New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: Revolution at Sporting K.C.

Revolution striker Juan Agudelo signed a future contract with Stoke City earlier this week. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Revolution striker Juan Agudelo signed a future contract with Stoke City earlier this week. (Photo: Chris Aduama/

Six days after the Seattle Sounders signed Clint Dempsey to the richest deal ever given to an American player, the New England Revolution watched Juan Agudelo ink a future contract with Stoke City. But did it have to happen that way?

On one hand, Agudelo’s deal with an EPL club was entirely expected. Agudelo has never been shy when it comes to his European ambitions. Like so many talented players across the globe, Agudelo had serious aspirations to play in one of the best leagues in the world. So when the Revolution traded for the 20-year-old striker in May, it was a forgone conclusion that Agudelo was bound for Europe when his current contract expired at the end of the year.

On the other hand, the similar conclusions were being drawn about Dempsey’s immediate future only a week ago. Many assumed that he’d likely stay in the EPL, either with Tottenham or possibly with Liverpool, depending upon which rumors you subscribed to. Any thoughts that, arguably, the best American player at the moment would entertain the possibility of coming back to MLS in his prime – and a year before the World Cup, at that – would’ve been met with ridicule and derision. Then, with the single stroke of a pen, the thinking changed – dramatically.

There were three important lessons learned from the Dempsey megadeal. One, we discovered that Dempsey, even in his prime, was open to coming back to MLS as early as last summer. Two, money is a very powerful motivator, and even an American soccer player holding the highest aspirations isn’t immune to its influence. Three, the league has shown that it will spend its own money to sign an American player.

So what does all this have to do with Agudelo’s situation?

It’s conceivable that, prior to signing with Stoke, Agudelo would’ve been open to staying in MLS – specifically with the Revolution – for three more years at the right price. We don’t know what’s in his heart of hearts, but as we learned with Dempsey’s signing, it’s entirely possible he would’ve re-signed for a seven-figure sum. Heck, a three-year deal would allow him to try his hand at EPL action at age 23, the same age Dempsey was when he signed with Fulham in 2007.

Of course, the above scenario rests entirely on the willingness of the Revolution organization to offer Agudelo – or any player – that kind of money. As we’ve learned over the years, the eBay logo-emblazoned water tower next to Gillette Stadium isn’t filled with money to spend on soccer players. And the odds of an organization that has never paid seven figures for a player to suddenly change course and offer many millions to a talented 20-year-old, no matter how good he is, are too minute to calculate.

Now, this shouldn’t be construed as an indictment of Michael Burns, Jay Heaps or Brian Bilello. They can only work with the budget they’re given. We don’t have telepathy, but it’s not hard to imagine that if Burns could cut a $15 million check to Agudelo for three more years of his time, it seems entirely possible that he would do just that. But we all know that fantasy isn’t reality.

In an ideal world, the Revolution would’ve made the bold statement they’ve failed to make since, well, forever, and signed Agudelo for Patriots money. Agudelo would’ve continued along his career arc in New England instead of Stoke, where only the thing that’s attractive are the WAGs. The Revolution would’ve kept their young and talented attacking corps intact, and its stands to reason that they would become a perennial playoff contender. More so, it would signal that the organization is dead serious about winning rather than trying to play Moneyball. And who knows? Maybe the league would offer them a few bucks to do so. Hey, this is in an ideal world, after all.

At the end of the day, what’s a few million to an organization that routinely spends seven figures on backup American football players? So what if that that money could go toward a stadium. Oh wait…nevermind.

But what’s past is past. We now look ahead to the future, and do it by asking these five questions ahead of Saturday’s contest at Sporting Park.

1. How can the Revolution avoid a slow start? Well, it would probably help if they didn’t hit the panic button right after the opening whistle. Seriously. In D.C., the Revolution hurried both short passes and long balls alike, and it they found themselves in a ditch in the eighth minute. Last week, it took less than two minutes for Jose Goncalves to inexplicably dribble right into a turnover, which led to the only goal of the game. Note to Revolution: it’s time to stop overthinking the first 10 minutes. Yes, it’s smart to string together some passes on the ground and play some route one ball, too. But don’t let the gameplan get in the way of the goal, as they say. Keeping an opponent on its heels is always the key. They have stick to what works, and early in the game, what has worked are short, intelligent passes. Not movement for the sake of it, but smart movement. Sure, it’s partly mental, as some of the world’s best footballers admit to regular bouts of pre-game butterflies and/or blowing chunkage due to nerves. And that’s OK. The real hill the Revolution face in getting more from their starts is not allowing any nerves or second thoughts to get in the way of playing smart soccer in the opening moments.

