From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

The Revolution Do The Right Thing Twice, Are They Capable Of A Third Time? Plus Club vs. Franchise

Posted by tonybiscaia on August 12, 2012


Thinking about the departure of Shalrie Joseph to the far west coast brings to mind the title of Spike Lee’s groundbreaking film, “Do The Right Thing.” In the case of their long serving and perennially marvelous captain Revolution management did the right thing last fall by attempting to make up, at least to a degree, for blocking his transfer to what would surely have been a more lucrative career in Europe by declaring him a to be Designated Player for the 2012 season. This enabled them to pay Joseph a salary of $495,000 ($554,333.33 guaranteed) while saving almost $200,000 from the overall cap.

While that decision came a bit after the fact, as he had started to slow down due to a combination of injuries, age and a half a decade of soldiering away on an unforgiving playing surface designed for the fall weather form of football, symbolically it was the right thing to do given that Joseph, with his signature hairstyles and consistently fine play was and always will be, the face of the franchise, the man everyone looked to for leadership, energy and the ability to drive his teammates forward in pursuit of the cause.

Along with Dempsey, Ralston, Joe-Max and Twellman, Shalrie Joseph stands as one of the best professional soccer players ever to grace the Boston sporting scene and, just maybe, will someday be given his due. He is, from the soccer point of view, an amalgam of Ray Bourque, John Havlicek, Steve Grogan and Yaz. There should be a statue.

If only ownership’s ambitions had matched Shalrie’s when he was in his prime and surrounded by quality players there might be any number of pots in the trophy cabinet in the Revolution F.O. and far more bums in the seats at Gillette Stadium.

But with his playing time decreased and his influence on the field waning, Jay Heaps & Co. bit the bullet and did the right thing again by sending the iconic midfielder to Chivas USA, a team that will likely put him in the center of the park and give him a major role for the rest of the season, ideally to lead them on a playoff run, something that for a multitude of reasons just wasn’t and isn’t going to happen this season in Foxborough.

Hopefully, and with the greatest of respect for the great Grenadian, Robin Fraser will provide him with a runner just as Thomas Rongen did for Carlos Valderrama with a then young, endlessly energetic Steve Ralston foraged for and supplied balls for the aging Colombian maestro thereby utilizing his skill and vision while not hurting the Mutiny defensively. If Chivas’s formation and personnel can allow for that Shalrie may well go out in style. The Goats are, at present, seven points off the playoff pace but with three matches in hand relative to their closest rivals and the LA clasico ahead.

Had Joseph stayed in New England, playing a 4-4-2 or 4-3-2-1 there would have been too much ground to cover in the middle for those formerly impassable, all encompassing “extendo-legs.” On the other hand if Joseph played in the middle of a five-man midfield his diminished range could have been compensated for by those next to and around him but with Avery John, Michael Parkhurst and, yes, Jay Heaps long gone three at the back was never an option for the current gaffer, not with Alston, Barnes, Lechner, McCarthy, Polak, Soares and Tierney as options to pick from. If Coach Heaps was going to play a 3-5-2 to allow for Joseph to sit in the middle and spray signature balls to his mates he would have had to play that same Shalrie as the sweeper/stopper between two youngsters and not even Genzyme was going to make that happen. The new administration may have contemporary and enlightened ideas about conditioning but cloning at this point is well beyond their ken.

At one point in Lee’s film one of the characters opines that, “those that’ll tell don’t know, and those that know won’t tell, “ an apt summary as Joseph’s departure leaves the Revolution perhaps as much as a few hundred thousand dollars below the salary cap. But with the transfer window closed, the trade with Chivas yielded only a possible prospect, a second round draft choice and an undisclosed amount of cash. With Carlos Bocanegra seemingly staying in Europe and the fix on for the Red Bulls it is hard not to think that any opportunity for a big time upgrade to the current team has passed the Revolution front office by.

At the apex of Joseph’s playing career, when the Revos were as good a side as played in MLS the management/ownership refused to make use of the then excess cash under the salary cap to bring in additional players to allow the exhausted first team some respite for playoff and championship runs. This led to three defeats in the Cup Finals of 2005,06 and 07. Whether this was down to penury or lack of ambition those that know won’t tell but now, in the wake of the departure of such a stalwart, will management again do the right thing to support continued improvement to an improving side as a legacy for perhaps the greatest Revolution player ever?

With the waiving of Jon Lozano and Jose Moreno plus the retirement of Zak Boggs there really is no excuse. Does management intend for the team to play out the string two senior players down? The addition of Jerry Bengston is to be lauded and Dimitri Imbongo may well have potential but there are other positions to be improved upon and there is cash in hand to do it. If the past is any indication, they may now stand pat but if this is, indeed, a different era, then despite the odds maybe, hopefully, we will see a significant addition in the days ahead.

From the Business Page of the Boston Globe…Manchester United joins New York Stock Exchange: Associated Press – July 31, 2012

LONDON — Manchester United launched its New York Stock Exchange listing on Monday, hoping to raise around $330 million by selling 10 percent of the Premier League club.

The record 19-time English champions said in a filing to the Securities and Exchange Commission about 16.7 million shares will be offered at a cost of between $16 and $20.
United is looking to raise funds to help reduce debt from the Glazer family’s 2005 takeover, rated at $663 million as of March 31.

The Glazers will retain control of the club through its ownership of Class B shares, which will have 10 times the voting power of the stock sold to the public….

If that doesn’t say it all about the profitability of big-time, free market football, I don’t know what does. There go the Tampa Bay Glazers, leveraging the value of perhaps the most recognizable football brand in the world to pay off the debt incurred to buy the team in the first place!

In other words, ManU turns a profit sure, but then ownership borrows against it in some reverse Ponzi scheme, gambling that some day they will recover their hedge and start making a profit on as big a sporting brand as exists in the world.

