For literally years my gripes with the way that the Kraft Family and their underlings have run the New England Revolution have centered around three issues: the failure to build a soccer-specific stadium, the failure to sign a legitimate “designated player,” and the failure to understand their market.
As we all know, the Revolution recently crossed one of these issues off my list with the signing of USMNT national team standout Jermaine Jones. Since signing Jones the club has lost only one match (0-1 to Columbus Crew), risen to second place in the Eastern Conference, and more importantly, Jones has been instrumental in all of this. He is not simply a “show piece,” he has lead by example and the team has taken to heart the way in which he goes about his business on the field. New England has become tougher mentally and physically, they work harder, they play more aggressively, and they play to win, not to “not lose.” In every way Jones has been a success for the club and I don’t doubt that somewhere, in their fortress of solitude at Gillette Stadium, Robert and Jonathan Kraft are thinking, “Ohhhh! That’s why everyone wanted us to sign a designated player!!”
My second long-running gripe with the club goes all the way back to its founding. As every other MLS franchise did, the Revolution set out to create an image for their team that would be as “inclusive” as possible. And, as every other MLS franchise found out, the result of that approach is a bland and passionless “brand.” A team from New England that wears red, white, and blue, is called the “Revolution” and shares a stadium with a football team that wears red, white, and blue, and are called the “Patriots?” Ugh. No attempt to link the club to the regions major ethnic groups (Irish, Italian, French-Canadian, etc.), no attempt to link the club to whaling, or the Industrial Revolution, or academia, or anything else associated with the region. Nope, just shout “1776!!” until you’re red, white, and blue in the face and everyone will come running..or not.
But setting all of that aside, they missed the biggest opportunity of them all- to capture the fastest growing ethnic group in all of New England, and more importantly, the one that also happened to be the ethnic group most mad for football- Portuguese speakers. Portuguese-speaking immigrants have come to New England for centuries and they have formed the backbone of all things maritime in New England for just as long, from Bridgeport, to New Bedford, to Fall River, to Providence and Pawtucket, right up the coast to Maine you don’t have to look very hard to find linguiça in a supermarket or to see a A Selecção das Quinas bumper sticker on a car. This isn’t just anecdotal evidence either, look at the numbers:
More importantly, these long-time Lusophone communities received a major infusion of new blood in the mid-1990s (just when the Revolution were starting out…hmm…) when immigrants from Brazil and Cape Verde began to arrive in New England in the tens of thousands. Again, the numbers speak for themselves:
Back to the anecdotal evidence…
Most of the coaches I worked in summer soccer camps with during my time Connecticut? Portuguese and Brazilian. Third largest ethnic group in my current job? Cape Verdeans. My indoor league? There are separate teams in my division made up of Brazilian, Portuguese, and Cape Verdean players. Local ASL soccer team? the Western Mass Pioneers, run by Gremio Lusitano, the local Portuguese-American club in Ludlow, MA, which is across the street from Lusitano Stadium, a soccer-specific stadium that various teams run by the club have played in since 1918!
The point of all of this? The Revolution did nothing- nada– to tap into this market until the signing of Jose Goncalves- who was born in Portugal of Cape Verdean descent, and, for all I know, likes to vacation in Brazil. In his first season with the club he became a fan favorite and…oh, right, MLS Defender of the Year. Which brings us to today…
Today the Revolution announced that they have entered into a multi-year “strategic partnership” with Sporting Clube de Portugal- known to most outside Portugal as either “Sporting” or “Sporting Lisbon,” the 18 time Portuguese champions and 15 time Portuguese Cup winners. The goal of this partnership being to share “expertise, benefit and promotion for each club.”
Among the specifics of the deal…
This move should benefit the Revolution in all of the ways listed above as well as others that go unmentioned. For example, how about the knock-on effect that a partnership with Sporting will have on the Revolution’s “footprint” in New England? Suddenly Sporting supporters- and Lusophone football fans in general- have a reason to support the Revolution. Now imagine if the latest gems from Sporting’s academy come on loan to Gillette Stadium? Some academy graduates in the recent past include Luis Figo, Nani, and oh, um, Cristiano Rinaldo.
So, in sum, this is good. My club seems to be becoming a real club, not just the “other club” that plays in Foxboro.
As for the soccer specific stadium… Well, let’s enjoy today’s “victory” and leave that very sore subject for another day.