From the halls of Foxboro Stadium…

Toja Or Not Toja, That Is A Much Larger Question (*): plus An Interview With Clyde Simms

Posted by tonybiscaia on September 1, 2012


(*) Please note: Some of the statistics cited below may be a game out of date.

Thus far, in his rookie season with 26 matches played, Coach Jay Heaps has guided the New England Revolution to a record of six (6) wins, fourteen (14) losses and six (6) draws for a total of 24 points. The team has scored 33 goals and given up 38 for a -5 differential and an average of 1.27 scored per match and 1.46 goals given up. The PPG is .92 for this campaign and the team lies second from the bottom in the East as well as the Supporter’s Shield, well out of the playoffs and sinking fast.

But in 2011, under far more experienced leadership in the person of Steve Nicol, the Revolution scored 38 goals and gave up 58 for a -20 record, 1.12 goals scored and 1.70 goals against per game and .82 per match. They finished last in the East with 28 points and tied for last in the Supporter’s Shield standings.

In both years the team was or is at or immediately adjacent to the bottom of the league a position which, in the rest of the world, would make New England serious candidates for relegation and put an edge and not a blah to every remaining game. And while one might say there has been a miniscule statistical improvement at both ends of the pitch and even in results that would be massaging the figures will all the fervor of a political advertisement, truth to tell Jay Heaps and Co. really should be laboring in the second division in 2013.

Stats such as these, when mixed with the expectations garnered in the early days of the season have led to serious fans calling for Heaps’ head, as well as those of the entire FO, the broadcasters, TeamOps and anyone who carries the Kraft name.

With seventeen years of differing levels of continual frustration perhaps such feelings are justified but taking a somewhat shorter and perhaps more optimistic view, look at the first year records of the current former MLS players in the league.

Robin Fraser was first hired as a third assistant in 2007 by Real Salt Lake. In 2011 he became the head coach at Chivas USA. They finished 15th in the Supporter’s Shield and 8th in the Western Conference with 8 wins, 14 losses and 12 draws for 36 points, with 41 goals scored and 43 allowed for a -2 goal difference. They finished 8 points and two places above Steve Nicol’s side. Chivas’s current record is 7 wins, 10 losses and 7 draws for 28 points. They have scored 20 goals and allowed 35 for a -15 GD. They are 7th in the West and 14th in the Supporter’s Shield, 4 points ahead of the Revs.

Dominic Kinnear became an assistant to Frank Yallop with the San Jose Earthquakes in 2001. Together they won two MLS Cups. In 2004 Yallop left and Kinnear became the gaffer. The team finished 4th in the West with 38 points, a record of 9 wins, 10 losses and 11 draws, with 41 goals scored and 35 allowed for a +6 record. They were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs.

Frank Klopas retired in 2000 and became strength and conditioning coach for the Fire
and then coached in the indoor MISL until early 2008 when he returned to the MLS club as Technical Director. In midseason, 2011 he took over as interim from the fired Carlos De Los Cobos and finished the season 8-5-10 barely missing out on the playoffs.

Jason Kreis retired as a player in May, 2007 and took over from John Ellinger as Real Salt Lake finished with a 6-15-9 record, missing the playoffs with 27 points and 31 GF, 45 GA for -14 rating. Coach Kreis is currently leading RSL to a position of 3rd in the West with 43 points, 19 above the Revs.

Jesse Marsch retired in 2010 to become an assistant with U.S. National Team. He was hired by the expansion Montreal Impact whose current record is 12 wins, 13 losses and 3 draws for 39 points. They lie 10th in the overall table, 5th in the East and have a -2 Goal Differential, with 42 GF and 44 GA. They are 15 points ahead of New England.

After a 3-12-3 start under fired Curt Onalfo In 2010 Ben Olsen was named interim head coach of DC United and completed the season with a 3-8-1 record. Overall the team finished 8th in the East with a record of 6 won, 20 lost and 4 drawn for 22 points with 21 GF and 47 GA, for -26 rating. In 2012, with Olsen at the helm D.C. lie 4th in the East, 17 points above New England.

