FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Prior to last Saturday’s contest against D.C., New England Soccer Today caught up with Revolution general manager Michael Burns about his views on what’s shaping up to be a promising season in Foxborough.
In the second part of our two-part interview (the first part can be seen here), the Revolution general manager discusses the future of Jose Goncalves, the expectations surrounding Kalifa Cisse, and the club’s affiliation deal with the Rochester Rhinos.
New England Soccer Today: What has surprised you the most about the way this team has played this year?
Michael Burns: I’m not surprised. I know that a lot of people might be. The one thing I said at the beginning of the year, and of course you never know how the games and how the results are going to play out at the beginning of the year, is I know, for a fact, that this is as deep a team as we’ve assembled in a long time. That doesn’t always mean you’re going to win every game, but we have a lot of players in that locker room – I mean, it’s the most competitive environment that we’ve been able to create and have in a long time, where in the last few years, we’ve had a situation where, frankly, a lot of our non-starters, if you will, didn’t push the starters enough to become starters themselves. This year, we’ve got more players in recent memory that can start. I think that that bodes well for competition, for the starting 11, for the gameday 18, and I think between myself and Jay, we have a pretty good understanding of players, players always want the team to be as good as possible, they always want there to be an enormous amount of competition, usually with every position except their own (laughs). You want to have as many good forwards, as many good midfielders, etc., and guys – they all want to play. And that’s more Jay’s job in terms of managing that aspect of it, but part of mine and Jay’s job is to get as many good players as we can here because you’re going to have suspensions, you’re going to have national team call-ups, you’re going to have injuries, and you want that kind of competition on the field for each and every spot because that’s going to make the team better. I think this year, we’ve been able to do that.
NEST: One of the areas where the club seems to have a lot of depth is in the back, where the team certainly strengthened its spine by adding Jose Goncalves on loan from FC Sion. Has there been any discussions with FC Sion about keeping him here beyond this season?
Burns: No, we haven’t had any of those kinds of discussions yet. There is a club option at the end of the year, and he, even more so than Juan (Agudelo), who knows MLS and knows the league, the international players don’t know our league until they get here. But what I can say about him is that he has been a consummate professional. Everyone knows he speaks a bunch of languages, he’s played in a lot of different countries, but just the professionalism he brings, day in and day out, to practice, on the field on gameday, in the locker room – I think there’s a reason why Jay made him captain. I think that’s unusual for a foreigner to come in with only three or four months in a new country. He’s adapted very well, and obviously, he’s played very well. He’s become an instant leader on this team, and I think his play has been outstanding this year.
NEST: When do you think those discussions with Jose will take place?
Burns: There’s no set timetable, and we have the whole year. Part of it is that you don’t want there to be distractions not just with Jose, you don’t want there to be distractions in the middle of the season with players and contract talks and negotiations and all that. But there’s always a time and a place where you sit down and see if it makes sense for both sides. And I think – well, I know - there will be conversations at some point before the end of the year with Jose.
NEST: Another player that the club signed during the offseason was Kalifa Cisse. Given the amount of money he’s earning this season ($445,000), do you think he’s met the expectations you and Jay had for him this year?
Burns: With Kalifa, it’s been a little difficult in the sense that he came in with a lot of expectations placed on him, and then he gets injured, and then Clyde and Scott have played well, so he’s still a player that we know has good qualities. You don’t play in the Premier League or the Championship without having good qualities, so it’s a long season and he’s been very professional throughout his rehab. Now that he’s back, he wants to play, and we all know that. But he’s a guy that, if called upon, I think we have an awful lot of confidence in, as well.
NEST: Will the club be active during the summer transfer window?
Burns: We’re active year-round. Well, we feel we’re active year-round. That doesn’t always mean that you get someone signed, but we are absolutely looking to makes moves. And not just a move to make a move. But to try to make the team better. If we feel we can do that this summer, either internally within MLS like we did with Juan, or an international signing, we have the international roster spot, so we have the room to do so. We’ve had some guys in on trial, we’ll continue to do that, so the short answer is “absolutely.” If we think there’s a potential signing this summer that will make the team better, then we’ll make a signing.
NEST: If you had to target a specific area of the field to make the team better this summer, where would it be?
Burns: To be honest, I’d rather not get into specific areas on the field…
NEST: In that case, which area of the field do you feel the most comfortable about the personnel?
Burns: I don’t think we’re ever set anywhere (laughs). And I don’t mean that as any disrespect to our players at all. I just think that if we can add a player at any position and right now, we feel like we’re solid in that position, and we feel that he’s going to make us better? We’re going to look at that area. That said, there are certain areas where looking at that I’d rather not divulge, but we’re always looking.
NEST: Moving on to the affiliation with the Rochester Rhinos, what’s your sense of how it’s worked out so far for the club?
Burns: Overall, it’s been positive. I think that has also made it a more competitive environment here for us in terms of the 11, the 18, and the 30. And what players are going to go on loan, which players aren’t going on loan. I think the best example that I can give you in the very short time that we’ve done this is the situation with Bilal (Duckett). I’m not so sure Bilal is game fit and game ready to go to Portland (on May 2) and play 90 minutes in a hostile environment if he hadn’t had the games under his belt in Rochester that he was able to get prior to us calling him back. I think in the current system of the reserve league, where guys aren’t getting regular games, I’m not so sure he would’ve had that. Now, if the luck of the schedule had it that he had three games in the month leading up to that, then the answer would’ve been “yes.” But if we didn’t have a game for a month and he’s just training, then there’s no way he can be game fit without the game experience he got in Rochester. So that for us, that part has been very beneficial. We know it’s not easy for the players in terms of being in Rochester, but the game experience that they’re getting week in and week out, we feel it’s a huge benefit for not just the Revolution, but for the players individually and as their careers progress.
NEST: Given the way the affiliation has worked out so far, is the club inclined to renew that affiliation at at the end of year?
Burns: We’ve had very, very preliminary discussions with Rochester about renewing it. But it’s one of those things that, at the end of the year, when we sit down with Rochester, and say, “OK, this worked out really well, this needs to be tweaked a little bit,” and I’m sure they’ll do the same, and then we’ll see if it makes sense to continue it. Thus far, we’ve been really pleased with the relationship. Rochester’s been great to work with and we believe that, at the end of the day, the benefit the players are getting has been positive.
NEST: If there is one thing you could tweak about the affiliation agreement, what would it be?
Burns: Recently, there’s been a lot of talk in general about the Open Cup, and about (loan) players in the Open Cup participating for Rochester and playing for New England. We’ve had, I think, an outstanding relationship with Rochester in terms of the understanding of having guys play for them, or play for us, and calling them back, so I think that’s something that you have to really work through. That’s just one area before we entered into the agreement – and because it’s the first time we’ve ever done something like this – you never really know every issue that might come up. And I think both clubs have handled it well. The other thing I would tweak, and this is something that’s really getting outside my realm, is I certainly wouldn’t have…I would’ve preferred to play Rochester in a much later round of the Open Cup. But I don’t make those decisions, of course. To play Rochester in our first Open Cup game, given our affiliation, was something that, if I could’ve made the decision, I wouldn’t have had happen in our first game. I don’t want to call it unfortunate, but that was a situation I wish could’ve been avoided in the early rounds.