I’ve talked about the players (and will do so again below), I’ve talked about the coach, now let’s move on to “management.”
In the case of the New England Revolution this means two people: General Manager Mike Burns and Team President Brian Bilello.
I like to think that I am not overly critical of these two men because there are few teams in MLS that draft better than the Revolution and fewer still that develop better players from within the club- they should be praised for both of these things. When it comes to acquiring players in other manners (trades, transfers, free agency)* the bag is a little more mixed, but I try to remember that for every “Colombian Debacle” they’ve acquired a player like Lee Nguyen for the equivalent of souvenir-sized soda and some popcorn. Yes, there are always going to be the Jerry Bengstons and O’Brian Woodbines (did that really happen?), but there will also be the Daigo Kobayashis and Andy Dormans, so, except in situations where money has been spent badly (cough…Jerry Bengston…cough), I’ll let it slide. Why? Well, partly because that’s the nature of the business and the nature of their jobs, and partly because…
…ownership doesn’t give them the opportunity to do any better. I’ve taken my shots (start here) at the Kraft family and the way they are running this team so I’m not going to waste my time- or yours- rehashing all of that. I’ll simply say that I am 100% sure that Heaps, Burns, and Bilello have a list of players they’d like to have at the club if only they were allowed to spend the money. I’m obviously not talking about Lionel Messi or James Rodriguez, but good, “value-for-money” players including some who could fill the club’s woefully neglected Designated Player spots. What’s worse is that as MLS grows in stature and quality (and that’s happening as we speak, folks), not having these kinds of players is going to hurt a team even more. World class players are coming to the league in their late 20s and early 30s now, players who still have a lot of good football in them and watching them pass by without making an offer, well, it’s going to get more and more embarrassing.
Now, how about some solutions? As it happens I have two, or at least two different “approaches” to the problem of how to improve this club in the “medium” term- 1-3 years.
The first suggestion is to, as they say in sports, to “blow up the team.” That’s right, basically start over. If you’re not going to splash out some money on Designated Players at least get rid of the deadwood- especially the expensive deadwood- and bring in some better quality players from top to bottom. I’d start this process by dividing the roster up into three groups: those you are willing to unload, those you’d move for the right deal, and those you will keep unless somebody makes you the proverbial “offer you cannot refuse. In my mind the groups would look like this:
“Don’t let the door hit you where the good Lord split you…”
Some of these are money moves, some are quality moves, and some break my heart (Charlie Davies and Shalrie Joseph).
“You’re going to have to do better than that…”
Obviously you would not trade “like for like” unless the money worked better or you could swap a midfielder you didn’t need for a defender you did, etc., but the point is that you could probably unload a lot of money. Just losing the salaries of Bengston, Sene, Imbongo, Bunbury, and McCarthy frees up over $800,000. To put a finer point on it, if you set aside Teal Bunbury’s stats, the rest of this group has done the following over the first half of the season: 19 appearances, 7 starts, and 2 goals. Bunbury has started 18 of 19 matches and has 2 goals and 3 assists, but he’s also making $233,000 of the $800,000- that’s not value. It looks even worse when you realize that of the eight players I’d keep in the face of all but the most extraordinary offer cost the club only $1.4m and almost at third of that goes towards the salary of Jose Goncalves- last year’s MLS Defender of the Year. As a group the “keepers” have all started at least half of the club’s matches this season and are responsible for 14 of the club’s 24 goals.
The second selection is a more tactical approach to rebuilding the team- identify the two things the club needs most- a true goal scorer and a legitimate “Number 1” goalkeeper- and you go and get them. Obviously (again), I’m not talking about bringing in Christiano Ronaldo and Timmy Howard, but rather, two established players, from respected clubs/leagues, who are still in the prime of their careers, and for whom a move to MLS would represent no worse than a “lateral” move. I believe that this could be done for $2-3m a season total, minus the salaries of the players that these acquisitions replaced, possibly reducing the cost to $1-2m a season. Here is an of examples of the “type” of player I’m talking about (though I am conveniently ignoring his current contract status).
Nikica Jelavic: He’s 28, a proven goal scorer in three different leagues (each one a better league than the previous one), the two deals (Rangers and Everton) he signed before joining Hull City were for just over a $1-1.5m a year, he’s a Croatian international, and he has the size (6’2″) to battle up front in MLS.
As for goalkeepers, I’m just going to throw a group of them at you because any of them would be an improvement over Knighton and Shuttleworth, all are obtainable financially, in the right age bracket, have the right experience, etc. I’m selecting them from England’s Championship just to keep things easy, because many compare the level of play there to MLS, and because in some cases, it wouldn’t even be necessary to use a DP spot on them:
Yup. All affordable. All in or on the fringes of their national teams. All between 26 and 31 years old. All with plenty of domestic experience in top leagues. And, most of all, who wants to play 40+ times a year in the Championship at places like Watford, Bolton, and Rotheram when you could have NYC, L.A., and possibly Miami on your schedule on a regular basis?
So, problem solved…NEXT!!
*If I may indulge in a quick little aside here: The way in which MLS handles player movement within the league and as regards players coming to the league displays the kind of sleight-of-hand skill that would leave Ricky Jay slack-jawed.