After retirement in 2007 Oscar Pareja became an assistant with the US U-17’s at the IMG Academy. In 2008 he returned to FC Dallas as an assistant until he became head coach for the Rapids before this season. His current record is 8 wins, 16 losses and 2 draws for 26 points. The team lies 15th in the Supporters Shield and 8th in the West. They have scored 33 goals and allowed 40 for a -7 differential. In 2010 they were MLS Cup Champions.

Peter Vermes retired in 2002 and became the Technical Director for Kansas City in late 2006. He became the interim coach in August, 2009 when Curt Onalfo was fired. The team was 5-6-7 at the time and Vermes managed a 3-7-2 record for the remainder of the season. Kansas City is presently one of the very best teams in the league with Vermes still at the helm.

Robert Warzycha stopped playing after the 2002 season and moved directly into coaching as an assistant with his only MLS team, the Crew. When Greg Andrulis was sacked in mid-season Warzycha became interim coach and finished the campaign with a 7W, 6L and 3D record. The following year he returned to an assistant’s role with the hiring of Sigi Schmidt, returning as head coach in 2009 when he guided Columbus to the Supporter’s Shield amassing a record number of points.

Frank Yallop started coaching in 1998 in the P-40 Program and then became an assistant with the Tampa Bay Mutiny. He moved to DC United in 2000 and became head coach for San Jose in 2001. That year the ‘Quakes won the MLS Cup in a shortened season due to the September 11 attacks. They won 13 games, lost 7 and drew 6 for 45 points to finish second in the West and scored 47 goals, gave up 29 for a +18 GD.

Pitor Nowak, well maybe not to cite him in this argument.

And, of course, there is Ray Hudson, who after playing in England and the NASL retired to Miami and 1n 1999 became the Community Outreach Director and TV commentator for the new Miami Fusion. He was named coach in the middle of 2000 and finished the season with an 11-12 and 1 record. The following year, with one of the best teams ever in MLS he won the Supporter’s Shield with a record of 16W, 5L and 5D. When the Fusion folded he went back to broadcasting.

Some have had immediate success while others have fallen off the edge of the known world, yet a number of those have learned on the job, rallied and are now doing well in a precarious business. It isn’t a sure thing but neither is incompetence. On the other hand, the commitment of the ownership to fielding a competitive team through full employment of the resources available is quite another matter and that is behind many a success story. It is perhaps telling to consider the way in which the Revs acquired their latest “find, “ Colombian midfielder Juan Toja.

When his mind is in the right place the 27 year-old from Bogata is a terrific player and if New England could start Jerry Bengston, nine midfielders and Matt Reis they might have quite a team, at least until the other side got the ball and started moving forward. His current value, according to the wonderful website Transfermkt.UK is roughly $1,650,000, precisely the same as Benny Feilhaber and more than three times that of the player he replaces, Shalrie Joseph. In other words, by MLS standards, the Revolution has signed a star. What they will do with the dude is, perhaps, another matter.

So now the Revs have perhaps the most skilled midfield in MLS and if fledgling gaffer Jay Heaps can somehow figure out how to play these guys and not hemorrhage goals in the way they did vs. Columbus and Chivas it could be a lot of fun to journey to Gillette with 5,000 of one’s best friends. On the other hand, given the largesse of the league towards a team being a nightmare combination of mismanagement, missed opportunities and misanthropic attitude towards soccer on the part of those who run things from above, who knows what lies ahead?

Watching the Revolution self-destruct gives a viewer pause to think about how things might be better given this current group of players, coaches, management and ownership.

The fact is that the way the 2012 Revs move the ball about is a great deal more fun than the simple thump and run style that Stevie Nicol had to employ after his good players had moved on through a combination of better opportunities and retirement. And that, surely, forms the basis of a serious indictment of both management and ownership for a degenerative combination of lack of understanding and ambition that doomed the admirable Scotsman to coaching out his days with the team playing the most ugly sort of football imaginable just to hold the score down.

As the English say, the rot had set in and there was no will and little way to stop it.

