A View from the Fort: Amateur Night or Growing Pains?

Darrius Barnes, Gabe Latigue and Kelyn Rowe discuss an upcoming free kick during last week's Open Cup game against New York. (Photo: Chris Aduama/aduama.com)

Darrius Barnes, Gabe Latigue and Kelyn Rowe discuss an upcoming free kick during last week’s Open Cup game against New York. (Photo: Chris Aduama/aduama.com)

Amateur Night or Growing Pains? Plus An Interview With Jose Goncalves.

A VIEW FROM THE FORT By Jim Dow

In the wake of last Saturday’s disappointing loss the Vancouver I was struck by this quote from whitecapsfanblog:  “It was fun to watch, but the level of football was very naive and even poor, with both teams making fundamental mistakes in the first half that professional players should not be making. I said to my friends that it was one of the best halves of amateur soccer I had ever seen.”

OUCH! Sometimes hearing unvarnished opinion helps put things in perspective. Watching the Whitecaps spill countless misdirected passes over the touchline made the seriously poor defensive adjustments by the Revolution after the debatable, but understandable Andrew Farrell red card even more worrying. Are we paying pro money to watch non-league quality, at least in terms of concentration and tactical understanding?

Truth to tell, I’m not certain and while the significant improvement of the 2013 Revs is both heartening and exciting could it be as the Vancouver fan site suggests a question of amateur night in professional dressing? Personally, I don’t want to believe that but…

It might be mildly poetic that Kenny Miller managed to repay last year’s Lee Nyguen wonder strike in tit-for-tat fashion on the reprehensible BC Place turf that had all the quality of a post tractor pull, but the fact is that his canny runs and flicks should have been anticipated and snuffed out by the supposedly ironclad New England backline. Yes, he’s a Designated Player but no, he isn’t Thierry Henry, and he more or less did the same thing to the Revs that the aging Red Bull striker has done, twice. Truth to tell, he shouldn’t be doing that to an ostensibly league-leading defensive back four (or three), even though they are playing a man down.

So now going into a rest period the still somewhat new coach Jay Heaps has to really think about the ability of his charges to absorb the kind of instant shifts in tactics and approach that high level competitive football demands. If, for example, a mid-table Serie B team, say Bari or Padova or even Jose Goncalves’ relegation bound 2005 Venezia side had a two goal lead at the 20 minute mark followed by an unfortunate, but completely understandable red card, do you really think they would have given up two goals in the 25 minutes left until the break? In a word, no, and if the Revs have playoff aspirations that extend beyond daydreams, they had better learn how to adjust to in game shifts and turns of fortune and, bluntly, Heaps and staff need to be able to explain to their charges exactly what to do.

Certainly, a top-level athlete and experienced player like Miller can do wonderful things with the ball. but players of the supposed quality of the Revolution back four should know how to deal with such moves. While Juan Agudelo and Dimitry Imbongo also shredded the Whitecaps backline, the latter were thought of as the sad sacks going into last Saturday’s tilt while the former were developing a reputation as the best in show. Not any more, back to the training ground and video monitor.

On a lovely evening the previous Wednesday we got to see, albeit in miniature, what an urban soccer experience, Boston/Cambridge-style might be. From the soccer specific watering hole at Charlie’s Beer Garden, to the march down JFK that scattered summer-clad PhD candidates and resident latter-day Communists, to the wonderful blue smoke bomb, the whole evening was adult fare and mildly X-rated, despite any number of little kids amongst the cranks, curmudgeons and hipsters that would have made a “keep Portland weird” crowd feel at home. While anything that takes place at Harvard has about as much egalitarian actuality as a Mitt Romney speech, the crowd took over the site in the same way that Crystal Palace and Watford punters turned Wembley’s corporate confines into a cathedral of real football for last month’s promotion playoff.

A friend of mine from Argentina, a dyed-in-the-wool soccer snob, turned up on the hillock that became the Fort cum Kop to tell me that he ABSOLUTELY LOVED IT and would, finally, come with me to a game at Gillette Stadium. The fact is, I have never spent a more enjoyable evening watching football in New England, including World Cup 1994.

While I seriously doubt that a soccer-specific stadium in metro Boston could ever trump the economic imperative to people Patriot Place with seventeen more evenings of casual consumers, the chance to savor what might, if only faintly, be will accompany me to the grave. Having eaten eels in the East End before a West Ham match, chomped on choripan prior to kickoff at la Bonbonera, sucked on Victorias from street vendors next to Estadio Cruz Azul and marched through Harrison, NJ en route to Red Bull Arena, I would say that the scene at Charlie’s, while smaller, was every bit as good. As we strode to the stadium tears were welling in my eyes and I would have cried except I was enjoying myself so much.