2. What can the Revolution learn from the Red Bulls win over Sporting K.C. last week? Plenty. For starters, we saw the talented Red Bulls wisely sit back and allow K.C. to exert their trademark high pressure. And for many moments, it looked like it was going to be an epic fail on Mike Petke’s part. Yes, the Red Bulls allowed their opponents to fire a season-high 27 shots, and were supremely lucky that K.C.’s finishing was about the same as the Revolution’s last week against Toronto (too soon? too soon?). But the Red Bulls defense nevertheless absorbed the pressure, then rechanneled it back at K.C. by exploiting all those wide open passing lanes they like to leave behind them. In midst of that, Petke employed Lloyd Sam to come on in the latter stages, and his energy off the bench helped the guests surge – or escape, depending upon your allegiances – to a 3-2 win. While it wasn’t the cleanest, nor the most well-played game in Red Bulls/MetroStars history, they should be applauded for accomplishing one very, very important thing to get three points: they finished their shots. Plain and simple. They only collected five of them, yet they scored on three. OK, New York and New England may not employ identical formations, nor does the Revolution have the same world-class attacking players at their disposal. But that shouldn’t stop Saturday’s guests from adopting a similarly methodical and disciplined approach when they walk onto the pitch at Sporting Park.

3. Will Kelyn Rowe return to the lineup? Many were shocked to see the grease man of the attack get an assignment to the bench last week against Toronto, but Juan Toja wasn’t exactly a slouch during his hour on the pitch. In the first half, the creative Colombian connected with the forwards and helped move the ball along nicely along the edge of attacking edge of the middle third. Yet, by the second half, he and the attack quickly lost rhythm, and Rowe was brought on to sharpen the form in front of the net. While he wasn’t quite the firestarter Heaps had hoped for, Rowe did drop a perfect ball right on the doortsep for Lee Nguyen, who nearly squeezed it through in the 90th minute, and showed a propensity to put the ball in the right places at times leading up to that near-assist. All in all, both Toja and Rowe proved their worth on Sunday. But given K.C.’s physical approach and high pressure, it wouldn’t be a shock to see the smaller and less refined Rowe come off the bench again.

4. Can the league’s toughest defense shut down the K.C.’s high-pressure approach? It’s going to be a battle royale in Blue Hell. Ding-ding-ding-ding! The New England Revolution, at 8-8-6, with 30 points to its name, marches into this match with the stingiest defense in MLS! Sporting Kansas City, at 10-7-6, with 36 points, enters into the contest with one of the best offenses in the league! Let’s get readyyyyy to rumbllllleeeee! OK, so maybe we’re hyping things a bit here. After all, the aforementioned defense has only one shutout in their last five, and has conceded early goals to the likes of Toronto and D.C. Meanwhile the offense in question followed up a 1-0 loss vs. Montreal on Jul. 27 with a wretchedly futile offensive performance against New York. In other words, what could unfold might very well be 90 minutes in which the only highlights might be tifo-related. In fact, it may boil down to who makes the most egregious mistake. Earlier this year, the clubs battled to a 0-0 draw in a windswept affair at Gillette Stadium. But if there has to be a winner this time, the edge has to go the hosts, who with the Sporting Park partisans behind them, will probably find a way to avoid a third straight loss.

5. What must the Revolution be aware of given the atmosphere at Sporting Park? After Wednesday’s training, Heaps candidly remarked that one of the toughest challenges a guest faces at one of the best places to watch a soccer game according to Yelp!  isn’t so much the crowd itself, but its influence on the officiating. Last year, we saw Silviu Petruscu inexplicably issue a straight red card to Stephen McCarthy in the 15th minute on a play that likely warranted a caution, if that, and the game circled the drain for the Revolution shortly thereafter. This week, Baldomero Toledo, the man who’s made the stiff-armed penalty call an art form, will be overseeing this match. True, the Revolution must play a smart game against Sporting K.C. regardless of the referee. But they have to be even wiser not to let Toledo’s happy whistle hurt them, especially inside their own end.


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