And now, with a rookie coach and a bunch of new players, some of whom are still auditioning this late in the season, the team tries hard but gets consistently out-coached, out-positioned and, to some degree, out-played every time they set foot on the pitch. Part of it is a learning curve, presuming that those playing are capable of learning. Part of it is down to being over-matched, through inexperience or lack of ability confronting hardened, experienced professionalism.

As a telling example take one single piece of play from the match against Columbus: Frederico Higuain, who has started for River Plate (Argentina), Nueva Chicago (Argentina), Besiktas (Turkey), Club America (Mexico), Independiente (Argentina), Godoy Cruz (Argentina), Colon (Argentina) and now the Crew of Columbus found himself shoulder to shoulder with the ball at his feet against Stephen McCarthy, whose serious soccer experience has thus far been club ball with the Dallas Texans, followed by D1 college at Santa Clara and the University of North Carolina and now, professionally, with the New England Revolution.

With one swift twist and shrug, Higuain gained himself a clear shot at Matt Reis, beating the Revs keeper clearly to the near post and while his strike was a few inches wide of the mark. McCarthy was a good deal more than that, soundly beaten by a combination of quickness, experience and football intelligence. And Frederico Higuain isn’t Thierry Henri and neither of these players are a shadow of their former selves or of their brothers.

This isn’t to disrespect Stephen McCarthy, he may well develop into a fine MLS center back and the same for A.J. Soares. The issue is the catchment area for the players who labor for Kraft FC. The college draft and allocation process are no longer sufficient for sustaining a competitive team in MLS, you have to dig deeper and look further afield and, likely, pay more money.

Rightly so the serious fans are calling for a wise old head to take over the back line and add some experience and bite. In the abstract this makes perfect sense but in the budget world of Foxborough football wise old heads come with worn out legs, or no speed to begin with, which just doesn’t cut it at this point in league play. If the team uses the Toja allocation for a defender, he’d best be spry, speedy, skilled and seasoned and looking around the league, just which player might that be?

If you look at the best players that the Revolution have had, past and present, they almost all have come through various MLS in-house procedures like the college and dispersal drafts as well as the allocation process. From Joe-Max Moore to, possibly, Juan Toja, or whoever gets traded for him, the Revolution have not had to lift a finger or spend a sou in specialized scouting or move beyond the cozy confines of the non-free market NFL method of acquiring players. Some might say this is lazy, others cheap. I’ll take the positive view and say naïve, regardless, it is damning.

Of course the main figures in management make trips to look at players, at college games, scouting combines and even to foreign shores. But these are all organized either within the league set-up or after someone has watched a DVD or taken a phone call and, given their other duties, people like Mike Burns and Jay Heaps cannot devote anywhere near enough time to the day-to-day plugging away searching for talent. To the point, in 2012, exactly how many really serious scouts are getting pay packets from Kraft FC?

As I stated, this is down to either lack of imagination or cheapness, or both and regardless of the combination they equal to firing offenses in MLS 2012. Either way it is a deadly combination of ignorance, lack of curiosity and cheapness that has hamstrung every coach from Frank Stapleton (inept in his own right) to Steve Nicol (hardly so) and now Jay Heaps (jury out but hopeful).

Certainly Taylor Twellman, Joe-Max Moore, Alexi Lalas, Mike Burns, Raul-Diaz Arce, Matt Reis, Clint Dempsey, Steve Ralston, Shalrie Joseph, Benny Fielhaber, Lee Nguyen, Diego Fagundez, Jay Heaps, Pat Noonan, even Diego Fagundez and now Toja are all good and in some cases great players but, truth be told, all management has had to do was answer the phone or trot off to the combine to check these admirable, or potentially admirable individuals out. It is what the cyclopic folk in the executive boxes understand, the closed shop of the NFL. Even the NBA, MLB and NHL have serious talent pools outside the borders of the USA, but the NFL, hardly?

Everywhere else in the world you hire scouts, plods who stand in the rain and watch kids, grownups, has-beens, no hopers and hot prospects and report about everything to the folks in the F.O. It is the edge that separates the dross from the quality at every league level, now including MLS, as witness the Crew or whomever else one might cite as an example.

