Note: In 2002, the New England Revolution went from a team in turmoil to a collection of players on the cusp of bringing the franchise their first championship – all within the course of 35 games. Ten years later, New England Soccer Today remembers the squad that paved the way for a remarkable run of MLS Cup finals in the 2000s.
In the fourth part of a seven-part series, goalkeeper Adin Brown – now a club ambassador for the Portland Timbers, radio announcer for the Timbers, director of goalkeeping for FC Portland and doing work for Big Brother Big Sisters – gave us his perspective on one of the most important seasons in club history.
Adin Brown owes a lot to Steve Nicol and the faith the former New England Revolution coach showed in him during the 2002 Major League Soccer Season. Brown was one of the many players to join the Revolution after contraction forced the Miami Fusion and the Tampa Bay Mutiny — where Brown played before joining the Revs — to close their doors. But he wasn’t brought in as the starting goalkeeper. That was Juergen Sommer’s job.
After a 3-6-1 start with Sommer in net, and after Nicol took over for the struggling Fernando Clavijo, Brown got his chance. He took it and the Revolution rode the league’s hottest goalkeeper all the way to the MLS Cup finals.
In 16 regular season starts, Brown had a 1.23 Goals Against Average, a full one 1.16 points lower than Sommer’s. He saved 72 of the 102 shots he faced and went 9-6-1 with five shutouts as the team’s starter. During the Revolution’s six-game unbeaten streak (5-0-1) to close out the season, Brown allowed three goals and didn’t have a single multi-goal game. New England went from fifth place to tied for first in the Eastern conference.
Brown’s form carried over into the playoffs. He helped lead New England to four shutouts in seven games — he only allowed five goals total in all of the playoffs — and made 42 saves as the Revolution advanced to the finals, where the team eventually lost on a golden goal by the Los Angeles Galaxy’s Carlos Ruiz.
Brown would eventually turn over the goalkeeping reins to Matt Reis and give Europe a try. But he’s most remembered for that 2002 season when he came in and saved the day on numerous occasions for the Revolution with plenty of heroic saves.
Recently, Brown took some time out of his day to talk with New England Soccer Today about that magical season.
New England Soccer Today: What stands out about that team when you look back on it and the 2002 season?
Adin Brown: The thing I think of the most about that team is the camaraderie we had on that team. From preseason on we had each others back, we were all really good friends and I’m still in fantasy football league with six or seven of the guys from that team that year — Jay Heaps obviously bailed on us because he had more important things to do.
New England Soccer Today: So, Heaps was part of that league?
Adin Brown: Yeah, he was part of that league but he had to quit because of the coaching this year. I still stay in touch with a lot of those guys. It was just one of those teams it was special to be on. You just had that bond. It was something special.
New England Soccer Today: Was there any one player or coach who brought you guys together and helped develop that bond, or did you guys just all have something in common?
Adin Brown: I think the preseason when we spent three weeks in Brazil together. I think when spending that amount of time together getting to know each other, one of our team leaders Joey Franchino, our captain, I mean, he kind of embodied that team. We weren’t the greatest group of players but we were the hardest working group of players. We would fight for each other on that field. It was just a really tight knit group. We were willing to go out and fight for each other, like I said, we weren’t the most skillful team in the league at that point but we sure knew how to stick together and fight.
New England Soccer Today: Can you talk about the Brazil trip and what that was like during those three weeks?
Adin Brown: We were about four hours outside of I want to say Sao Paulo. First of all, a four hour trip from Sao Paulo to the middle of Brazil where there is nothing around for miles, so we really had to get to know each other real quick. Coming together there was a lot of new faces because that was the year Miami and Tampa folded and a lot of players came from Miami and a lot of players came from Tampa, myself, Ralston, Mamadou Diallo we came from Tampa. You had [Alex Pineda] Chacon, Heaps and a couple other players come from Miami, so a lot of new faces.
The three weeks in Brazil was a lot of time to get to know each other — each other’s tendencies on the field and getting to know each other off the field and have a little bit of fun because we were with each other 24/7. I think that really kind of helped us gel as a team. I know we didn’t start gelling midway through the year, but that being said I think that definitely helped.
New England Soccer Today: What were you thinking when the team took you into the middle of nowhere in Brazil?
