A View From the Fort: Will Home Cooking Allow for Gelling?

Revolution supporters came out in droves for the club's final two home games. (Photo: Tony Biscaia/RevsNet.com)

(Photo: Tony Biscaia/RevsNet.com)

Will Home Cooking Allow For Gelling?

A VIEW FROM THE FORT: By Jim Dow

A few days before New England’s football team put paid to a hapless Toronto FC in conditions that might have made Andy Dorman pine for a January nighttime fixture at Inverness County during a North Sea howler, the smart money at a Dunkin Donuts chat session held that wunderkind Diego Fagundez might one day fetch a cool five million to eclipse Clint Dempsey for the highest transfer fee fetched by a Rev player.

And this was before the diminutive striker cum midfielder followed up his Leo Messi moment vs. the Dynamo with a picture perfect driven volley in the driving rain off a forty-yard floater delivered on a plate by the oft-underestimated Chris Tierney’s left foot. Seriously, can the vultures’ nibbles be far off?

Prior to Saturday’s match, the big question was this: could the Revolution maintain their easy-on-the-eyes ground game when moving from the damp Tifway 419 Bermuda grass at BBVA Compass Stadium to Gillette’s notorious Duraspine Pro Field Turf which, far suburban legend has it, is specially treated for Belichick’s Patriot pachyderms at the expense of Jay Heaps’ more light footed and lissome charges?

On the night they did just that, at least for the most part, despite what was a drop in temperature of over 40 degrees and more than 50% in attendance. Against the Dynamo, the Revs managed 46% of the possession. A week later, with supposedly hapless Toronto, the stat rose to 50%, although it was far higher in the opening half. However, in both matches, the opposition squandered clear scoring chances, something the Robbie Keane-less Galaxy more than likely won’t do. Against Houston Shuttleworth parried; back in Foxborough, he punched; with Los Angeles, he’ll need to catch and hold only releasing the ball to the boys in blue who, in turn, will need to do something other than hoof it forward or sideways, a tactic they seem to take far too often.

Given the upward arc that the team appears to be on since crashing 1-4 at Red Bull Arena, it may be that the increasingly effective linkage between the midfielders and forwards could spread to the rear echelon as they play more matches as a unit or, more accurately, units since it seems that this team has significantly more players capable of contributing positively than in the past.

For that to happen, the onus is on the coaching staff to keep schooling Messrs. Barnes, Farrell, Goncalves, McCarthy, Soares and Tierney in the intricacies of maintaining possession through winning second balls and making measured passes under pressure which, in turn, would certainly help to make the front six that much more successful.

During the course of this season, any number of fans have accused the second-year manager of every possible deficiency from preparation to substitution. But while last year the team gave up 1.29 goals per match, after 12 games, they have yielded only 0.75 tallies for every 90 minutes played – and this despite having given up four goals against Metro NYC’s less hateful team.

At the other end of the pitch, despite all the lovely passing, the team has only scored 10 goals for a rate of 0.83 a game. Last year, they ended up with a 1.15 per contest scoring rate. In 2007, their last top-level campaign, they managed 1.7 goals per match while yielding 1.43.

In that season, the Revolution fielded four best-ever MLS players in Shalrie Joseph, Michael Parkhurst, Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman. While Joseph (Grenada) and Parkhurst (Ireland) had some foreign connections only Andy Dorman (Wales) and Avery John (T&T) had grown up playing in their native countries. Of course there was also Kahno (Bermuda).

Of the 25 senior players on the 2013 team, eight were born in other countries; Jerry Bengston (Honduras), Kalifa Cisse (Mali), Andy Dorman (Wales), Diego Fagundez (Uruguay), Jose Goncalves (Portugal), Dimitry Imbongo (Congo and France), Saer Sene (France) and Juan Toja (Colombia) plus two have spent portions of their formative years in soccer cultures Juan Agudelo in Colombia with Millionarios and Andrew Farrell in Peru. In many ways, Agudelo and Fagundez are mostly beneficiaries of coming of age in transplanted soccer surroundings in New York City and Leominster, but these communities are often an extension of the culture of the homeland. Certainly there is no doubt that the culture of the team has changed dramatically under a coach and general manager who are local boys in every sense of the word. It is younger, more multilingual and, if not as yet accomplished, certainly growing more interesting by the week and not just because of Diego’s current form.

Watching the titanic tussle between Bundesliga giants Bayern Munich and Borussia Dortmund was instructive on any number of counts. It was a showpiece for the kind of fantastic football being played in Germany at the moment; the pace, skill, commitment and exquisite talent of the players made for a final that lived up to the hype. At the same time it was sobering to realize that the 11th most financially successful club in the world (Dortmund) cannot keep its best players (Mario Gotze and Robert Lewandowski) from trading up to the far bigger Bayern.

Regardless of how one feels about such things, it makes the current quality on view from Foxborough youngsters like Farrell and Fagundez bittersweet. Cheer their success, savor their development, give credit to the team for finding them, but don’t be surprised when bigger blandishments lure them to greener fields, monetarily and competitively. It is the nature of football across the globe.

Coach Heaps and Matt Reis aside, perhaps no one is better placed to comment on the shifts and changes with the Revolution than former star Andy Dorman, now returned after five years in Scotland and England. I caught up with the affable B.U. graduate after a recent training session.

JIM: I’m writing a piece about the team rebuilding and you have a unique perspective on this having played with the Revs from 2004 through 2007, and now being back in 2013. When you were with the team the first time around, you had three or four teammates who would be considered among the best players to have ever played in MLS. The quality of that team was very, very high. You went away, and have had experience in playing in two of the leagues that MLS is often compared with, the Scottish Premier League with Saint Mirren and the English Championship with Crystal Palace. So I’m very interested in your perspective having gone away and now returned and what you see as the differences and, perhaps, the similarities?

