FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It would be a skyscraper-sized understatement to say that the Revolution fell short of expectations in 2011.
Between the five wins (franchise low), the 58 goals allowed (second worst in MLS), the negative-20 goal differential (the second worst in MLS), a nine-game winless streak (tied a franchise high), and…well, you get the idea.
It was a season that obviously didn’t play out the way many expected, especially Revolution Vice President of Player Personnel Michael Burns.
New England Soccer Today’s Brian O’Connell caught up with Burns this week to talk about the youth academy, the 2011 season, and the all-important managerial search.
New England Soccer Today: Your title is Vice President of Player Personnel, but there seems to be some confusion about what exactly your responsibilities are. Could you explain what exactly your role entails?
Michael Burns: What I do is that I work with the technical staff on anything to do with the team, from the first team to the reserve team to overseeing our youth development – our Under-16s and Under-18s. And like I said, my job and my involvement with the organization is clearly on the team side. I’m not involved in the marketing, sponsorship, and ticketing side. And that’s what it entails.
Could you talk about some of the misconceptions about what you do, because there seems to be some ambiguity –
Burns: What are the misconceptions? Because I don’t know what they are…
Well, one is that you scout the players for the team. That you essentially select the players.
Burns: Well, what I’ll say to that is that I work with the coaching staff, but we’ve never made a player personnel decision without any coach involvement. And when I say “coach,” something that involves the head coach, sometimes that involves the entire coaching staff so… if that is a misconception, I’d say, do I work with the coaching staff on those decisions? Then I’d say absolutely yes. Do I exclusively make all of those decisions single-handedly? The answer is no.
You’ve been here in your role as VP of Player Personnel for the past 6-7 years. How much has the league changed from your perspective?
Burns: Well, to state the obvious, you have a lot more teams so you have more expansion, you’ve got more soccer specific stadiums, you’ve had a number of designated players have increased. So, there’s been a fair amount of change, you have the relaunch of the reserve league, when I first started we didn’t have academy teams, now we have 16s and 18s, so in a relatively short period of time since I started working with the Revs, a lot has changed.
And among those changes, which has been the most challenging?
Burns: I wouldn’t look at like that. I wouldn’t say there’s one area that sticks out like it’s been most difficult or most challenging. I think it’s like anything – you have to change a little bit as things change within the league. You have to be able to adjust and adapt. So I don’t look at it as there’s one thing that’s “Wow, that’s really a burden for us” or really a challenge. I don’t think that’s…I don’t look at it like that.
As a former professional player yourself, how much of a benefit is an Academy, especially to a team like the Revolution?
Burns: Listen, I’ve said this before publicly, I mean I’ve grown up in the area, I’m from the area and obviously. If I was a 14, 15, of 16 year old growing up which I was…The opportunity that our kids have now, right? And I’m not just talking about just a Diego (Fagundez) who went from our youth academy to our first team, but that’s what we’re striving for. We want and hope that there’ll be more kids coming through the program that will be first team players. But having said that, the harsh reality is that’s not going to be the case for most players. But, for our kids to have an opportunity to play for 16s and 18s, to have most of your training sessions either in the fieldhouse or in the stadium , and to have most of your games at Gillette Stadium and it’s a fully-funded program? You can’t beat it. It’s a phenomenal program and we’ve made no secret about it. We’re trying to attract the best and the most talented kids in the area. This program’s not for everyone. But that is…I didn’t have that opportunity. And I wish I had, but the kids today have it.
Speaking of opportunities, Diego is one of the guys that has obviously gotten the greatest opportunity since the Academy was launched. Is there an expectation that more kids like him are going to be able to come through and do the same?
Burns: Our expectation is that we’re going to have more kids come through. I can’t tell you that it’s going to be one kid every year, or two kids every year, or two kids every five years. We don’t know that yet. We’re only a three year old program. But what I can tell you is that league-wide, from when the academy was started to now, MLS and teams have signed, I think between 40-50 players, which is a pretty significant number if you look at the entire league. So, it’s certainly trending in that direction in terms of more players ARE coming through the ranks and signing professional contracts and for MLS, that’s obviously a big benefit for the teams.
Going back to Diego, how did you first find out about him?
Burns: Well, we first found about him through our Academy and obviously he played for us and listen, we’re in a unique situation unlike any other non-MLS academies to where we can invite Diego in to not only play in a reserve game, but to train with our first team. So, when you get to see a player in an environment training with your first team guys, that’s the best environment you can provide for the player. So, it’s not that he was just with our 16s and 18s, but we’ve got him involved a little bit (with the first team) and I think we actually did a pretty good job this year with him in terms of trying to manage the expectations for him and, frankly, from fans and people on the outside. He played a little bit more toward the end of the season so we think that was managed well this year. It gave him an opportunity to play and when he came in, he did well. He’s still only 16 years old and we’ll see how next year goes for him.
Is there anything you would have done differently with Diego, in hindsight?
Burns: Well, he might say something different. He might say he wanted to play 25 games. But we’re trying to look, with him, he is 16. We’re just looking at the bigger picture with him.
To switch the focus to the first team, how trying was this past year from your perspective?
Burns: I think from everyone’s perspective it was trying. Without question. You win five out of 34 games, it’s not a fun season for anyone. It’s not a fun season for fans, it’s not a fun season for management, it’s not a fun season for coaches and players…I don’t think you’ll find a single person who was happy with the way things went this year.
In terms of bringing in some international players, like Milton Caraglio – there were reports that Caraglio was brought in based upon there being a DVD submitted of his highlights.
Burns: That’s inaccurate…
Burns: That’s true, we also had people that we trust see him in person and live and so that’s a little bit..it’s not entirely accurate that he was signed solely off of a DVD. That’s not entirely 100% true.
Along the lines of that, of the front office receiving a player’s DVD reel like with Caraglio, instead of waiting for that DVD, wouldn’t it be better go down there and scout him in person?
Burns: Well, listen, I think if you look around the league, us included, listen, we’re an 18-team league. There aren’t scouting departments per se. So I think if you asked any team, and I’ll speak for us, it’s very, very challenging during the season and if you remember in Milton’s case, he was a summer signing as was (Monsef) Zerka, it’s very challenging for coaches to take time away from the first team during the season to go see people live. I’m not going to say it’s impossible, but it’s challenging.
Now, back in April, you and Stevie (Nicol) went to Europe to go scout a few players, or a player. Can you reveal who that player was?
Could you explain how Caraglio fits the Designated Player description despite the $54,000 figure listed by the MLS players union?
Burns: Listen, whether it’s a designated player, or whether it’s a minimum salaried player, that’s one thing we won’t talk about openly in terms of budget charges or salary charges or player’s salary. So I wouldn’t comment publicly on that. I don’t think it’s the right thing to do and as an organization, we don’t talk about players’ contracts publicly.
We’re looking at a postseason where the team’s looking for a new coach. How far along is the team in terms of the interviewing process?
Burns: That’s a fair question. Right now, we’re in the midst of the coaching search. For me, and for the organization, it’s the number one priority. It’s a big decision and as I said, we’re in the midst of it. We’re doing our due diligence. We have a lot to do in this offseason and obviously, I would’ve liked to have the coach announced yesterday. But right now, we’ll continue to interview people and as soon as we can hire someone, we will, without rushing into it. But it’s a top priority.
Is there an inclination to hire a certain type of coach, whether it’s a college coach or an MLS assistant?
Burns: Yeah, I’m not going to comment on the people that we’re interviewing. I’m not going to comment on which direction we’re going to go in. We’re going to try to hire the best candidate we can.