Jerry Bengston may well prove to be a wonderful player at MLS-level and full marks to the Revs for signing him, at least if it isn’t a Caraglio-style loan. But that is one player, one major player in years and years who has come from outside the same old tired box of acquisition methods that simply beggars understanding in the competitive reality of the league as it now exists.

Even with no fulltime scouts on the books the coaches have identified good, even more than good international players but management has failed or refused to sign them. Truth be known, the best values in the league aren’t at the top of the pay scale but bargain players like Montero (Seattle), Morales (RSL) or Martinez (Union) who get found, signed and then rise or fall according to their ability to cope with the league and life in the United States. It is catch or catch can but you can’t just answer the phone.

So with Juan Toja returning to the league with healthy salary demands, plus perhaps a transfer fee and coming to a team that needs a top quality defender NOW, what balance will be struck? The possibilities are exciting, the probabilities are sobering; at the end of the day is the ownership progressive enough to make progress? Will they give their new coach the kind of support required for success in 2013? The choices made now and over the next few months will tell the tale, but for the moment the jury is way, way out and the future of the Revolution as a viable, competitive sporting entity could be said to be in doubt.

Clyde Simms is not a replacement for Shalrie Joseph but he is a quality professional with his own quiet way of maintaining possession and effecting transition and has been one of the consistently best players on the team during what has proven to be a trying season. I spoke with him after training.

JIM: Right now I’m writing a piece about the retooling of the team and the methods by which it is being done, how long such things take and what it was like to play against Shalrie Joseph when you were with DC, then train with him when you came to New England and now, to play against him as you did last Wednesday. What was that like for you?

CLYDE: Well Shalrie, I think, is one of the best midfielders to play in this league, for sure. I always thought that playing against him, he was always tough, big, physical presence. On balls in the air, 50/50 balls he’s a tough one to go against and so I always had a respect for him. Then when you are on the same team with him and training with him you see why. He comes to work every day with a professional mindset and he works on his craft… You can see it in the games, he always wants the ball and he is very good with the ball and he does the same type of things in training and you learn a lot from a player like Shalrie.

Then I’ve seen him go and playing against him shortly after(wards), I know he had a lot of motivation coming back here against us…

JIM: AS you must have had against DC United…

CLYDE: Yeah, yeah, exactly and so you (saw) it the other night, he tried to dictate the game as much as possible for Chivas. I think there were a couple of times where it kind of hurt them, especially in the first half where he gave up a couple of possessions for goals but at the same time, he got two goals for them to get them back and he did a good job of doing that, I think.

We struggled a little bit with him because he was dropping deep into almost flat with the back line to get the ball and so we had a tough time because we didn’t want to get pulled out as midfielders, so we tried to get the forwards to take care of him but it was a tough job for them. He played a good game the other night.

JIM: Yes, it seemed so, he was terrific but, as you say, he had motivation. In relation to that, do you as a professional learn more about a player by playing against him or with him? I know it sounds like a funny question but it is interesting in that when you are playing against a player you are trying to neutralize him whereas when you are playing with a player, you are doing everything you can to help them. What is the difference for you, analytically, as you are working on your game?

CLYDE: I think you learn more playing with (a player). I’ve been in situations a couple of times where (I’ve) played against a guy for years and then all of a sudden, he’s on your team. I experienced that with DC and you definitely learn a lot more playing with him. For one (thing) you see him day in and day out on the training field. Playing against a guy, you don’t really know what his responsibilities are within that system, you don’t know what the coach is asking from them, you don’t know what they are trying to achieve exactly within the team. But when you are on the same team you see exactly, in day in and day out training, you see exactly what their job is and how well they do it…

JIM: And you are literally communicating with each other…

CLYDE: Yes, exactly, that’s it, definitely. And you know you get to know the person off the field as well and that helps a lot, too. So I definitely agree that (you know more by) playing with him.

JIM: You have been through the experience of being with a rebuilding team in DC and now you are with a rebuilding team here. I looked up some stats, Ben Olsen and Jason Kreis in their first years as head coaches, even though they weren’t the full year, there records were poor, like here. It is a huge learning curve for everybody involved, do you see any similarities between the way DC developed and they way things are going here?

