Yesterday in Part One of this series I began my look at/response to the recent Boston Magazine article which suggested that, “The Krafts Are the Worst Owners in Major League Soccer” by looking at the ways in which the Kraft’s unwillingness/inability to find a soccer-specific stadium for the New England Revolution had been detrimental to the team in terms of attendance, atmosphere, etc.. Today, in Part Two, I will look at the ways in which the Kraft’s lack of interest in spending the money to put a winning team on the field each season has created a cycle of mediocrity at Gillette Stadium since the end of the 2008 season.
It would be easy to simply parrot the issues that Kevin Alexander raises in his article, but I’d like to go a little deeper into things and be a little more specific about what I see as the core issue that has prevented the Revolution from becoming a premier franchise in the league- a position it seemed on the cusp of in 2007. Still, as background to my argument, it is worth getting the overall lay of the land from Alexander
All five of those bullet points essentially come down to one thing: money. The Krafts appear happy with the status quo because, at best, owning the Revolution means 17-20 days a year during which they can generate extra revenue at Gillette Stadium- many of which come during parts of the year when the stadium would otherwise be shuttered. The “worst” case scenario is that the Revolution lose money and the Krafts are able to write off their losses. I’ve experienced this first hand, having once worked for a resort company that owned several properties, one of which (a downtown business-oriented hotel where I worked) was kept open for the sole purpose of losing money to offset the obscene profits they made on their lakeside tourist resorts. So, I understand how it might work from a financial standpoint, but in terms of trying to run a respectable and competitive franchise it’s a tragedy. But back to the Krafts not wanting to part with their money…
In Part One I looked at their efforts to build a soccer-specific stadium for the club- or at least their efforts to look like they were trying. This same approach has been taken regarding an on field issue- Designated Players. The Designated Player Rule (the Beckham Rule) was instated in 2007 and while there have been some changes to it over the years, it basically allows clubs to sign 2-3 players outside of the salary cap, i.e., at their own expense. Because it took several seasons (and millions of dollars) for most clubs- including the Galaxy and David Beckham- to figure out this new system the Revolution were able to be successful through 2009. They had built a strong club under the old rules and it served them well…until the other clubs figured out how successfully acquire and utilize Designated Players. Once this happened, and the Revolution did not respond in kind, the decline began. Since then they have not finished higher than third place in the Eastern Conference, have not progressed past the conference semi-finals in the playoffs, have not progressed past the semi-finals of the U.S. Open Cup, and have only qualified for the CONCACAF Champions League once. All of this after making the MLS Cup four times in the six previous seasons, making the U.S. Open Cup final twice (winning it once), and making two appearances in the final of the (now-defunct) SuperLiga, winning it once.
It’s often easy to mistake “coincidence” for “causality,” so let’s look a little more deeply at the Revolution and designated players. Since the Designated Player Rule went into effect the Revolution have had three designated players- sort of.
The first was Argentine “striker” Milton Caraglio in 2011- four full seasons after the rule was put into the place. Caraglio was, to say the least, an abject failure in MLS. Caraglio was essentially a part-time player (49 matches over five seasons) at Rosario Central, a generally middling club in the country’s Primera Division. In 2010 he had been on trial with West Ham United but failed his physical(!) and was sent packing. New England signed him on loan in August of 2011- he played in 12 matches, scoring three goals, and earning five yellow cards and was never seen again at Gillette Stadium. After one season in the Chilean top flight with Rangers de Talca he had a cup of coffee with relegation-bound Pescara in Italy, and now plays for Arsenal in the Argentine Primera Division. So, the Revolution made an unproven young player who turned out to be little more than a journeyman player their first DP and it didn’t work, and that didn’t matter because it only cost the Krafts $54,000. In short, it didn’t have to work, one might even go so far as to say it wasn’t supposed to work…
The club’s second DP was Shalrie Joseph. In December of 2011, after nine years with the club and six years after having his transfer to Celtic blocked (technically MLS refused the transfer, but please…) the club captain was rewarded with new contract and Designated Player status. His time as New England’s second-ever designated player last exactly nine months. In August of 2012 he was traded to Chivas USA for Blair Gavin (who played a total of 88 minutes for the club), allocation money, and a draft pick that turned out to be Donnie Smith, who played 46 minutes in his rookie year before a season-ending injury and who has played 53 minutes so far in 2014. The club did pay Joseph $554,333 for his partial year as their Designated Player, but it’s important to point out that it was his salary under the contract he signed for 2012 that required him to be named as a DP under league rules, it was not something that the club necessarily wanted to “give” him.
Finally, we come to the club’s third, and current Designated Player, Jerry Bengston. The lanky Honduran was signed by the club on July 5, 2012 and since that time he has scored 11 goals in 11 matches…for Honduras. During that same time he has scored three goals in 32 MLS matches and one in one U.S. Open Cup match. Of current MLS Designated Players only two make less than Bengston’s $139,000 in “guaranteed compensation,” and from what I’ve seen both players- Erick Torres at Chivas USA and Juan Luis Anangono at Chicago- are far superior players- especially Torres. When it comes to Designated Players Bengston is, if you’ll permit me to mix my sports metaphors, “strike three.”
What’s worse is that New England don’t need to break the bank to find a Designated Player with the qualities to radically alter the club’s future. Set aside the Donovans, Keanes, and Henrys, all of the following players make $600,000 or less: Alvaro Saborio, Boniek Garcia, Chris Wondolowski, Federico Higuain, and Diego Valeri. The problem is, as Alexander points out in his article, that the club spends next to nothing on scouting. If you need to know how important proper scouting is just look at the Colombian trio of Fernando Cardenas, John Lozano, and Jose Moreno who all joined the club in 2012 and played in a combined 36 matches (27 by Cardenas alone) before being released by the club.
One of the ways that the Revolution has been able to remain somewhat competitive since the arrival of the Designated Player in Major League soccer is to draft well and to develop players in their academy and he club is to be lauded for both. In recent years they have drafted current starters Andrew Farrell, A.J. Soares, Chris Tierney, Kelyn Rowe, and Kevin Alston among others while developing super-star-in-waiting Diego Fagundez and the promising Scott Caldwell in house. This is a good way to build a foundation for greatness or to build a perennially mid-table table team- the Revolution have clearly chose the latter path.
Next up: The fans. The poor, poor fans.