New England Soccer Today

If it’s broken…

Given the number of disappointments and dreadful defeats (not to mention draws) this season, it’s not a stretch to say that the New England Revolution are in dire need of repairs across the board, if not a complete overhaul.

OK, so an overhaul may be stretching it. But, that doesn’t mean less drastic measures can’t be taken to improve the slumping squad and make it a contender again. It’s not neurosurgery. It’s just properly addressing the obvious damage.

Here’s the punch list of what needs to be fixed.

Bring in a new VP of Player Personnel. This may be a bit unfair to current VP of Player Personnel Michael Burns, who obviously has a limited budget to work with. But, recent history has shown that teams can compete without splurging (see Colorado Rapids, 2010, not to mention Real Salt Lake, 2009). It’s just a matter of maximizing resources, which the Revs were quite adept at doing not too long ago. But the days of building solely from the draft and international rejects have passed. If the Revs intend to keep playing Moneyball, they’ll have to find someone who can find quality talent – both Stateside and overseas -and build a contender, without breaking the budget. Kraft Soccer should not spare any expense in hiring such a person – someone who could single-handedly reverse the fortunes of the sinking squad. The next biggest splash shouldn’t be on the field. It should be within the front office.

Build a scouting department. Reading between the lines of reports surrounding player acquisitions, it can be assumed that Steve Nicol and the aforementioned Burns pretty much comprise the Revs de facto scouting department. That shoestring approach to player acquisition may have worked in 2007, the last time the Revs went to an MLS Cup game. But in 2011, it takes more than a head coach and a member of the front office to field a contender. The Revs have to create a department – a three person panel, for starters – that solely focuses on locating players rather than handing the duties off to Nicol, who’s already busy coaching a professional team, and Burns, who’s job should be to give Nicol players, not necessarily to find them himself.

Bolster the technical staff. If history tells us anything, it’s that Steve Nicol needs Paul Mariner, just as Brian Clough needed Peter Taylor at Leeds. The Revs have to find a way to bring back the mastermind of their vaunted offense of the mid-2000s. Again, this is an area where the Revs cannot spare any expenses. Mariner’s insight was not only a boon to the attack, but to player development as well. Just ask Taylor Twellman, who has, in the past, credited Mariner for a large part of his success in New England. And if they can’t get Mariner? Well, they might want to find a way to give former assistant John Murphy a call at Clemson University.

Trade players before they leave for nothing. Shalrie Joseph’s contract ends after this season. Rather than allowing him to leave for nothing in return, the Revs should be active in shopping his services to another club. It can be gathered that based upon a recent tweet that the skipper’s days in Foxborough may be numbered. Therefore, why not get some players – rather than the usual late-round draft picks – while they still have him?

Sign another veteran goalkeeper. It’s no secret Matt Reis hasn’t registered an All-Star caliber season in quite some time. Whether it’s due to injuries or age, the veteran keeper’s performances of the past two seasons seem to indicate that the reliable Reis may actually be regressing. This isn’t a knock on Reis. No one stays young (or healthy) forever. The Revs have to find another keeper – perhaps Marcus Hahnemamn – rather than leave the keys to the unproven Bobby Shuttleworth or Tim Murray.

Stop focusing on versatility. It’s not bad to have versatile players. It’s actually a good thing. But, the reliance on versatility over quality has helped drive this team into the ground, as a number of players have been embarrassingly exposed out of position (Zak Boggs at right back? Ryan Guy at left back? Really, Steve Nicol?). Keep it simple: Bring in guys who are good at their position, and keep them there. The Revs have four open roster spots. Here’s an idea – use them to sign some reinforcements, rather than slotting players out of position.

Lock up the in-house talent. While there are a number of deficiencies on the Revs, there is a good amount of talent on the roster. Players like Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, and A.J. Soares are all valuable assets that the team should reward once their contracts expire. The old thinking of allowing quality players to leave (see: Jeff Larentowicz, Andy Dorman, and Pat Noonan) is one of the biggest reasons why the Revs are sitting in last place at the moment. It’s time to start holding onto the players who’ve already proven themselves, rather than letting them walk away over a few extra bucks.

As Jurgen Klinsmann preached when he assumed the U.S. Men’s National Team head coaching duties, it will take time to rebuild. The Revs have some of the pieces already in place, but there’s no doubt that they’re miles away from becoming a contender again.

Should the Revs elect to infuse fresh eyes and ideas into their front office and coaching departments, it’ll take time to get the Revs back to the postseason. It won’t happen overnight, or over the course of an offseason for that matter. But, look at the model that Real Salt Lake followed four years ago. A new coach, an investment in young talent, and a number of shrewd player acquisitions have made them one of the most formidable clubs in MLS.

The Revs can be rescued and rebuilt – no question. It’s just a matter of whether the organization is willing to pay for the repair costs.


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