CLYDE: My biggest problem with the way DC has done it is, well, the reason I think that Salt Lake has been so successful is because they have stuck with guys. I think they realized that as an organization it takes time and they have stuck with a lot of those guys that were playing on that team when they had a bad record and they have gotten very good as a team…

JIM: As far as continuity they are sort of Barcelona-like…

CLYDE: Yes, to (a) point, and Kansas City the same way, there were years where they were bad and they stuck with the same guys, more than half of their starting lineup are guys that they drafted out of college and they stuck with them and they have gotten better as a team. I think those organizations realize that it takes time, so when you have a bad season, instead of getting rid of a bunch of guys and bringing in all new guys thinking that is going to be the fix, it never works that way.

That was my problem with DC, there was so much turnover every year that you can’t get so much better each season by taking that approach. Whereas you can credit it o having a bad season and learn from it and stick with your guys and continue to get better the following year. So it takes time and hopefully we’ll follow in some of those teams footsteps and realize that we have a ton of new faces in the team this year and if we can learn from our mistakes and our adventures this season and continue to grow as a team I think you’ll see that we will get better and better.

JIM: Along those lines, seeing as there are a lot of young players on the team, would you see any advantage for them to play somewhere in the offseason. Certainly not for the veteran players but as is often done elsewhere, in other countries, might they benefit from going on loan?

CLYDE: I think it depends on the player. I’ve seen young players get burnt out because it is a long season, and to go and play so much in the offseason then you start a brand new season with preseason with your MLS team, I think a lot of guys tend to get burnt out with (that). But then, for some guys, it can be a good situation for them, so that is a tricky question because it depends on the player.

JIM: You are a US developed player; you came up through the club system, college and the draft. That is, to an extent, the standard method of acquisition in this league, and certainly has been so for this team. But teams need foreign players, I don’t mean the Beckham, Henri-types, MLS teams need solid foreign players to improve. To get those players you have to scout, to dig, For you, as a professional developed within the States but playing in this league, what do you see as an ideal balance between US developed players and players developed in other countries?

CLYDE: I think it depends on the style of soccer that you want to play…

JIM: I’ve been following this team for 17 years; this is the most fun team to watch, stylistically, since the days of Ralston, etc, in terms of keeping the ball on the deck and trying to move it around.

CLYDE: Yes, I think a lot of foreign players tend to be a little better technically. I think the US is getting better; I think the coaching is getting better for younger kids and kids are just playing more soccer. When I was growing up you played soccer but you played two or three other sports.

JIM: What sports did you play?

CLYDE: Really seriously, basketball that was my other sport. Actually, I almost quit playing soccer to pursue basketball.

JIM: Were you a guard, a point guard?

CLYDE: Yeah, but I think you see (now) with the residency camp in Florida and now MLS teams are having their own farm systems with the youth teams and kids are playing more year around I think you can see a difference in the quality in the US players now than even when I first started in the league back in 2005.

So it is definitely getting better but the foreign players tend to be a little better technically, I think when you look at US players we tend to be a little more physical and (we’re) bigger, so it all depends on what style of soccer you want to play. I think a team like the Houston Dynamo rely a lot on their physical presence, I think that is the big reason why they have a bunch of US players. Then, with teams like us, teams that try to keep the ball on the ground tend to lean towards having more foreign players. I think it is all relative.

JIM: Finally and I ask everyone this, you play here on turf, how does it feel?

CLYDE: When I first came here I thought that we would train on turf as well but, thankfully, I was dreading it, but thankfully, yeah, the grass (on the training pitch) is perfect here and you know, you are only playing home games so half your games are on turf.

It is tough, it is a different surface, the ball rolls differently, it bounces differently and you can see it when other teams come here, they get frustrated.

JIM: Well, that first goal by Saer Sene against Chivas was a classic turf bounce.

CLYDE: Yes, exactly, we watched the replay today and the way the ball bounced with the spin, it went straight in his path. It is definitely different and it takes some getting used to, for sure. Obviously, it is our home field and teams aren’t used to it and we are more used to it than they are so we try to use it to our advantage.

JIM: Thank you so much, it has been great.

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