Revos 2012: Blown Up But Now Coming Together? Plus An Interview With Chris Tierney
Posted by tonybiscaia on January 7, 2012
A VIEW FROM THE FORT by Jim Dow
According to (gulp) Wikipedia metropolitan Talca, Chile, home to the newly promoted Clube Social de Deportes Rangers, has a population of just over 200,000 inhabitants of which an average of 1,760 attended the 9 home matches in the 2011 Clausura.
Metro Boston, by way of comparison, boasts some 7.6 million souls living within commuting distance of the city center and, by extension, Gillette Stadium where the bottom dwelling Revolution played 17 MLS matches to an average throng of 13,222.
While seven and a half fans filed into Foxborough for every one that showed up at the 17,000-capacity Fiscal Stadium, it is possible that the latter group made more noise. Of course, given the results, the supporters of Andean version of Rangers had a lot more to cheer about in 2011.
And now New England’s first Designated Player has apparently been offered better terms for his services from a tiny club in Talca than with the Revolution in Major League Soccer, this development, along with other contract negotiations with players who performed well or at least tolerably in an otherwise dismal 2011 seem, from an outsider’s point of view, hard to figure.
When the hardest of hardcore fans called for the Revolution to be “blown up” they weren’t counting on a number of the few effective players present on a poor team apparently being low-balled back to where they came from.
The Fathead poster sent just after Xmas might be a harbinger moving forward. On it are Kevin Alston, Diego Fagundez, Benny Fielhaber, Shalrie Joseph and A.J. Soares. If you add Matt Reis and a few others, you basically have the group that will be on hand to be poked a prodded the first day of training camp January 16th. Will there even be enough players to have an 11 v. 11 scrum, should the two Jays, Heaps and now Miller, want to give the lads a runout?
Without new signings or re-signings, the current core of the team includes a speedy fullback who often punches below his potential, a kid who can’t drive yet, a creative player who craves support, a great stalwart currently on the back nine of his career and a second-year center back with a new ankle, at least that is what is on the poster.
It is certainly possible that Coach Heaps spied some proficient talent on his trips south of the border and they might be of a higher quality, or have less mileage than the current internationals but as it stands now, with less than a fortnight before training camp opens, the Revs have perhaps six MLS-level starters inked and set to go and truthfully, the jury is still out on Diego the phenom, Alston the former phenom while A.J. Soares is a work in progress.
Joseph and Reis, certainly stalwarts and proven entities, are on the downward side of their careers and deserve to be surrounded by good teammates to properly showcase their still high-level skills.
Feilhaber is potentially as good an all around midfielder as the team has ever had, or at least up near the Steve Ralston neighborhood, but he too needs people to play off of, otherwise his abilities will be totally wasted.
In other words a significant upgrade is needed to even get back to the late-season 2011 level what with the apparent shedding of three starters, plus a failure to re-negotiate with the rehabilitated Perovic.
Another way to look at it is that the bar has now officially been set high by those in charge, imagine a team with Caraglio + Lekic + Perovic + Zerka as well as the aforementioned. Yes, further good level players would be needed, particularly at the back, but if those players are allowed to leave then each replacement needs to be an improvement, since signing the incumbents would hardly have busted the cap, particularly with Shalrie now being a true DP.
By their actions and their public assurances that signings are imminent, Biello, Burns and Heaps have mounted the proverbial gibbet and could well be left dangling for public mockery should they be unable to procure sufficient replacements through scouting and the draft, both a risky business in the best of times. But the bar has been set, the gauntlet thrown down and the next few weeks will likely tell the tale.
Jay Heaps is, as others have said, an extremely intelligent individual. Beyond that, he has a Duke history major’s insight into the way decisions are made. In many ways his academic achievements are as impressive as his athletic and he certainly impressed Coach K who likely could tell Jose Mourinho or Bruce Arena a thing or two over fine Porto or Bud Light – whatever. Heaps definitely possesses both a conscience and an analytical bent and I somehow doubt if he flies as much by the seat of his pants as the previous administration, which will probably prove to be a pretty good thing.
Below is an interview with Chris Tierney from the final days of post-season training. Reading it now, many of his insights apply, particularly as background for the season and task ahead. He has much in common with his new coach in terms of smarts and thoughtful answers.
JIM: I assume that players in MLS generally are aware that the league is developing and growing in ways that even as recently as five years ago weren’t imaginable. How does this affect you as a player, thinking about both your short and long term plans, or is this something that you even think about?
CHRIS: Oh yes, it is something we definitely think about, I mean the league has continued to grow in the years that I’ve been here and it has become more livable for us, I think a lot more players are approaching playing as something that they can do as a (long term) career, a way to actually earn money as opposed to more of a hobby, or trying to make ends meet, which was very different. I mean, when I came into the league I made $12,000 my first year which isn’t livable but the minimum salary now is forty grand which is much more livable for guys coming into the league so, like I’ve said, it is a really exciting time to be a part of this… if MLS were traded publically, I’d definitely be buying stock in it right now, so it is a great time to be a player. With the new CBA (Collective Bargaining Agreement) that was signed last year there are a lot more rights that the players have. There’s still definitely a long way to go but…
JIM: Excuse me, but how long is the current CBA for?
CHRIS: I think that it is a five-year agreement but I’m not certain…
JIM: But it is multi-year, not just for a season or two?