Adin Brown: The preseason always brings a little bit of obscurity. You don’t know where you’re going, unless you’ve been on the team. When this trip was announced I was like, “Oh cool, I’ll be in Brazil.” Then I get there and it’s like every preseason: the first couple of days are great and then you’re like, “Oh, we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere.” But it was nice. We had a pool and what not. Three weeks on the road with 24 guys, or however big the roster was at that time, it kind of wears on you a little bit being away from loved ones and family and what not. We definitely learned each other’s breaking points as well.
I think overall it was a good trip. We joke about having rice and beans every day for three weeks. I think it was fun, guys playing cards, guys kind of bonding off the field, going on trip, stuff like that.
New England Soccer Today: What were you thinking when Steve Nicol stepped in as the head coach?
Adin Brown: He had been there as an assistant for the entire year so we all knew Stevie pretty well. He came in with a different philosophy, some different ideas on the game. I loved working under Stevie. I actually talked with Stevie on the phone a couple days ago, we’ve stayed in touch over the years. He gave me a chance because Juergen Sommer was starting at that time and kind of gave me my chance to get back to playing the league and I really owe him a lot for that.
I think [Nicol] is a great coach. He comes from a storied football career himself being on that legendary Liverpool team and what not. He brought that professionalism, that mentality when it’s time to have a good time and hang out and do that, but also a time when to buckle down and work hard and get things done.
New England Soccer Today: You guys made that run to the playoffs that I don’t think people expected at the time even in your hot form going into the playoffs. Was there anything that kept you guys fighting?
Adin Brown: I think people had just written us off and I’m not sure, but I think we went into the playoffs with the worst record of any of the playoff teams. But, we went on a hot streak the last six, seven games of the season and that kind of carried on into the playoffs and when you have guys like Franchino who is your heart and leads and controls the midfield through his physicality, and you have guys like Steve Ralston who, you don’t even need to talk about that guy, his ability speaks for itself, his ability to get balls in the box; and then you have Taylor [Twellman] in his first year in the league and that guy scored goals from absolutely nothing; and then Carlos Llamosa who is to this day one of the smartest defenders I’ve ever played with; and then you have Daouda Kante, Jay Heaps.
It’s funny to look at that team — Daniel Hernandez, Wolde Harris — and seeing how all those guys went on to have great careers. Daniel is still playing. Ralston is an assistant coach in Houston. Taylor’s doing the TV. A lot of characters on that team. I think that’s also a big reason for it [the team’s success], a lot of personalities and a lot of mentally strong people on that team. We never said die.
New England Soccer Today: Do you have a favorite moment from that season?
Adin Brown: I have a lot of them. We had so much fun. Like I said, Stevie’s mentality, his philosophy was when it’s time to get down to business we get down to business, when it’s time to enjoy yourself and have fun as a team you do that. And that’s how we went about that season. We had fun as a team: playing cards or I think that year we went on a paintballing trip or something like that. We really enjoyed ourselves off the field, but when it was time to get on the field it was business, not to say we didn’t have fun on the field because we definitely had a lot of that, but we were focused throughout that entire time on the field and I think that’s something Stevie brought to the table.
New England Soccer Today: Since 2002, what have you seen change in the league?
Adin Brown: It’s funny because in 2005 I left for Norway and I was over there for five years. When I went over to Norway it was like, “Wow, this league is a little step higher in terms of physicality,” it was kind of a poor man’s Premiership over in Norway. The speed of the game was a little faster. Back then there was the likes of Carlos Valderrama in the midfield and what not. But when I came back in 2010 and saw these games that MLS teams played it was like, “Wow.” In the matter of five years this league has turned into one of the better leagues in the world. Just in terms of the pace of the games.
When I came back from Norway, in my personal opinion, I thought the league was better than the Norwegian league. To do that in five years I would say that MLS has come a long way.
New England Soccer Today: How would that 2002 Revolution team do in today’s MLS?
Adin Brown: I think we’d do all right. I think we played well, we had one of the best wingers to play in MLS in Steve Ralston and we’d just try to get him the ball and his service was service was so good and Taylor’s runs in the box were amazing. I think we’d do alright.
If you have a guy with Franchino’s passion and feistiness you’re always going to be competitive in this league. Like I said, in 2005 when I left you still had the likes of Carlos Valderrama –I’m not saying he’s a bad player at all — but he kind of stayed in that 20 square yard area and feed balls through and now you can’t have a guy who doesn’t work on defense in this league because it’s a league where everybody needs to work and where everybody needs to be at 100 miles per hour at all times and working defensively or offensively. Not to take anything away from Carlos Valderrama, he’s one of the best players to ever play the game ever, but it’s become a more physically demanding game than it was five, six, seven years ago.