This year’s theme to the Revolution’s off-season acquisitions has been experience. Last year, 21 of the club’s players had less than two years’ experience playing in MLS. It’s a troubling statistic that may partly explain why the club missed the playoffs for a third consecutive season despite having so much talent and promise.
When head coach Jay Heaps and General Manager overhauled the team last year, they did so hoping that the new blood they injected would grow and gel with the current veterans. But all that changed when veteran players became expendable. The mid-season trade of Shalrie Joseph coupled with the off-season departure of Benny Feilhaber has further reduced the already small amount of veteran players on the Revolution’s roster.
Three of the clubs four transactions this off-season have involved snagging players who have league experience. The first signing was Andy Dorman, who joined the Revolution in 2004 from Boston University and was present for three Cup runs before transferring to Europe. Also in the mix are Hunter Freeman and Chad Barrett, both of whom were selected in the Re-Entry draft.
Should they reach an agreement, Freeman brings six years worth of MLS experience to Foxboro, plus two seasons with Norway’s IK Start. Barrett is a league journeyman with eight years of experience with three clubs. These types of potential signings could be Heaps’ and Burns’ winning formula to creating and maintaining a roster in MLS.
Any successful team needs veterans and young players to combine and complement each other effectively. That’s the case in every sport.
But achieving such a balance is a bit trickier to ascertain in MLS. Having experience in other leagues, even those at a higher level than MLS, can’t always prepare a player for American soccer. Major League Soccer is different. It’s got a fast pace. It’s physical. And when it’s played on the Gillette Stadium turf, the going is even less forgiving .
Furthermore, American soccer doesn’t have an internationally recognized style. Whereas the Spanish game is based around precision passing, the German on relentless attacking, the Italians on brick walls for defenses, and the English on all of the above, America’s style is still in the process of being discovered.
In 2011, former Revolution head coach Steve Nicol and Burns signed French left back Didier Domi, a veteran of top European leagues. Domi stayed at the highest possible level of soccer during his entire time in Europe suiting up for the likes of Newcastle United, Paris Saint-Germain, Espanyol, and Olympiakos.
Domi didn’t pan out for the Revolution and was gone by mid-season. He only played in nine games and stated early on that he was struggling to get acclimated to the so-called American game.
Not every player is like Domi. MLS has seen its fair share of experienced international players who have not only filled stadiums, but also brought their teams success. But teams, particularly the Revolution who have seen a slew of experienced internationals come and go, need to learn that some players find American soccer unorthodox and unpredictable. Just because a player had all sorts of success across the pond doesn’t mean they’ll produce the same way when they’re plopped on an American field.
To blame last year’s failure to reach the playoffs solely on a lack of player experience would be folly. The Revolution were competing in an Eastern Conference that was stacked with solid players and tough to beat teams. The advent of Heaps and the re-shuffling of the Revolution’s brain-trust also likely created some growing pains. And the fact that Heaps and Burns overhauled a roster added an uncharacteristically steep learning curve.
Last year, Heaps and Burns asked for some patience for the squad to tighten up. Player movement and a few losing streaks were speed bumps on the Revolution’s path to creating a cohesive, well-balanced squad.
But with pre-season days away, 2013 looks encouraging. Aside from the acquisitions the club has already made and will continue to make before the season opens in March, last year’s players have another year of mental, tactical, and physical experience necessary to be successful in MLS.
Follow Julian on twitter @juliancardillo