A View from the Fort

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We Are A Bit More Than Halfway Through: Two Tales of Two Sorts of Fireworks and Two Cities.

A VIEW FROM THE FORT By Jim Dow

Robert Kraft was in Los Angeles and present at the StubHub Center for the 5-1 thrashing given to his long struggling, and now officially plummeting, soccer team. And one has to wonder if he has any competitive juices when it comes to real football – will he send some kind of message down the Foxboro food chain to do something to rectify the situation? Of course the real question is, as always, will that involve the expenditure of money?

While a crowd of 15,406 people (2014 avg. 15,355) saw fit to tool down to Foxborough on a lovely July evening ten days ago, the major pyrotechnical display on offer took the form of a post-match show of rockets, roman candles and some other stuff that went bang in the night.

The setup for the bombs bursting in air was behind the goal opposite the Fort, definitely not in the opposition penalty area. Of the roughly sixteen Revolution setups that took place in the second half against Chicago, every one qualified as somewhere between a dud and a fizzle; the contrast could not have been more marked. Tellingly, it is far easier to fire off a firework than to put the ball in the old onion bag, and cheaper as well.

Where Marie Antoinette opined that the rabble should consume cake, the owners of Kraft FC appear content to settle for a comparatively inexpensive box or two of explosives rather than an explosive, potentially expensive penalty box predator to help to convert the more than adequate service provided by the nine outfield players who don’t wear the number nine.

The World Cup is over, the MLS season over half gone and the transfer window is wide, wide open. The Argentine economy is in collapse; recently relegated sides across the globe are stripping their wage bills and free agents are, well, at liberty to negotiate despite not being free, cost-wise. In other words, it is the perfect time for squad strengthening and, in the cold light of mid-season truth made even plainer by their dismemberment by the Fire, the Union and then the Galaxy, the Revolution are in dire, indeed desperate need of precisely that.

Of the many fascinating home truths that emerged from the five weeks of World Cup competition, two particularly apply to the building and maintaining of a competitive team.

First, in a game that is improving all the time through a combination of increased fitness, athleticism and technical ability, the most successful sides throughout the world are built through a distribution of outstanding players throughout the lineup. While this may seem obvious, it is extremely difficult to achieve, particularly with the increased globalization of the game. As has been pointed out, there were more players from Manchester City in the starting Argentine eleven than there were from clubs at home (3-0, in point of fact). No one on the Brazilian team, save Fred and he needed saving, plays in Brazil. The German players, on the other hand, play mostly in the Bundesliga, or at the least were schooled in the laudable German academy system during their crucial developmental years.

You have to have a system in place and the players to play that system. You cannot force players, no matter how talented, to play outside their comfort zones, the best clubs and national sides have that, everyone else scrambles, including at this point the United States and the New England Revolution.

The US learned that the hard way as both Bradley and Dempsey were forced into roles that were not their best to place other players on the field (Beckerman), or cover holes created by injuries (Altidore). On the other hand, when Philip Lahm was returned to his favored position, the Mannschaft purred like a BMW (Bayren, via Bavaria).

While there are many talented players on the current Revolution squad, none of them are the sort of dominant type who can, at least as of this writing, force the outcome of a game through a combination of outrageous talent and sheer will. With the current situation we see it with the formation(s), Patrick Mullins cannot do it by himself up front. If he is to thrive, he needs a partner, a predator or provider, but someone to play off of. Teal Bunbury doesn’t have the consistency to drive at defenses and open up space for others. Diego, Nguyen and Kelyn Rowe do, but too often they are mobbed by packs of opposing players who can afford to overplay them because they do not fear overlapping alternatives. Too often the midfielders have to chase second balls and wind up trying to play themselves out of difficult positions, ultimately having to knock the ball back for safekeeping and the defenders don’t transition the ball carefully enough to allow for a proper build up.

With the best teams in the World Cup players in possession almost always had options; they could choose between an aggressive pass or a safe one, thereby controlling the tempo of the game and allowing for their teammates to make runs or maintain possession. All the teams made errors; even unforced ones, but the best (Germany, Argentina, Holland) took care of the ball in all three thirds of the field and, if they lost it, hunted in packs to get it back.

When the Revs are on song they perform in a similar way, although their transition game in their defensive end remains a glaring weak spot. The Brits like to say, “there are horses for courses,” and this dictum holds true at all good levels of competition. Both the case of the Revolution and the U.S. national team need a couple of additional horses to allow the players already here to stay on course in the roles they are best suited for.

The second point learned from Brazil 14 is that if all else is equal, you need a flash or flashes of brilliance to prevail. Throughout the tournament, be it Cahill, Goetze, Jones, Messi, Muller, Rodriguez, Ronaldo or others, games were won, drawn or lost by sudden, incisive strikes or bits of play, sometimes directly at goal, other times piercing the heart of an otherwise solid defense. Teams need greatness to season and compliment competence.

That said, in today’s topflight soccer, no one great player is capable of carrying a team against good competition. Messi couldn’t do it with Argentina. Ronaldo was unable, one wonderful cross aside, to drive an aging Portugal. Suarez, pre-bite, likely couldn’t have taken Uruguay to glory by himself and so on.