CHRIS: Yes, so there has been a lot accomplished. There was a lot we were hoping to get in the CBA that we got but there is still a long way to go for this league but it is still young and there are markets that need to catch up with the big market teams in order to make (MLS) really legit and competitive.
JIM: Thinking about the difference even when you were coming up, the idea of stocking teams from the college draft was still viable, that has really shifted despite the fact that many good players are still coming out of college, now there are 18, soon 19, eventually 20 rosters to fill. How does that affect the players themselves, particularly the U.S. born players, thinking about their futures versus people being brought in from other countries?
CHRIS: I think that for better or worse the college system is going to start to decline as you see the academy programs that are coming up, the MLS-sponsored academy programs like the Revolution Academy and the other teams where it is really beneficial for players to go early and not go to college. You start playing with better players at a younger age and you have a better chance of getting yourself first team experience and making more of a career out of it.
JIM: Do you sometimes think, at least hypothetically, when you are training and you look over and there is Fagundez at sixteen years old, what it might have been like for yourself at sixteen to be exposed to consistent training at this level?
CHRIS: He’s obviously such a talented and exceptional case, but he’s only going to get better and better (and) playing with fully grown men with professional experience is going to make him such a better player that… (well) he just couldn’t get this training elsewhere and now he’s seen first team action and that experience is only going to continue to make him better and better. That’s the idea, to get younger players in earlier and get them first team experience and get them acclimated to living life as a professional soccer player and that is only going to increase the quality of the league. You’ve already seen the result of that with all these young players that are coming in (to the league) and playing real minutes and making an impact.
JIM: The mental adjustment must be tremendous for someone like Diego, or for anyone who doesn’t have the background of being around older people as a sort of social equal.
CHRIS: Yeah, definitely, it’s a huge adjustment. Coming out of college, for me, was really an adjustment and I was at a high quality, Division I program like UVA which was a very professional setting, so I can’t imagine what it is like being sixteen years old and having to live life on your own and worry about making money and dealing with that sort of stuff, so it is a credit to him but, yes, it is a huge adjustment. But I think you will see managers, like Stevie Nicol did this year, they’ll bring these players along slowly and give them time to adapt and let them get their feet wet here and there but, at the same time, keeping in mind that, hopefully, players like Diego will have long careers ahead of them.
JIM: Yes, because you do see so many young players in leagues outside this country who come in at fifteen or sixteen and they just crash and burn. There aren’t too many Messis or Rooneys who can adapt, a huge number are left hanging.
CHRIS: There is definitely a management aspect with those players that you really have to be careful about putting too much pressure on them or having too high a set of expectations, as in the Freddy Adu effect, you saw with him where he came into (the professional ranks) at such a young age, with so much expected of him that it was almost impossible for him to live up to those expectations.
JIM: Thinking now about going forward with the coaching change, do you have any general opinions about the direction that would be interesting and productive for you as a player?
CHRIS: (You mean) in terms of the type of manager?
JIM: Yes, getting somebody who is completely unfamiliar with the team and comes in and shakes things up, or somebody who is familiar with the team… I would think that those things, on the one hand, don’t matter because you are professionals and you show up to work regardless, but one the other hand, leadership matters.
CHRIS: Yes, they definitely matter; every player has, I think, a style of manager that they would prefer. But, you know, I can see pros and cons to both (possibilities), I think getting a young manager with some new ideas and new players would be a good thing but also having a manager who has been in MLS and knows the league is crucial, I think. There are plenty of directions that the team could go with but hopefully they will make a decision that, like I said, (will) bring some fresh ideas and gets us moving in an upward direction because these last two years have been really difficult for us. Whether that (has been) a result of management, I’m not sure but it can’t hurt to start bringing in some new faces and let someone else have a shot at it.
JIM: In relation to that, with the core of the team that exists now, not knowing if Joseph is going to stay or not, but (with) basically the core starters, do you see any different playing style being employed, perhaps making more sense with the talent at hand or, again, is that just a question of you show up and the manager tells you how you are going to play?
CHRIS: Again, the playing style is up to the manager, we played a style of soccer that Stevie liked to play and he was very successful with it for ten years but whether or not we get in new players who are capable of playing a different style, that is up to the new manager and the front office to work that stuff out, so I think the core group of guys that we have are quality players and I think the group that we have here are technical guys that will want to pass and want to play soccer that way but there are so many factors in this league. You play at home on this Astroturf where the ball is pinging around and it is difficult to play a passing, possession brand of soccer, especially at home, so there are a lot of factors that go into it but I’m sure the new manager will come in and assess what we have and adjust the playing style accordingly.
JIM: It is interesting and important that you play sixteen, seventeen, eighteen, whatever it is, matches on a particular surface that forces you to tailor the team to that.
CHRIS: Yes, people really underestimate the impact of that surface out there, the turf, it is so fast and it is so difficult to possess the ball, you know, you are taking extra touches, if you look at the teams around the league that have to play on turf full time, you won’t see the prettiest brand of soccer that you might see in Salt Lake and LA, where they are playing on these huge pitches with nicely wet, freshly cut grass. It is a different brand of soccer, for better or worse and it is what it is, it has it’s advantages for us at home but, like I said, the playing style is the result of the manager coming in, so we’ll see and, hopefully, (it will be) a style that suits us and helps us get some more results next year.