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.
For the final part of our ten-part series, we gathered together some of the quotes and insights from the players and coaches that didn’t make the first cut for our series.
The 2002 Major League Soccer Season was the beginning of an amazing run for the New England Revolution. The Revs made an improbable run to the 2002 MLS Cup, but a golden goal by Carlos Ruiz in extra time left the local XI disappointed. Getting to the finish line would become a regular thing for New England. From 2005 to 2007, the Revolution would make it to three MLS Cup finals, but much like their 2002 run, they fell a goal short each time.
It was often said that the Revolution were the so-called “Buffalo Bills of MLS.” But, make no mistake: the accomplishments and the team-building that happened in the 2002 season was the foundation of the success that would come during the rest of the 2000’s.
With our look at the 2002 team, we’ve been able to speak with various members of the team about what happened and what made that team so special. Here’s a collection of quotes and statistics that give some other insight into the legacy that the team built.
Steve Nicol, manager
On his first eight (or nine) games at the helm:
“I think the first 8 or 9 games, we went two and 4 or something, so we didn’t exactly set the hair on fire, but eventually guys began to believe in what we were doing and believing in each other and off we went.”
On the weather conditions on the day of the 2002 MLS Cup final:
“The game itself – it was a rotten day for football. It was real dry conditions, it was a horrible wind, and made it real difficult to pass the ball. And neither team in the final did that. I told them at halftime that if we could get the ball down there and just play some sort of football, then we could create some chances because that’s what we had done. Unfortunately, we couldn’t do it.”
On the team’s jesters:
“I don’t think anyone was a bigger joker than me (laughs). But it wasn’t just me. There were just so many different personalities.”
John Murphy, assistant coach
On scouting Shalrie Joseph and the New England Revolution’s decision to draft him in the second round of the 2002 draft (Joseph didn’t join the team until 2003; he decided to try the European market before joining the team):
“I put a lot of time in scouting Shalrie Joseph, so I was flabbergasted he went that late. I don’t know what everybody was looking at, he was an absolute beast. Probably the one thing that put people off was at St. John’s they used to play him up front, they used to play him in the back, they used to kind of play him in different spots, so maybe people thought they wouldn’t know what position to play him in. But he didn’t play in 2002, he came the next year and then you’ve got to give Stevie [Nicol] credit for sticking him in the middle of the field and obviously he was fantastic from there on out.”
On Twellman and Wolde Harris:
“Wolde [Harris] had his best year when we had Ted Chronopoulos and Imad Baba and the services were coming from wide areas. In 2001, Cate came in and now balls started coming from central areas, which wasn’t really Wolde’s strength which is why I think you saw a drop off in his production. In 2002, you think that obviously Mamadou [Diallo] is going to start, you’ve got Wolde [Harris] in there that would start and it wouldn’t be some kid just coming back from Germany.”
Joe Franchino, team captain and defender
“It was unfortunate that we couldn’t get a championship because the Revolution fans truly deserve it. I know Jay’s going to bring them back to that standard and they had a rough one this year but I have a lot of faith in the Revs fans and the whole organization so I wish we could’ve got one for them.”
On his closeline of Los Angeles Galaxy Midfielder Cobi Jones in the 2002 finals:
“Cobi’s one of my best friends, playing the game, we battled in LA during training and he was never one to open his mouth, he’d come back just as hard and we had a lot of mutual respect for each other.”
The legacy of the 2002 team:
“Anytime I’m coaching a team, I always acknowledge that (2002) team just because of the chemistry, and the way we went about our day, we put the work in everyday, but were also laughing and having a great time.”
Steve Ralston, midfielder
On the goaltending situation with Adin Brown taking over for Juergen Sommer midway through the season:
“It was a special group of players . And then you have Jurgen Sommer, another guy who was great, he started the season as the starter and then Adin started playing, and Juergen was great at helping him along as well. He could’ve been difficult to deal with, but he was fantastic as well.”
On the late season momentum:
“I don’t know what happened. We just started playing and getting results and the confidence grew, and everybody kind of knew their role and that we played in that system really well and it just kind of snowballed.”
Steve Nicol’s job with the team:
“I thought Stevie came in and did a great a great job. He was there as an assistant coach so we all knew him, which made it easier as opposed to somebody random coming in. Steve knew the team and we knew him, so I think that made the transition a little bit easier.”
Jay Heaps, defender
“Obviously there were a lot of guys on that team and some that (team’s) character is maybe what we were missing (right now). A guy like Joe Franchino on that team who didn’t say much but you knew that if there was a fight, you knew you wanted him on your team. There was Carlos Llamosa, a good leader a seasoned center back. Adin Brown was unbelievable that year. Adin Brown was basically MVP and we had 23 goals from Taylor Twellman and Steve Ralston had 19 assists but Adin Brown was a beast back there. Anytime we needed a big save he made it.”
Taylor Twellman, forward
On the preseason trip to middle of nowhere Brazil:
“It was more than bonding, it was an introduction. I mean, everyone was meeting a lot of people for the first time. Fortunately for me, Nick Downing was here, Adin Brown I knew through some youth national teams, Rusty Pierce, Ralston I grew up watching play, so there were some familiarities that way, but it really was a crash course of introducing each other and bonding. And when you’re four and a half hours outside of Sao Paulo with absolutely nothing to do we really got to know each other.”
