Can Somebody Call The Cleaning Service About The Rug? Plus An Interview with Matt Reis.
A VIEW FROM THE FORT by Jim Dow
As we were crossing the bridge at the north end of Gillette Stadium just prior to Saturday’s kickoff against D.C, a friend of mine, visiting from the UK, exclaimed, completely unprompted, “Wow, imagine if this were all going on in a 20,000-seater ground in the city; big crowd, no lines, real grass, could be absolutely great atmosphere.”
Earlier this season, a fan of an MLS team visiting the Complex That Kraft Built offered the following opinion on the Internet…“This place is even more in the middle of nowhere than I imagined. I might as well be somewhere in Nebraska. But it’s in a mall. I can see Bed Bath and Beyond down the parking lot. What a weird setup.”
When you add cowboy refereeing, inexplicable gaffs, a more than 100% swing in attendance, and two completely different playing surfaces, it is certain that the circumstances surrounding the staging of the Revolution’s last two home games have certainly been just that, both weird as well as potentially wonderful.
Over the past two weeks, the two of the three most important Revolution matches of the season have been bookended between the University of Massachusetts gridiron Minutemen, The Portuguese and Brazilian Nation futbol teams and the New England Patriots, to make for a perfect storm of opportunity, scheduling and circumstantial conflicts. The ticket windows, parking lots, concession stands and maintenance crews have all been busy and the amount of overtime paid has likely helped a lot of the stadium and team employees.
Understanding all that an indelible impression remains when one crucial showdown (Montreal) is rescheduled to a school night Sunday, and another features the worst combination of a ping-pong surface decorated by myriad lines and logos that at once interfere and yet are meaningless to the match being of the moment (D.C.) that the New England Revolution, now in the 18th year of their existence, are somewhere between guests in their own house and strangers in a strange land.
If you judge strictly by the numbers coming through the turnstiles, they have certainly been the low entry on the attendance table, 9/8 – Revs v Montreal (9,165) / 9/21 – Revs v D.C. (19,187) for an average of 14,176 for the two highest stakes home games of the 2013 season.
UMass, a poor team in an unattractive conference, playing far farther away from “home” than the Revs have thus far managed to draw 15,624 for their first game v Maine (9/7) and then 16,419 v Vanderbilt (9/21) to average 16,022 for their first two Gillette dates.
Both the Minutemen and the Revolution offer free parking and low-priced tickets, and while the collegiate team looks pretty hapless in their attempt to enter the big time, the soccer side is definitely on the uptick competitively and, hopefully, in terms of visibility on the sporting scene. It would be wonderful if the presentation of the product, in this case soccer, could be consistent in quality.
Brazil against Portugal, a massively hyped, one-off friendly on 10 September, didn’t fail to bang out at the box office but did generate a real grass surface as well as 62,310 punters paying outrageous prices to park and grill a chouriço in anticipation of watching their favorites put on a show, which they certainly did.
And then there are the Patriots whose home opener v. the Jets two nights later (Thursday, 12 September) drew a full house of 68,756 as likely will their second game against Tampa Bay on the 22nd, to hold the top spot in the Big Razor attendance table at 68,756 per tilt. Of the prices paid to watch the Brady Bunch nothing need be said save that, like the Brazil match, everything on offer is priced at list +.
Economically, it makes perfect sense to piggyback events at Gillette. There are only 10 or 12 Pats games a year, plus maybe 18 Revs matches and the more stuff staged at the stadium the more solvent the whole enterprise of Kraft Sports, Inc. If you believe in trickle down, a rising tide helps float all boats but the flip side of the last fortnight of activities at The Razor has been to place even more confusion and obstacles in the way of Jay Heaps’ young charges.
Playing Montreal in front of a crowd that could charitably called sparse was unfortunate, particularly because the grass surface, laid down for the thoroughbreds of the two Selecaos, made for a match that featured far better than average touches than generally seen on the Field Turf rug. Matt Reis’s challenge on a canny March Di Vaio may have put a potentially great tussle beyond reach, but the game still see-sawed back and forth in high style until the Revs ran out of gas late in the day.
After the tough loss in Chicago, the team returned to play the role of the sandwich event between two gridiron games meaning that they had to deal with both D.C. United and demarcations for a completely different set of rules. From where I stood behind the north goal, I saw any number of slight hesitations on the part of players from both teams when trying to judge where the actual soccer lines were in the mish-mash of hash marks, lines and logos.
Talk about bringing the game into disrepute by driving everyone involved, playing and watching to despair. It was a tribute to the skill of the players that the game was an interesting to watch as it was, but I would venture to say the Revolution’s now quasi-trademark short passing game was affected by the visual detritus that was painted all over the pitch.
Now the Revs have a week to gee up for what will yet again be the biggest game of the season against the currently rampant Dynamo, who also gave up a first goal to their opponent but then thumped five past the ineffectual Goats and will arrive at Foxborough in the mood to do the same against the Revs. Let’s hope Poppa K will show his hospitality for the visitors and affection for his own lads by having the rug cleaned at his house.
Matt Reis had a tough choice to make when Marco Di Vaio bore down on him a fortnight ago in Foxborough. In the end, it may have put the team too far on the schneid to come back from but his sliding heroics against D.C. absolutely saved the home team’s bacon and allowed for their gritty comeback to be carried through to a successful conclusion.
