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 sixth part of a seven-part series, captain Joe Franchino – who currently coaches youth soccer and volunteers his time to Special Olympics – gave us his perspective on one of the most important seasons in club history.
When Joe Franchino reflects on remarkable run of 2002, he doesn’t dwell on the season-ending six-game unbeaten streak. He doesn’t point to the statistics or individual successes. He won’t tell you that the 2002 Revolution was the most talented team he’s ever played on.
That’s because the man who wore the captain’s armband knows, first hand, what it took for that team to reach the MLS Cup final – and it was something much more important than any statistic, award or streak.
“We had a great group of guys,” Franchino said. “When we went out onto the field, it didn’t matter who was out there. We’d pick each other up, and we were a complete team. That’s what brought us through to the MLS Cup final.”
The path that brought the Revolution to their first MLS Cup final was one that Franchino, as captain, had to navigate with an abundance of caution – at least in the early going.
At the start of the season, the Revolution were a club in transition. They were coming off a dismal 2001 season, and entered the 2002 campaign carrying a number of lost Mutiny and Fusion players who’d arrived after their clubs were contracted by the league. It was hardly a situation that many would expect team building to thrive in.
To no one’s surprise, the team that wilted at the end of 2001 stumbled out of the gate in 2002. A change was made at manager, and Fernando Clavijo was out. With assistant coach Steve Nicol taking the helm, more changes were looming.
The biggest one came the day after Nicol’s appointment, as the front office orchestrated a monumental six-player trade that essentially put the rest of the roster on notice. Team chemistry? Maybe next year.
But, instead of throwing away the rest of the schedule and looking toward 2003, the squad bunkered down – thanks in large part to Nicol.
“He put his mark on the game and he got us all on the same page,” Franchino said. “He just let everybody know their roles. He just wanted everybody to buy into their role for the sake of the team.”
It was advice that the whole team took to heart, and never looked back.
“Everybody bought into it,” Franchino said. “We listened to him and we decided that we’re not going to be giving up goals and showing our defense up anymore.”
With their gritty captain leading the way, the Revolution went from a defensively soft side to an aggravating adversary. Its defense – with Franchino stationed at left back – put a stop to conceding the easy goal. Combined with emergence of Adin Brown between the posts, it became apparent that discipline instilled by Nicol was paying dividends. By season’s end, the team captured an improbable playoff berth.
Even though Nicol demanded nothing less than a complete effort from each of his players, Franchino is quick to point out that the gaffer didn’t rule with an iron fist.
“We put the work in everyday, but we were also laughing and having a great time,” Franchino said. “People were playing jokes left and right on each other. It was just a great atmosphere to be in.”
One such joke involved Brown and Taylor Twellman. One day, Brown decided to remove the spare tire from the back of Twellman’s Jeep Wrangler and leave it in the locker room for everyone to see. Welcome to the club, rookie.
“There were some great pranks going on,” Franchino said. “And to be fair, it was all in good fun. Everybody had a blast. It was a good time.”
While the jokes and pranks kept them loose in the locker room, the Revolution became increasingly serious about their form once the playoffs arrived. They extinguished the Fire in the first round, then got the win they needed to advance past the Crew in the conference finals.
“We peaked at the right time,” Franchino said. “Everybody believed in each other and in the guy next you and even in the guys out on the bench. That’s just the way it was.”
That spirit that carried them all the way to the MLS Cup final in Foxboro – where the Revolution enjoyed an unmistakable home field advantage with over 61,000 fans in attendance.
“To walk out and be a part of that team and see that crowd was phenomenal,” Franchino said. “Everyone was there. I’d give anything to go back and be a part of that day and experience it again.”
The home crowd certainly got their money’s worth. Despite a scoreless 90 minutes, early fireworks erupted in the 26th minute when Franchino closelined Galaxy midfielder Cobi Jones, who tried to shake the Revolution left back on the dribble.
“He caught me on my heels,” Franchino said. “He pushed the ball by me and to be honest with you, there’s no way I’m going to try and catch Cobi. In front of that many people, I wasn’t going to let him beat me.”
Franchino, a good friend of Jones from their time as Galaxy teammates in the late 1990s, was cautioned for the foul, but fully admits that he was “fortunate” the color of the card wasn’t red.
In the end, however, Jones and his teammates prevailed. The wild ride of the 2002 Revolution season came to sudden stop when Carlos Ruiz scored the golden goal in the 113th minute.
“I look back on it and I always wish I could’ve given a little more,” Franchino said. “But I think everybody put in everything they could into that team.”
Of that, Franchino is certain. While the 2002 Revolution were denied the chance to raise the championship trophy, the skipper of the first squad to reach a MLS Cup final took something from that season that no opponent could ever rip away: the memories.
“The guys on that squad, oh man, I’ll remember it for the rest of my life,” Franchino said. “It was definitely a great experience.”