“Behind the scenes I’ve always referred to this 2002 Revolution team as the Bad News Bears because if you look at the collection of individuals, the collection of personalities and the talent we had we had no business going on that run. None. We had no business. But when you have a goalkeeper like Adio Brown that is literally standing on his head it’s easy to go on that run. We knew in that run of games we had Leo Cullen and Danny Hernandez in the center of the midfield, we had Jay Heaps in the backline with Joey Franchino, we had some solid guys that were willing to do anything to win a game at every spot on the field, and then you sprinkle that with Daouda Kante, a player who came out of nowhere, but we really had no business winning games.”
“Yeah, it took player execution, but like I said earlier, you need to put players in a position to succeed. Steve Nicol realized that in 2002 the only way for us was to play a flat-out 4-4-2 straight up and be a nightmare to play against and hopefully catch teams, get the ball out wide and then get it into the ball and hopefully Wolde Harris and I get on the end of it. I think Stevie deserves a lot of credit for that because we were a crap team and unorganized and he made us extremely organized and actually a tough team to play against.”
On Twellman and Ralston not getting enough calls to the National Team and never being able to play enough games together for the USMNT:
“Is it? yes. You don’t even have to finish the question. Of course. Ironically my first 15 opportunities with the national team Steve Ralston wasn’t even there. And then when Steve Ralston got called in I wasn’t there. It was one of those things. But I don’t play around all night thinking about that because I’m sure there are other opportunities and other players that think the same thing, but when a player has 19 assists on another players 23 goals or whatever the stat was, you might want to think about it.”
On the late season run to the finals and the momentum:
“What we just talked about: the last seven to eight weeks. We never verbalized it, but guys like Leo Cullen, Jay Heaps, Adin Brown, Jim Rooney, Steve Ralston, you can go up and down the line, Wolde Harris, there were so many good guys and listen, we weren’t the best team, but it didn’t matter. At that particular moment we all kind of knew. Steve Ralston was suspended for the last regular season game of the year, Braeden Cloutier comes in and plays right midfield and he has an assist. It was just something knowing that you’re the underdog and nobody expects the last place team to win the last six games to get into the playoffs. Not only did we get in the playoffs, but we won the conference. There was just something about that.”
On the locker room culture that season:
“The one thing we had in New England: no one had an ego. You couldn’t have an ego because someone in that locker room was going to bring you back down to earth and that’s a quality that’s huge. Look at the Houston Dynamo in ‘06 and ‘07, they had the kind of same guys. Look at that ‘05 Galaxy side that beat us. They were more of underdogs than us.”
On the 2005-2007 seasons:
“Obviously, we were favored all year, we had better players but they got hot at the end of the year, Steve Sampson took them to the finals and they won. You got to have a locker room where everybody is on the same page, and if you don’t then at some point it;s going to bite you. I think in ‘02 we had so many good guys who kept everyone on the same page and you have a goalkeeper who stood on his head and that all helps.”
Cobi Jones, LA Galaxy midfielder (from an interview a few weeks ago for this story):
On the atmosphere at Gillette Stadium for the 2002 finals:
“It was an imposing atmosphere to come into Gillette, it’s a full house, and everyone is cheering on the Revs. But it was our time. For us, that was it. The time was now. That was the fourth time for us in a final, so for me, it was a sense of relief to win that game, to get that monkey of our back and all the questions of, ‘Can the Galaxy do it’? To finally win it was so important. Captaining that team was something special for me, to finally push the team over the edge. It was great. It was really special, and a time in my life that I won’t forget.”
“They (the Revolution) were a tough team all the way through. They were tough and well-organized and by just getting to the final, it showed their potential as a group.”
Facts and Notes:
- The Revolution scored more goals than any other team in MLS that season with 49 goals scored. The Colorado Rapids were second with 48 goals scored.
- The Revolution also allowed the most goals that season, 49. Again, Colorado was second with 48.
- Taylor Twellman was the Scoring Champion, but he was second in goals scored to Carlos Ruiz. Ruiz scored 24 goals while Twellman scored 23 goals. Twellman edged out Ruiz for the end of the season award because he added six assists to his goal count.
- Eleven of Twellman’s goals were assisted by Steve Ralston, who had 19 assists that season.
- The Revolution entered the playoffs with 28 points, fifth best in MLS.
- D.C. United and the New York MetorStars (now the Red Bulls) were the only two teams to miss out on the playoffs.
- Steve Nicol won MLS Coach of the Year for his ressurection of the Revs.
Culture Notes (October 2002):
- On October 12, 2002, a terrorist attack on two Bali nightclubs killed 202 and injured over 300, many of whom were Australian tourists.
- The number one song on the Billboard Pop Chart was “Dilemma,” by Nelly featuring Kelly Rowland.
- The Ring, starring Naomi Watts and Chris Cooper was the top-grossing movie of the October 18-20, 2002 weekend.
- “CSI: Miami” and “Without a Trace” were in the midst of their debut seasons.
- “Scrubs” was one of the top sitcoms on broadcast TV.