ANDY: Well, before when I played here, the league was perhaps ten years old, it was quite young and squad sizes were a lot smaller and the money involved in the league, the TV deals and stuff wasn’t what it is now. With that in mind, coming back now it’s improved a lot. In the five years (since) I’ve been here, you’ve got more Designated Players, the overall standard of the league is a lot better, the contrast and caliber of styles of play between the different teams, it’s improving a lot, and with the latest developments in what’s going on here, it’s only going to get better.

JIM: When you first went to Scotland, a league well known for being a physical one, if MLS is physical, then the Scottish Premiership is physical squared. What were some of the biggest shifts or changes for you?

ANDY: I think both leagues are physical, that is certainly one of the similarities. At the time, I think there were 12 teams in MLS and there are 12 in the SPL, so it was a similar sort of balance. They don’t have the playoffs, but they had a split (schedule) where the top six play each other at the end of the season and the bottom six play each other, so you’ve got relegation battles and then battles for the championship (and the Champions League) at the top. The weather is mainly colder (in Scotland), so it makes for a quicker game, you don’t get the summer games that you get over here in…MLS where (there is) a slower pace because of the extreme heat, I guess it is like the September, October, November style of football where it is quick, a fast-paced, quick pressure, close space, closing down, those sort of games.

I guess the pitches over here (in MLS) are better to play on, they get less games on them so the quality of the pitches (are better surfaces)… They play straight through the winter over there, and during that time, the pitches get beaten up, so their condition for the rest of the season is not as good as it would be over here. When you’ve got summer football (as you do in the States), the pitches are just carpets in some of the places you go and more conducive for playing…on the ground and it is just a lot easier to play on (them).

JIM: When you played here, the Field Turf came in during your second year?

ANDY: No, I think it was here all the time, the new Field Turf It was always turf, yeah, (although) it might have been that summer (2006) that they laid it. (NOTE: The grass field was replaced in the midst of the 2006 NFL season prior to a scheduled Patriot’s game on November 26. The Revolution’s last match on grass was a month earlier an Eastern Conference semifinal PK win over the Fire played on October 28. It should be remembered that the grass field got progressively worse from 2002 forward. In the 2005 Eastern Conference Final, I remember giant divots the size of hedgehogs all over the field.).

JIM: How would you characterize the difference for you…playing on turf, for your game?

ANDY: I guess, game-wise, it’s not too much different from a regular grass pitch that plays quite (well). In the summer, it’s not ideal, it keeps the heat, you get your feet burned, the ball takes a skip on it, but when it’s wet out, it just plays like a grass pitch. I guess over the course of a season it takes a lot more out of you playing on turf, week in, week out, than it does playing on grass. You can definitely feel the difference when you are playing every week on grass, as opposed to out there (at Gillette).

JIM: And the travel, certainly a lot of players who come here from Europe or Latin America, the travel drives them nuts.

ANDY: Yeah, it’s your whole weekend…gone to the game. In Scotland, the furthest you go is a four hour drive so you are always home (on the day), the game’s at three o’clock in the afternoon on the Saturday, so you are home by seven o’clock and you get the Sunday with your family and then back in on the Monday, so it’s a little bit different.

I guess it is kind of new again (for me) coming back it’s not been too bad, the guys on the team are good guys, so you enjoy being around them so it’s not been much of a problem so far.

JIM: Correct me if I’m wrong, but when you were here before, you would fly in on the day or the day before and now there are usually a couple of days on the road (together) before you play a match…

ANDY: Yeah, We’ve done (a couple) of the long haul trips so far, and they’ve been on the Thursday and that gives you time to get in and get settled and get your legs back and it is really good, but I’m not too sure how it works for the games against Chicago and so forth.

JIM: When you were here before, the Revolution had a very distinct style playing through Ralston and Joseph and so forth with you and Dempsey running onto balls late and all those kind of things; what would you characterize as the differences in the style, if there are such, that Jay Heaps and the team are trying to put in place now?

ANDY: I guess (that) so far we’ve been finding our feet a little bit this season in terms of style of play. Obviously, back in the day when Shalrie and Steve were there, that was the way we played, that was how it was getting balls in for Taylor. Right now, I think we are a possession team, I think probably the last few games have shown that more so than at the start of the season when we were finding our feet and getting used to playing with each other. I would say that is the biggest thing, getting men into the box and getting crosses from wide areas which I guess was similar to the team before when it was getting it wide to Steve Ralston and getting balls in the box for Taylor, Clint, Noon(an), whoever was in there. So, in that sense, it (is) probably more from the fullbacks, from Andy (Farrell) and Chris (Tierney) is how we would get those chances (now).

JIM: With this team, there seems to be more movement away from the goal, not necessarily always forward, always pressing, on a good day it seems to be a little more Spanish style, shall we say?

ANDY: Yeah, probably, I guess that is kind of the way that soccer has been going since the success of Barcelona and Spain, if you have the ball you have more control of the game and more chance of winning so. I guess that is more a kind of thing of the game developing than the team changing or anything like that.

JIM: Now that you are back here in the Boston area, what was the biggest thing that you missed when you left and now, being back in the States from living in the UK?

ANDY: I mean the biggest one is the weather, but probably that I the bog standard answer, the weather and food, I guess…

JIM: Well, food could go either way, right?

ANDY: In fairness, yeah, the food in London is not bad at all, to be fair…

JIM: Well, nowadays, it is sensational…

ANDY: Yeah, plenty of different choices. I’d say that when I’m here, my family is still back over there, so probably that but I love Boston, I loved living here before, I went to college here, so it is almost like being in your home away from home, so it is good to be back.

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