Had the 1986 Argentina team been time-traveled to Brazil, fully intact, I doubt if they would have done as well as the current albiceleste. The ball would have sought out weak links, particularly if in possession by the Germans and while Maradona would have had full use of both his hands and feet, well left foot, he would have been shadowed, kicked and ultimately cut out, just like Messi.

On the other hand, the 2013 Revolution had Juan Agudelo, no Messi, not even a Noodle (Angel Di Maria, fideo in Spanish) but at MLS level and possibly beyond, the kind of instinctive player who can do the unexpected under pressure. He made a huge difference, making those around him better while drawing attention, which in turn, gave his teammates more operating room. Right now this is missing and while Patrick Mullins may become a fine forward, he needs support and quickly.

Agudelo is still a free agent, although with a number of suitors and his supposed transfer value is around $1.5 million one wonders if he is one of the players that Michael Burns was recently quoted as being “familiar with.” If we compare that figure with ex-Rev (albeit briefly) Milton Caraglio whose worth is given at $1.75 million, you can get the idea of what a good upgrade might cost, with salary added of course.

Interestingly enough, Caraglio’s club, Arsenal de Sarandi, located in a rough suburb south of Buenos Aires has a playing staff valued at $24.6 million compared to the Revolution squad currently pegged at just over $8 million on the transfer block. By way of comparison at the other end of the food chain, the mighty Arsenal first team, based in North London, is valued at $498 million.

This disparity between a small, likely broke Argentine club and a mildly profitable one in a bland but safe suburb located south of Boston and a top Premiership side is striking, despite being somewhat inaccurate. So as a way to kill time while recovering from hip surgery I thought it might be interesting to compare two MLS clubs, our own Revolution (a “small” team) and the Seattle Sounders (the biggest one in the league) that, on the face of it, operate in similar sized cities with not dissimilar resources.

According to the 2010 census, Boston is the 10th ranked population wise in the US, with 636,479 in the core city, 4,684,299 in the metro area and 14,444,865 in the region (New England). Seattle ranks 15th by a 2013 estimate, with 612,000 in the urban center, 3,610, 105 metro and 15,069,765 in the region (Cascadia).

New England is owned by Robert Kraft, whose wealth is estimated at $2.3 billion, his son, Jonathan is also listed as an “Investor/Operator,” an interesting term of corporate newspeak. The Sounders are owned in the majority by Joe Roth ($700,000,000) with minority owners Paul Allen, Drew Carey and Adrian Hanauer likely bringing their resources to the same level or higher that Kraft Sports Inc. An important qualification to the resource totals would be whatever notes exist on Gillette Stadium, as well as Patriot Place. In other words, Robert Kraft’s resources could not possibly be totally directed towards his soccer team, even if he wanted to.

A year ago Forbes Magazine published an article that listed the value of all the MLS teams, based on 2012 statistics. The Sounders sale value was given as $175 million, with a gross revenue of $48 million and an operating income (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) of $18.2 million. The sale value of the New England Revolution listed as $89 million with a gross revenue of $17.1 million and an operating income of $2.6 million.

By these figures Seattle’s total value as a club/franchise is almost double (1.966) that of New England and given that the principal cash flow for MLS teams is through attendance, the difference between New England’s 2014 average of 15,355 and Seattle’s of 40,091 puts the Sounders average crowd as 2.6 times higher. Tellingly and, perhaps damningly, the Sounders gross income (again 2012 from Forbes) is 2.8 times that of the Revolution, a similar disparity which explains a lot of things both on the field and off.

The Revolution website lists 64 employees, of which a significant number are part-time. Seattle lists 145 on their staff, although again any number may be part-time. Further, because the Revolution are based at Gillette Stadium for both home games and training, a number of duties, such as cooks and office staff, etc, may be folded into job descriptions for stadium or Patriots employees as part of KSG (Kraft Sports Group). So the degree of support offered to the Revs may, in fact, be much closer to that afforded the Sounders. Nevertheless, it is interesting that the attendance (2.6x) and income differential (2.8x) is echoed in operational size, the Sounders have 2.27 times more employees than the Revs do.

To be specific, the Revolution have a Head Coach (Jay Heaps), two Assistant Coaches (one specializing in goalkeepers), and a Strength and Conditioning Coach.

Beyond Head Coach Sigi Schmid the Sounders have a staff of four assistants, one being a goalkeeping coach and another doubling as Chief Scout. They have a full time Strength and Conditioning Coach and a Manager of Performance and Sports Science.

Aside from coaches, New England has a General Manager (Michael Burns), a Soccer Operations Manager, an Equipment Manager and an Analyst (referring, I suppose, to the person who breaks down the OPTA stats, etc and not a shrink). They also list a Head Athletic Trainer, an Assistant Athletic Trainer, a Massage Therapist, a Head Team Physician, a Team Orthopedist, a Head Team Internist, a Team Internist, a Chiropractor, two Rehabilitation Specialists and a Rehabilitation Nutritionist.