Going into the final five matches, there is no question that the New England Revolution will depend on their athletic goalkeeper with the shaved head and razor sharp sense of humor. I was told that I only had a few minutes to speak with the team’s Number One, as he had to get inside for treatment. Jokingly, I told him to kick me to let me know if I was taking too much of his time, as I began to ask my first question I received a deadpan tap on the shin from his right boot. Luckily, I knew his reputation and only hesitated for a nano-second…
JIM: I’m writing about the evolution of this group of players as a team for the future and from our point of view as a senior player I wonder if you would agree that it seems that there are three generations represented here on the Revolution. You have the young players starting out on their careers as professionals, the established players and the veterans towards the latter part of their playing time, plus you have people from all over the world in who are a part of the team. How does that work, as you observe it?
MATT: I think that is how it is in most teams, you have the older guys, the veterans, you have the younger guys that have done it for a couple of years that really are the engine room of the team and who you really rely on quite a bit. And then you have the fresh-faced young guys, so I think that if you look at all teams that is kind of the make-up of how it is and you’ll have that international (presence) mixed in (playing) a lot of those positions. A sign of a good team is (one) that has core guys in the middle that are really pushing the team, you’ve got that leadership in the veterans and then you’ve got those young guys that are eager and hungry to make a difference in the league.
JIM: Of course when you first came to the Revs from the Galaxy in 2003 the balance was being established in the other direction, this became pretty much a veteran team with a few kids slotting in like Dempsey and Parkhurst but the current team seems to be building an identity on the field as a team that rises and falls on its’ youngsters and plays a quite different style than back in the day.
How has that changed your role as a player, if at all?
MATT: My role has always been the same, it’s to provide leadership in the back, to make saves and to help the young guys when they need it, to give them a few little pointers here in practice (about) positioning and kind of where to go and things like that. You know once you get on the field you can’t really do too much in terms of adjustment, it all has to be natural (and based) on feel, so my role hasn’t changed in the last eleven years.
JIM: Except you are noted as a distributor of the ball, that is something you do very well and in many ways; long punts, passing, throwing and distributing the ball to this group of players is a different thing, I would think, from my observation you play a bit more of an offensive role as the first touch in a build-up.
MATT: Yeah, it’s really important for us to keep the ball I think, we see that when we have the ball quite a bit we make the opposition do a lot of work. You can look at the Philly game and I think our possession in the first half caused them to kind of loose their gas a bit towards the end which allowed us to open them up a bit, so my position in the back is to make saves and then when we have the ball is to be an option in the back to get the ball from side to side.
JIM: Do you see a difference as a keeper in dealing with a ball coming off of turf as opposed to coming off a grass surface?
MATT: No. It all depends, if you have a slick surface, either on turf or on grass its going to come off faster, if it’s dry grass it is going to be a little bit slower, so there are differences but nothing (really) noticeable.
JIM: It seems from the vantage point of watching the game there appears to be more of a ping-pong nature to the game and, by the same token, that players putting spin on the ball, as with Agudelo’s goal against Chicago where the 60 yard ball from Chris Tierney bounced up rather than ran giving him the chance to chip the keeper…
MATT: Yeah, when you wet the turf down here it tends to be fast and (the ball) tends to go but we need that, we need the ball to move. We wet the field here every morning at training because when this grass gets dry it gets slow and it is hard to make passes, so the balls on turf are usually a little bit faster in terms of playing but if we don’t wet the turf, it gets slow (as well).
JIM: We are now at the point in the season where a lot of the younger players, or at least a number of them have never played this many games in a year. What do you, as a veteran player, impart to these guys?
MATT: Just to work through it. You know it is difficult and it is something that these guys have to get through and that is one of the difficult things about being a first-year player, learning all the new bits and pieces and having to bring it every day. You really can’t take days off out here but you do kind of see them hitting a wall. Fortunately for us there aren’t to many guys that we are relying on that are “rookie rookies,” we still have a lot of young guys but they’ve been through it a little bit, it is just a matter of taking care of yourself off the field and making sure that this is the most important thing that you are doing.
JIM: Jose Goncalves said that this is a 24-hour a day job because you are recovering 16 or 17 hours of the day, every day because you are practicing and playing practically every day. Is that the same for you?
MATT: Absolutely, and it is even more difficult for me with having a wife and children. I don’t get as much recovery time because when I get home it’s “daddy time,” so it is a fine balance and it is really important that once you are done here that you get everything back in your body and you get to rest and you get sleep and that you make sure that when you come out here the next day that you have just as much energy and just as much desire as you did the day before.
JIM: I was just looking at the field while you guys were training and trying to figure out how many of the current squad has families, kids and so forth…
JIM: We don’t have to count them out but the point is I remember when this team in the mid-2000’s was sort of a suburban group, people go home to their families as most of the players were married, now many of the players live in the city, again, is that a different scene, I’m thinking about all those speeding tickets getting to training during rush hour.
MATT: Yeah, luckily we don’t have too many bad drivers, except for Lee (Ngyuen) but yes, the dynamics are different from each team and the dynamics shift and it just is kind of how the squad is and it isn’t good or bad it is just those dynamics and those guy, those players. It doesn’t matter what you do off the field as long as you, once you step between the lines, you give everything you have.