New England Soccer Today

The Blame Game

In the wake of his team’s latest mistake-filled defeat – this time to the lowly San Jose Earthquakes – Steve Nicol continued to do what he’s done all season after a loss: blame the players.

That, in itself, wasn’t suprising. What was suprising, however, is that the gaffer, in the twilight of his worst season at the helm, has pointed the finger at everyone but himself since First Kick.

Now, without singling out individual players, there’s no question that the entire backline hasn’t exactly shown itself as a shutdown unit this season. Diplomatically speaking, it’s been a season to forget. But the they aren’t the only ones to blame, despite what Nicol’s said in his post-match pressers.

After all, it’s Nicol who keeps penciling in the mistake-prone players into his starting XI. And it’s Nicol who obviously hasn’t properly instructed – i.e. coached – his charges to be better in the training sessions leading up to matchday. True: he may not be the one out on the pitch. But, he’s the one responsible for allowing the same players to make the same basic mistakes game in and game out.

It’s not just the defense that’s struggled as a result, either. During the team’s four-game slide, the Revolution attack has managed only four goals – half of which came from mid-season signing Ryan Guy. Sure, the chances have been there. And yes, Diego Fagundez has breathed life in the attack. But, the fact remains that the offense – much like the defense – hasn’t been sharp far too often this season.

And, again, that’s on the manager. It’s his responsibility to prepare his team in the best manner possible. Unleashing unfavorable formations, inserting defensive subs prematurely, and summoning the same players for strikingly-different scenarios has only prepared this team for failure.

Another thing that Nicol’s done to stifle his squad: his curious refusal to use his rarely-used rookies at this point in the season. Even with the team’s playoff hopes officially dashed, Nicol has remained true to his colors, even with his bench selections on Saturday night. The only rookie on the bench was Andrew Sousa, who might as well have been at the Showcase at Patriot Place instead after the gaffer predictably bypassed the rookie in favor of Zack Schilawski and Kheli Dube.

A good manager utilizes all of his resources to help his team. And there have been countless times during his 10-year tenure in which Nicol has done just that. But this season – one of the worst in team history – Nicol is clearly in over his head.

You can spin this season any way you want – that the team hasn’t been behind very often, that it hasn’t been blown out very often, or that many of its matches are usually close – but the harsh reality is that the Revolution is what it is: a five-win team buried in last place.

The players deserve their share of the blame, no question. They make mistakes. They hold a high line when it should be low, and a low line when it should be high. They squander three-goal leads. They concede 70-yard assists. They get shutout by the worst defense in the league. This team could write a novel on how to leave points on the pitch.

However, the gaffer is just as guilty. Say what you will about the talent handed to Nicol. But, it’s his responsibility to squeeze the best out of the players given to him. And therein lies the biggest failure of Nicol this season.

Take a look at all 32 games from March to Saturday’s match. This team is still suffering from the same miscues it made months ago. Whether it’s in the back, in the middle, or near the net, the same mistakes keep repeating themselves. Clearly, Nicol hasn’t got what it takes to cure what ails this team. That’s not to say that he’s a bad manager. He’s not.

But it’s obvious what his biggest mistake is: he continues to manage the same way he managed the Cup-contending squads of yesteryear – ones filled with plenty of veteran presence and unquestionable talent. Those mid-2000s teams could not be further removed from the one of the field right now. The fact that Nicol continues to manage this group the way he managed the 2005 team is proof positive that he guides primarily by habit, rather than observation.

There’s no question that Steve Nicol has the wisdom, talent, and ability to better this team. He’s pulled out victories from lesser teams. Few MLS managers have won with less. His reputation as one of the most respected managers in the league is well deserved. But, for some reason, he has bypassed the opportunity to make this squad better.

Whether he realizes it nor not, Nicol has some talented players on this roster, some of whom may not have yet been given a chance to shine.  He has an experienced and vocal captain that has played his tail off. He has a group of young, yet promising, players that is begging to be better.

And there’s no legitimate reason why this team shouldn’t be better. They may not be a Cup contender, but they have the players to compete. They’ve made costly mistakes, sure. But they’re not the only ones.

Perhaps, the next time the gaffer steps up to the podium following his team’s latest devastating loss, he should do something different: point the finger at himself.


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