New England Soccer Today

A Bold Approach

Photo credit: Sporting Clube de Portugal

Photo credit: Sporting Clube de Portugal

When MLS 4.0 arrives and it’s time to remember how each club reached a new level of elevated stature, remember the autumn day in 2014 when the New England Revolution forged a strategic partnership with Portugal’s Sporting CP.

Moves like this will help guide American soccer clubs to higher echelons of training, scouting, competitiveness, and global reputation. The Revolution are just the latest team to take the plunge. D.C. United put a similar deal in place with Sunderland over a month ago, while the Los Angeles Galaxy, New York Red Bulls, and New York City FC pioneered the movement for American clubs.

Revolution General Manager Mike Burns and club President Brian Bilello were in Lisbon on Wednesday for the deal’s announcement with Sporting executives. This concluded talks, which according to the Revolution, that began in June, around the time of the Portugal-Mexico friendly at Gillette Stadium. The Revolution now have a helping hand across the pond that consistently reaches Champions League, which has helped establish a proven system of evaluating and developing players.

Don’t expect Rui Patricio, Jefferson, Fredy Montero & Co. to come to the Revolution via loan any time soon. However, deals for younger, unproven talent currently contracted to Sporting CP could come to fruition, allowing these up-and-comers to potentially see competitive minutes in MLS. Former MLS players Simon Dawkins and Daniele Paponi were both fringe players on big European squads before moving on loan to the U.S. and being difference-makers for their teams. Sporting currently has players out on loan to teams in the top divisions of Spain, Turkey and Croatia, among others. This, in addition to the advantages of having world class eyes and ears that know the game, is what the Revolution are banking on.

Did it take too long for the Revolution to find a European partner?

Less than half of MLS teams have such partnerships in place, which would suggest that it did not. But when asked last year about the Revolution forming a strategic partnership with an overseas team, Burns’ response was that it wasn’t in the plans at that time.

This seemed a curious response. With the owners of Roma, Liverpool, and Milwall all owned by Boston-based, American owners, wouldn’t it make sense for the Revolution to contact one of these clubs and set up a partnership to loan players and widen the scouting network, at least? Who knows what could have been accomplished say, in 2008, had the Revolution had the foresight to put pen to paper on a deal like this. They may have avoided the lull from 2010 to 2012 that saw their reputation as winners take a nosedive and their player acquisition practices provide more questions than answers.

A deal like this doesn’t elevate the Revolution’s stature overnight, though it will certainly help them be more competitive in an increasingly tough global soccer market. To that, the Revolution brain trust likely said “thank you” to their new partners in advance, right before they reminded them about one day in the Spring of 2004— the 20th of May, to be precise — when the Revolution defeated Sporting CP 2-1 in a “friendly” match that turned violent and saw three Sporting players ejected before 7,648 fans at Gillette Stadium. Expect the two teams next match, which may be on the cards in the next few years, to be a bit friendlier.

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