Fittingly, just like Facebook, the Glazers big plunge on the Big Board turned out to be a damp dishrag, at least on the first day when the Red Devils stock closed just as it opened, at $14 a share. One analyst attributed the flat first day to investor awareness that the red side of Manchester is distinctly in the red, to the tune of perhaps hundreds of millions of dollars and finished their fiscal year second in the league and seriously in debt.

On a far lesser scale, it officially is time to worry for Kraft Sports when AC Milan, a lesser brand than ManU but still a big deal, is outdrawn by a Patriots practice session. If that isn’t cause for significant soul searching in the bowels of KSG, it does function as a barometric marker for those who care about such things.

As training camp began the Pats drew 12,163 on a Thursday, 13,654 on a Friday and over 14,000 on Saturday and were said to have had almost 20,000 in attendance on the Sunday. The Revolution in their past four matches drew 15,624 vs. Seattle, 14,374 against NYRB, 12,180 vs. Toronto and, finally 17,592 in a doubleheader with AC Milan and Olimpia from Honduras, a game which was according to observers was, at least in the first half, the best football played in New England this year.

With attendance near the bottom of the league and local media interest, beyond the select few who cover the team, at a new low the question has to come to mind, why bother? As someone who values watching live MLS football above even the best standard available on TV, I can offer a hundred arguments for attending Revs matches but for most folks most of them fail to hold water. Certainly, given the prices, weather and the Olympics, it was perfectly understandable why so few fans showed up for the doubleheader this past weekend. I chose to watch the Olympics rather than Olimpia and only made for Gillette for the Revolution match, entering the stadium while thousands were fleeing in the other direction.

The soccer-interested public has to be given real, compelling reasons to come out for live football in Foxborough, far more than boxing matches, bobble-heads, doubleheaders and other blandishments. Having been in Portland and Seattle the week before the contrast was worse than painful. The papers there are full of Sounders and Timbers stories, there is gear in the airport shops and tickets are hard to come by. The soccer teams seem to peacefully co-exist with the local “American” sports and the coverage is far, far less parochial than here.

On the other hand, the ownership of these teams, as well as the other successful MLS clubs attendance-wise, are able by dint of location, to reach out to segments of the population that don’t necessarily define themselves through the traditional big four U.S. sports. This includes all manner of young people looking for the kind of buzz that comes from something generally perceived as being alternative. Then there are people for whom the local MLS side has become a kind of second team, after the one (s) they or their parents supported in their former homeland. Certainly a sufficient number of both of those groups live in the metro Boston area and beyond but they likely don’t, won’t or can’t choose to drive out to the far ‘burbs, nor will they in the future unless there are either groundbreaking events in soccer terms or groundbreaking for a stadium within city limits.

So, the current reality is that the Revolution are now the current version of the former Kansas City Wiz, playing in a monster NFL structure to sparse crowds. And all these woes are compounded by the fact that the team is currently in transition, with all the attendant hiccups encountered by having a youthful coach, lots of new players of widely varying possibilities TBD and a playing surface that is hardly conducive to the style of play that the aforementioned new boss hopes to impose.

Having spent nearly a decade interviewing players, coaches and management folks at the Revolution they seem to be a truly interesting bunch. A significant part of that is that they generally have a worldview; even if they are suburban soccer born and bred, they appreciate that the game extends far beyond the borders of this country and that there are many differences to be appreciated and explored. It is a great narrative to tell and to sell, far more so than chicken and beer or Gisele. The question is how to make such stories relevant and of interest to those people that might fit the profile for new fans.

It may prove worthy of note to think of the other sports group in town; the Fenway Sports Group who may well have gotten in over their heads investment-wise. Liverpool, like ManU is a club, indeed professional soccer teams across the world are clubs not franchises and, if their ambition is to succeed at the very, very top, they will never make a profit, not as long as various mafiosi, oligarchs and sheiks are allowed to pour profligate billions into snapping players from every corner of the globe. If you think of Man City, Real Madrid, PSG and Chelsea, for starters the Glazers or John Henry & Co. with their revenue-driven intentions are doomed, at least competitively. You have to bleed cash to succeed on the pitch at the highest levels, the ledgers of every successful club will tell you that.

The Krafts, on the other hand, own two teams that are part of controlled competitive enterprises; they are as protected in MLS as they are in the NFL. The difference however is that they spare no expense outside the respective and quite different salary caps when it comes to the gridiron; coaches, scouting, people to fiddle the salary cap, publicity, new exercise equipment, a cafeteria – the lot. Of course these outlays are offset by the huge TV profits that the NFL generates, along with merchandising, to say nothing of attendance, although it is said that every NFL team would still make money if the games were played in empty stadiums. A hesitancy to throw extra money at the sparsely attended Revolution while regrettable is understandable since for MLS TV and replica kits are at this point good public relations but not big revenue streams and thus the balancing act between doing the right thing by the competitive needs of the club and the balance sheet is a tough one.

And yet, the value of holding an MLS franchise may soon approach $100 million. While that is perhaps 10% of the worth of the Patriots or ManU, the crazy, insane, mad truth is that should they choose to sell, KSG likely stands to make more of a profit on soccer, at least in relative terms, than the Glazers (ManU), Tacopina, DiBenedetto and Pallotta (AS Roma) or John Henry (Liverpool) should these investors intend to splash out for players to compete with the biggies in their respective leagues and in Europe and thus satisfy their demanding fans.

None of these musings offer immediate comfort from a Revolution fans perspective but, long term, there is the possibility that slow growth in a carefully controlled environment may, like slow food, ultimately result in more balanced fare, both on the field and in the fiscal health of the franchise. For professional soccer in the United States it may prove to be the right thing.

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