For the Revolution Academy there is a Director of Youth Development (also Head Coach for the U-16s), an Academy Director & Youth Teams Coordinator, a Head Coach for the U-18s, a Program Development Manager, a Manager of Goalkeeping Programs & Youth Teams Director of Goalkeeping, a Technical Director, a Program Coordinator and an Assistant Strength and Conditioning Coach. A number of the folks listed also serve as Assistant Coaches for the various Academy teams.

On the soccer side of operations for the Sounders, besides the coaching staff there is a Sporting Director (in this case, ex-player Chris Henderson), a Team Services Director, a Team Administration Director, a Director of Youth Development and Head Coach/General Manager of Sounders U-23, a Youth Academy Administrator, a Team Operations Assistant, an Equipment Manager, two Assistant Equipment Managers, a Medical Director, a Head Athletic Trainer, two Assistant Athletic Trainers, two Chiropractors, a Manager of Youth Programs and a Youth Programs Operations Assistant.

Other than the ownership the Revs front office consists of a President, a Marketing Director, a Marketing Manager, a Community Relations Manager and two Marketing Coordinators (one TBD).

In Community Outreach & Fan Development the Sounders have a Director of Community Outreach, a Community Outreach Assistant Director, two Community Outreach Coordinators, a Community Outreach Coordinator, a Fan Development Assistant Director, a Fan Development International Outreach Manager and two Fan Development Coordinators.

Beyond the four owners, the front office consists of a CEO of Vulcan Sports & Entertainment, President of Seahawks, Sounders FC and First & Goal, Inc, a Chief Operating Officer, a Senior Vice President, a CFO & VP of Finance Seahawks, Sounders FC and First & Goal, a VP of Community Relations, a VP of Human Resources & Services, a VP of Facility Operations & Services, a VP of Communications, Broadcasting & Website Content, a VP of Technology and a VP of Business Operations.

On the Administration and Finance side Seattle has a Director of Human Resources, a Director of Business Operations, a Human Resources Manager, a Human Resources Administrative Assistant, an Executive Assistant to the President, two Executive Assistants, a Director of Facilities & Fields, a Receptionist, an Office Assistant, a Director of Finance, a Director of Business Strategy & Analytics, a Financial Reporting Manager, an Accounts Payable Coordinator, a Senior Accountant, a Payroll Accountant, a Revenue Staff Accountant, an Accounts Payable Coordinator, an Accounting Manager, a Purchasing Coordinator/Accounts Payable and an Finance Data Analyst.

For Broadcasting, Communications and Media the Revolution have a Supervising Producer and Announcer, a Color Analyst, a Sideline reporter, a Director of Communications, a Communications Coordinator, a Team Photographer, two Communications Associates, a Digital Content Manager, a Staff Writer and Online Host, a Social Media Associate and an E-mail Marketing Coordinator.

Seattle’s IT and Communications and Broadcasting and Digital Media departments have a Director of Information Technology, two Applications Developers, two Senior Systems Administrator, a Database Administrator, an Information Technology Specialist, a Director of Communications, a Communications Assistant, a Media Services Manager, a Corporate Communications Director, an Assistant Director of Broadcasting, an Executive Producer, a Broadcast Announcer, a Broadcast Analyst, two Photographers, a Director of Digital & Emerging Media, a Digital Media Manager, a Digital Content Coordinator, a Digital Media Video Producer, a Digital Media Writer & Host and a Digital Media Host.

For general ticket sales and service New England has a V.P. of Ticket Sales and Customer Service, a Customer Service Manager, a Group Sales Manager, a Package Sales Manager, two Senior Account Executives, seven Account Executives, an Analyst for CRM Sales, a Senior Customer Service Representative and three Customer Service Representatives.

At the Sounders a Director of Ticket Operations, two Ticket Sales Managers, a Ticket Services & Fan Relations Manager, two Box Office Managers, three Customer Sales Representatives, two Ticket Sales Representatives and three Customer Relationship Representatives staff Ticket Sales & Service.

On the luxury side Seattle has a Managing Director of Suite Sales & Service, two Directors of Suite Sales, two Suite Sales Managers and a Suite Services Coordinator.

For flogging Corporate Partnerships Seattle employs a Managing Director of Corporate Partnerships, four Directors of Sales, a Manager of Sales, a Manager, Corporate Partnership Services, five Account Managers, a Business Analyst, a Media Coordinator, a Digital Media Coordinator, a Service Coordinator, a Creative Manager and an Administrative Assistant.

Marketing for the Sounders involves a Director of Marketing, a Creative Director, a Marketing Manager, a Loyalty Program Manager and a Graphic Design Coordinator.

Seattle’s Gameday Production at the stadium involves a Director of Event Presentation & Fan Engagement, a Director of Production Services & Game Presentation, a Manager of Game Presentation, a Production Services Manager and a Lead Editor.

Seattle’s Retail Operations, that is the club shop, etc. involve a Director of Retail Operations, a Retail Operations Manager, a Retail Promotions & Merchandising Manager, a Pro Shop Manager – Pike Place, a Pro Shop Assistant Manager and a Warehouse Lead.

And, finally, cooking for the Sounders, Food Services employs an Executive Chef and three Cooks, leaving analogies about groceries, measuring and shopping to the reader.

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About Jim Dow