In point of fact, many of this year’s games at Gillette have been great fun and there is a sense that despite Saturday’s disappointment that the Revs are on to something and might mature into a pretty good team. Figuring out how to hold on to the current playing staff so they can develop as a unit may prove too big a challenge what with the salary cap and individual ambition but for now, regardless of snotty evaluations by opposing fans, the 2013 Revolution season is a good ride for the money.

Continuing on a personal perspective, I’ve always been involved in one sort of sport or another; playing, watching, writing, etc. I’m used to all the different body types and presences required; the grossly oversize stature of gridiron warriors, the toweringly gawkiness of basketball players, the sumo-steroid-inspired build of home run hitters, the chunkiness (Zdeno Chara aside) of hockey players.

Footballers often seem like regular folk, super-fit for certain, but proportionally near normal. However, if I were a forward and I spotted Jose Goncalves walking towards the penalty area that I was about to contest, I might think about switching to midfield, at least for the day. He is that imposing. Imagine someone with the presence of Kevin Garnett who can speak Scottish.

I spoke to the impressive Portuguese/Swiss newcomer one morning after training.

JIM: To begin, I’m told that you speak five languages…

JOSE: Well, six, actually…

JIM: How did that happen?

JOSE: Because I grew up in Switzerland, I (was) born in Portugal but I grew up in Switzerland…

JIM: In the French or German speaking part?

JOSE: In the French part, in Lausanne and my girlfriend comes from Zurich, that’s the German part and I played (for) F.C. Basel, also the German part. Also, I had the chance to practice other languages and once you know three languages, two (being) Latin languages, it is much easier.

JIM: Well, I speak a bit of Spanish and when I was in Portugal, not knowing any Portuguese I would try to speak Spanish and of course people would look at me…(NOTE: At this point Goncalves broke out laughing)…it was a terrible insult and I didn’t even realize it at the time.

But anyway, I didn’t know until I read your bio that you had actually only lived in Portugal for a couple of years and then you moved as a little child…

JOSE: Yes, exactly.

JIM: And your family went to Switzerland for work?

JOSE: Yeah, we stayed two years in Portugal after I was born and (then) we moved to Lausanne in Switzerland, my father decided to move to Switzerland because his brother was working there so all the family went over there and that’s how I grew up over there, went to school there and I (started) playing soccer there.

JIM: Who were you playing with, with amateur teams or did you sign early with a pro team and play with their development teams coming up?

JOSE: I was playing in a pro club, with Yverdon Sport; they stayed in the first division and (I was with them) as a young kid. After that I moved to F.C. Basel, I was very young, to the formation center of F.C. Basel and I was playing for the under-17 and under-21 teams until (I made) the first team.

JIM: And Basel is a terrific team with a great development program I’m told.

JOSE: Yes, it is the biggest club in Switzerland and they advanced a lot of young players to go through to the (senior) club…you can see they reached the semifinal for the Europa Cup this year, and every year they play in the Champions League so it is a great club.

JIM: When you became a senior professional did you get attached to a single club or did you move around as a free agent, so to speak? This is something that with most sports in this country doesn’t happen as much. We have free agency yes, but players don’t move as much early and mid-career as footballers.

JOSE: I decided as a kid, it was always my dream to be a pro and I was always telling my mom that one day I would be a pro and I will lift a cup and she was laughing and say, “yes of course, but you must work hard in school as well.” That was difficult to understand as a kid, you know you want to play football, but at one point you realize that you have the chance, when I was in Basel, to be a pro in a big club, so…there are a lot of good players, but there aren’t too many players who break through. So it is really difficult in Europe and I had the chance, after Basel I went to Italy and I learned a lot in Italy as a defender and also as a professional.

JIM: That is the league of defense…

JOSE: Yes, and for me it is still the best league because as a defender…it is amazing how (Paolo) Maldini and (Fabio) Canavarro play, for me they are the best and they are still the best defenders in the world. I learned a lot and you can see that football brings you in so many – how can I say? – so many different situations in life that you must be ready at any point, at any time in your life, because (the opportunity) can go so fast, and if you are not ready, then you will not make it and that is the advice I can give to the young players: it doesn’t matter where you play, when you play but you must be ready at any time you can get a chance.

JIM: For you, when you were developing as a younger player and with your experience in Italy being such a formative thing are there particular players that you have patterned yourself after?

JOSE: Yes, yes I learned a lot from players there (in Italy). I remember some Italian players who have given me a lot of good advice; how to eat, how to sleep well, I learned that already (at) F.C. Basel, how to eat, what you have to eat, what not, what you have to drink. It was really, really professional you know, since a younger age, since (I was) fifteen and since then I always do the same things. I know what I have to eat before the game, before training, when I have to go to bed. It is very important that you take care about your body because your body is your work, and if your body is not feeling well, if you don’t respect your body, then it won’t respect you. So I think to be a professional is not only to come to the training ground and train and then afterwards go home – it is also to eat well the day before, to go to bed, eat well in the morning, train, take care of your body and afterwards, go home. A lot of people think that you train two hours a day and then you are off and it is a nice life. It isn’t so nice as you (might) think, you know? After that you go home and you rest because the rest of the time is exactly the amount of time you need to rest to be one hundred percent the next day.

