doing everything possible to make your team
better. If reports are correct, Juan Pablo Angel pulls down just under
$2,000,000, Thierry Henry about $5.6 million and Rafa Marquez $5.5
million. Since the latter two came on board midway in the 2010 fiscal
year, then they represent a gouge of about $4.65 million on top of the
Colombian virtuoso’s $2 mil for a total of $6.55 million. Because the
first $300K for each player comes from the salary cap, we can subtract
roughly $1 million, but then add the $250,000 luxury tax paid to the
league for the third DP. So the total 2010 hit to the
sports/yuppie/hipster drinks empire is around 6.8 million dollars and
even if they sell out every game remaining they cannot cover their
operating costs, no matter how good the team might be. It is a very
glossy loss leader and there is the rub, Red Bull is an international
brand, they can lose money like crazy on football, Formula One and
whatever else they back because their real agenda, the placement of
their super-caffeinated product, makes back zillions in consumer
awareness.

If you think of Kraft Sports, Inc. how can one possibly compare?
Certainly, the Pats have a little international cache but mostly due to
certain Brazilian backfield connections, which, with creaky joints,
child care and cellulite in the future, will wind down faster than you
can say “Kaka’s knees.” Most of the high rolling clubs in international
football either have whack-job sugar daddies in the form of Ruso-Abu
Dhabian oligarchs at Chelsea and Man City, or coldly calculating CEO’s
like Boca Juniors Mauricio Macri, who used that role to run successfully
for the mayor of Buenos Aires or our own Red Bull, where the football
losses are easily offset by other concerns. Real football doesn’t really
work as a business on the club level; there are just too many expenses
as many of the aspiring U.S. owners of European teams have found out,
Robert Kraft included when he got a look at Liverpool’s books. There has
to be an agenda outside making a profit for the investment to make sense
and aside from selling a few items in the man mall on game days the
Krafts have no other enterprises that clearly benefit from the presence
and on field success of a proper football team, so how can they
responsibly justify throwing good money at the Revs given the currently
non-existent financial and coincidental recompense?

None of this is what serious Revolution fans want to hear and the next
few months should really tell the tale as far as what the most
successful approach might be. If MLS develops into a two-tiered league
with a few rich clubs and the rest, as is the case in every other league
in the world, will the Revs ownership knowingly accept lower status in
order to maintain a foot in the door for a possible payoff somewhere
down the road? And, more importantly, will those fans who are truly
attached to the team, settle for a middle to long term future of being a
perpetual West Brom bouncing up and down sans sponsor, stadium and
striker and getting hammered by the likes of Red Bull’s Chelsea,
Seattle’s Inter, or Chicago’s Barca?

Over the past year Sainey Nyassi has become a regular part of the
evolving Revolution side. It is hard to believe that the 21 year-old
winger is now one of the senior players in point of service, as he came
to the team three years ago, in July of 2007. While there are a number
of inconsistencies in his game, his general progress has been such that
he is now the first player that opposition teams seek to neutralize,
often through excessive fouling and rough play. Yet the speedy Gambian
keeps bouncing back for more punishment and when he is on song, the New
England offense shows signs of breaking out of the torpor and playing an
entertaining brand of football. I spoke with Nyassi recently after
training.

JIM: When you first got to the team, in 2007, you were just fresh from
the Sub-20 World Cup and played only intermittently that year. Now, fast
forward to 2009 and you are starting regularly on the wing, I’m curious
to know what has changed for you, what has progressed for you over this
time?

SAINEY: I think that in ’07, it was my first year and I was getting into
the team, (trying for) a place, so I just (kept working) and now I’m
playing. I’ve been working hard on my weak points, I listen to (the)
coaches and they tell me what my weak points are and I worked on (them)
and now I’m getting better and better, I think. There is no change in
the league, it is the same game, you know, I’ve just adapted to the
system and I’m used to everything now so everything is OK and I’m
getting more time on the field and that’s good for me.

JIM: It seems to me that watching your progress, now you are the
Revolution player that other teams try to take out of the game, which
means they try a lot of physical stuff on you to try and intimidate you,
or at least restrain you. How have you adapted to this? I notice that it
looks like you are lifting more.

SAINEY: Yes, I go to the (gym), sometimes I do pushups and I will go to
the gym if I have days off (from training). But in the game, you know, I
have to be just smart enough if I have a lot of guys are around me who
are trying to get me down I just need to make a good pass and play to my
teammates but if I have, maybe, one guy I can take that guy on all day
one on one… that’s what Stevie told me (to be) wise and I think I’m
working on that too, so I’m learning how to do that and I’m getting
better and better. I know that any team that we play in the league the
only target is always me, you know, what they tell them is, “close him
down, close him down and always have guys around him,” so Stevie said,
“OK, now you have to realize that if you have a lot of guys around you,
make a pass, or maybe cross the ball into the box” and I think that is
what I am doing, so to avoid injuries and (so forth).