JIM: Do you do any gym stuff as well, above the training sessions?

JOSE: During the preseason I do more than in the season, but during the season, I always keep my body moving, like biking, running and stretching and every day, every week is a new week and I go with how my body feels. You know, if I feel that I need more work in the gym, then I go to the gym two, three times a week. If I feel that I have done enough, then I do less and I go for running, for cardio.

JIM: Switching a bit, you have come to the States; did you look at different teams when you were deciding to make the move to MLS? How did you decide on here in New England?

JOSE: I (was) in touch with someone here who knows the MLS, and he asked me if I wanted to move to MLS and at the start I was not quite sure because I didn’t know a lot about the league. But I decided to come here for a few days and to see how it is, you know (that’s) very important and I felt it straightaway that the people accepted me very well, so it is much easier. I saw the club, saw the stadium and saw also the city, and I realized that I can live here, I can play here and I was sure that I was going to be happy. That’s why I decided to move.

JIM: What have been the biggest surprises for you coming to play in this particular league at this particular time?

JOSE: The most special thing…hmmmmn…

JIM: Or just things that you didn’t expect, or that people had told you…for instance, MLS has a reputation of being very, very physical and yet when you compare it to Italy, or Portugal which are also physical leagues, although far more technical as well…

JOSE: Yes, I played in Scotland, so it is really, really physical…(laughing)

JIM: Of course, I forgot about that, of course…

JOSE: No, the league, well when I came to (MLS) I didn’t know which teams were physical, which teams are more technical because there are so many different (teams) and every team plays different football. In Europe, you know that if you play against an Italian team, once they score a goal, then they defend really well. If you play against a British team, they are really, really physical. If you play against a Spanish team, they are really, really technical. But because I didn’t know a lot about MLS it was really difficult to know about my opponent and (their) team. And I found that a little bit frustrating, you know, because you have to learn and it takes time. You have to play a few games, but I like to know more about my opponent, so I know about whom I am playing against.

JIM: And of course the teams here change a lot, from year to year, players, even tactics and styles. The style of this team, the Revolution, is totally different than it was two years ago.

JOSE: Yes and the organization (of the league) is also different, there are two groups (divisions) here and the first five teams play in a playoff; in Europe you don’t do that, only in England in the Championship (for promotion). Yes there is so much different stuff and you can be, (for example) we played a game that we won against Philadelphia, and after(wards) Chris Tierney got suspended and I asked him, “How come you got suspended, you didn’t get a red card, it was after the game and this can’t happen in Europe unless you kick someone in the head?”… Some small stuff is different here than in Europe.

JIM: How about the turf, the fake grass fields, how is that for you?

JOSE: Yes, there are a lot of teams here that play on turf. I see some great turf and some, well, less great. In Europe, most of the teams play on grass and you need to get used to the turf, especially when it is really warm, it is really difficult…

JIM: So Sunday (June 2) against the Galaxy must have been tough.

JOSE: Yes, Sunday was really warm, especially the first half but I think you get used to it. Of course when the weather is really bad to have a turf field is an advantage. For us, of course, it is an advantage (because) when other teams come to play on the turf, they don’t really like it, so we must take advantage there.

JIM: This team seems to be evolving, developing a style that is quite different from say the style the Revolution had over the last decade, let’s say and much of it is from players like yourself coming in from other countries who have tremendous experience in playing and bring a kind of comfort with the ball. Have you noticed, in your time playing here in the States, that players from Europe and Latin America have better technique than those from the States?

JOSE: You know in Europe football is more developed; there are more teams. A lot of countries have big teams and that is a difference. You know in America (it) is so big, but soccer is not as developed as in Europe. Of course, when you have players that have played for ten or fifteen years in Europe, they have a lot of experience, and they can bring this experience into the league and into the clubs, and this is what I wanted to do. And I think (the Revolution) also expected that from me. I have already tried to teach some players who need to be taught as defenders; the movements, to speak with the players so they can read the game better, because when I was a young player, the older players did that with me, so I think it is very important that you keep it that way, you know?

JIM: Well it is clear from watching you wearing the captain’s armband that you are taking the responsibility and that people are responding positively to that.

JOSE: It ‘s very important to take responsibility; not only myself, but we can see that in the last few games everyone takes the responsibility, everyone works hard and I think the mentality has been good and if we keep it that way, we can only progress and take a lot of points.

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