JIM: I noticed, for instance, at the very end of the SuperLiga game
against Puebla, you came down on the outside, beat a couple of guys but
there was still one more defender, so you put it back to a teammate who
gave a perfect ball into the box that should have been a goal but the
point is that you seem to be playing with the ball at your feet with
much more confidence and intent now and knowing where your teammates are
going to be. Has that come about from playing consistently with the
different players?

SAINEY: Yes, that does help me a lot, getting more time on the field and
getting used to it, knowing where my teammates are and being aware (of)
what’s going on around me, that’s helping. The other day I had beaten
those two guys, and there was one more, so I played the ball back and
so we got a good ball in the box and we could have scored but Kenny
missed that chance, so I think my teammates always know where I’m going
to put the ball or sometimes they know where I want it, so that’s
helping me and we are beginning to understand each other a lot better
now and it’s helping me a lot, yes.

JIM: It must be funny, you are 3,700 miles from home and your brother,
Sanna is almost twice the distance, another 2,400 miles in Seattle; so
you are kind of in the middle. Plus you are twins and your brother plays
in a big NFL stadium with fake grass and you play in a big NFL stadium
with fake grass and he plays on the outside and you play on the outside,
do you guys talk to each other all the time?

SAINEY: Yeah, we talk to each other a lot, a lot, a lot; sometimes on
Skype, sometimes on the phone, about the game and about life and you
know, I think he is happy in Seattle and with my being here. Sometimes
he tells me “I want to come join you in New England,” and I say, “yeah,
well, OK…”

JIM: That would be pretty terrific; can you play on the left and the
right?

SAINEY: Yeah, yeah, back home and on the national team we play (that
way), sometimes we switch and I’m on the left and he’s on the right, we
do that a lot. So I told him, you come any time; that would be fun, it
would be great if we were on the same team.

JIM: Could you stand rooming with him or would he have to have a
separate place?

SAINEY: No (he could stay with me) we are close, really close.

JIM: I am curious about this twin thing in the sense of the places that
you both play in. Seattle plays in the middle of the city; does your
brother live in the city?

SAINEY: He lives, I think, about twenty, twenty-five minutes from the
city; he doesn’t live in the city.

JIM: Now you guys play out here, in the far suburbs, do you live in
town?

SAINEY: No, I live near here, I don’t live in the city. I live about
fifteen or twenty minutes from here.

JIM: Again, it must be really interesting because his whole game
experience, as far as the atmosphere and situation in Seattle must be
completely different from yours.

SAINEY: Yeah, yeah, it is, you know they have a lot of fans and but it
is the same game, you just get on the field and do what you gotta do,
you know, it is more exciting in Seattle there are a lot of fans, it is
great to play there, great atmosphere and great fans, you know, so he is
always happy when they have home games and he gets to play (in front of
all those people), he’s happy there.
JIM: I noticed that in the SuperLiga semifinal there was a really small
crowd but everybody who was in the stadium was a real football fan, they
wanted to be there and they were into it. The atmosphere was amazing, do
you guys as players on the field notice the difference, not in the sizes
of the crowds so much but as in the kind of crowds that you have. So
when you get a crowd that really understands the game and what they are
watching, can you feel it on the field?

SAINEY: Although we have a small amount of fans they are good fans, they
are always behind us for the entire game but you can tell the difference
when you play against Seattle, or when we were in Philadelphia, they
have great fans and it helps, it helps, it motivates players more on the
field if you have a lot of fans, it motivates players, especially when
you are playing at home, you have a lot of fans behind you, it motivates
you, you keep going and going, you want to satisfy the fans and make
them happy and keep winning and winning… like I say, it is the same
game without fans or with fans, you still play (hard) you know but…

JIM: When Paul Mariner was here, in a sense he coached the offense and
Stevie coached the defense, now that he’s gone back to England. Who are
you working with mostly about improving your game?

SAINEY: I work with Stevie himself and the (other) coaches and some of
my teammates who have got experience about the game, like I used to have
Steve Ralston, Steve Ralston helped me a lot, he helped me a lot in the
game, to get used to it, to be aware what is happening in the game and
how to cross the ball, where to run, what to do when you have a lot of
guys around you and stuff like that. Not to lose the ball all the time,
keep it, if it isn’t on, look for a teammate and play, so Steve was
helping me, Steve Ralston was helping me a lot about it and Stevie
(Nicol) himself, I think now he is satisfied with me, (I think) Stevie
is happy with the way that I’m playing.

JIM: If there is a player that you have patterned yourself after, who is
it? A player that you would look to, not so much on this team, or even
in this league but a player whose style you emulate, or is there one?

SAINEY: Umm, yes, Thierry Henry, yet ah since when I was back home (in
The Gambia) I used to watch him play for Arsenal and so he’s my favorite
player, you know.

JIM: So in September you will be able to walk over to him and say
something to him and then run by him with the ball?

SAINEY: Yeah, hopefully in September I’ll get to play against him and,
hopefully, try to get his jersey or at least talk to him, that will be
exciting for me.

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