Revs speed past Dynamo to a well-earned three points

Some initial thoughts on the Revs’ win 2-0 road win in Houston tonight. Overall, a very solid road performance tonight. A few things specifically stood out to me.

First, the fitness level was impressive.

Theres something to having that ex-Spurs fitness coach here. The pace of the passing, the frequent switches and the speed of thought is significantly improved. That type of game intelligence simply wasn’t there last year, which is a reflection on the assembled talent even more than the coaching. Heaps probably got as much as he could out of mediocre talent. It tells me the problem was with the coach’s talent evaluation skills (or lack thereof), not the GM.

Revs meet the eye test

Despite what the stats may say, this is a good example of the eye test. The revs may not have the possession, mainly because they moved so quickly, they may even have been outshot, but watching this team, there’s no question they are buying into Friedel’s tactics.

Friedel is bringing out the best

The revs are significantly more talented than in 2017. Not just the new guys coming in but also the existing guys are playing better. I’ve been critical of Farrell for a long time but tonight he had a monster game. Caldwell controlled tempo beautifully. Zahibo protected the back four and was opportunistic and always looking to spring an attacker, which is exciting to say the least. Penilla and Caicedo are both exciting young players and the creative wingers we’ve lacked for a long, long time.

Agudelo didn’t get on the scoresheet but worked hard. Even Matt Turner in goal, coming up with that HUGE 1v1 stop.

Steady at the back – mostly

The defense was steady and calm under pressure the vast majority of this game.S Sure, the opening minutes were anxious and Houston botched a few clear chances, but on the whole the back 4 played well as a unit tonight against a very potent offense that put 4 away on Atlanta.

Learning from mistakes against NYC

Lastly, the team learned and figure out how to see out a result, on the road no less. They learned from their mistakes last week and are improving week by week. Posession when it made sense, pushing the pace the rest of the time. That tactical flexibility is huge and hopefully a sign of what’s to come, especially as they get used to playing together more over time.

Onward and upward

Really enjoying this young season and feeling hopeful for the first time in awhile. Looking forward to Montreal on Friday night.

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What lessons can the Revs learn from the 2016 MLS Cup finalists?

The 2016 season has come to a premature end for the Revs and it’s time to look forward towards 2017. While it’s well documented the Revs aren’t among the big spenders on designated players, I was curious if not spending as a strategy actually had some merit. To find out, I did a quick analysis of 2016 league salary spending vs where each team finished to see if there were any interesting correlations. The results were interesting.

Success in MLS: a Case of the Haves and Have Nots?

To keep it simple, I looked at all 20 teams and divided them into 3 tiers by salary – high spenders (10m or more), mid tier which is most teams (9.99m to 6m) and lower tier (below 6m).

Upper tier spending teams…

  • TFC 22m – 3rd in East, Eastern Conf Champ, MLS Cup finalist
  • NYC 21.2m – 2nd in East, East playoffs
  • LA 18.6m – 3rd in West, playoffs
  • Seattle 12.5m 4th in West, Western Conf Champ, MLS Cup finalist
  • Orlando 11.9m – 8th in East, Did not make playoffs

Middle tier teams….

  • Colorado 8.7m – 2nd in West, Western Conf finalist
  • Vancouver 8m – 8th in West, Did not make playoffs
  • Portland 7.1m – 7th in West, Did not make playoffs
  • Montreal 6.9m – 5th in East, Eastern Conf finalist
  • SKC 6.9m – 5th in West, playoffs
  • San Jose 6.9m – 9th in West, Did not make playoffs
  • Philly 6.8m – 6th in East, playoffs
  • DC 6.3m – 4th in East, playoffs
  • Chicago 6.1m – 10th in East, Did not make playoffs
  • RSL 6.1m – 6th in West, playoffs
  • NYRB 6.1m – 1st in East, playoffs
  • Columbus 6.0m – 9th in East, Did not make playoffs

Lower tier teams….

  • NE 5.9m – 7th in East, Did not make playoffs
  • Houston 5.3m – 10th in West, Did not make playoffs
  • Dallas 4.8m – 1st in West, Won Supporters Shield, Won USOC

What I found was interesting because we have 2 “upper tier” teams in the MLS Cup final while a “lower tier” team won the SS and USOC. In fact, the 2016 USOC final was lower tier Dallas vs lower tier Revs. This year’s confence championships were upper tier Seattle and TFC vs mid tier Colorado and Montreal respectively, with the upper tier team winning both. Everyone else was somewhere in between from worst team in the league (Chicago) to battling for the SS to the end (NYRB and Colorado).

Lessons Learned for the Revs Front Office

To me, regardless who wins the final, it proves 4 things:

1) Spend, but spend wisely (Giovinco, Lodeiro etc vs Gerrard in LA or Kaka in Orlando).

2) You can’t be afraid to change it up midseason. This could be hiring a new manager when your team is in the mid-summer doldrums (Schmetzer replaced Sigi in late July) or making a key midsummer acquisition to strengthen your team (Lodeiro). One could make a strong case the 2016 revs may have benefited from both of these.

3) Develop and give your young talent minutes, supplementing with under the radar veterans that won’t cost a fortune (Dallas) to win trophies.

4) It takes more than 1 designated player. While Orlando has Kaka, he’s surrounded by mediocrity, hence why they didn’t even make the playoffs. Seattle has Lodeiro and previously Dempsey. TFC has Bradley, Altidore and Giovinco. LA had GDS, Gerrard, Keane, Zardes and Donovan and still didn’t get past Colorado – so there’s a formula of team chemistry, coaching and designated player age/pedigree.

 

I think the revs could learn from others in the league who are in both the “spend more” camp and “spend smarter” – if they have the humility to do so.

Who’s the best Revs GM? A look at New England Revolution Draft History 2001-2013

Mike Burns, Revolution GM
Mike Burns, New England Revolution GM, 2009 – present

With today’s MLS SuperDraft, I was curious how the revs have done in their recent draft history so did a quick analysis of SuperDraft and Supplemental draft pick success from 2000 onward. Source.

Craig Tornberg
Craig Tornberg Revolution GM 2003-8

I defined “success” by noting players that played at least 2 or more seasons for the revs, analyzing each draft class on its own. I then compared Smith (2001-2) , Tornberg (2003-8) to the Burns era (2009-present) to see who was the better GM. For the sake of argument, I excluded the revs’ first GM, Brian O’Donovan (1995-2000) because the ’96 draft skews his numbers.

Here are my findings…

2001 (1 for 5)

  • Nick Downing (2001-3)

2002 (3 for 6)

  • Taylor Twellman (2002-9)
  • Shalrie Joseph (2003-12)
  • Marshall Leonard (2002-7)

End of Todd Smith Era (4 for 11 = 36% success rate).

2003 (1 for 2)

  • Pat Noonan (2003-7)

2004 (2 for 3)

  • Clint Dempsey (2004-6)
  • Andy Dorman (2004-7, 2013-)

Start of Supplemental Draft Era

2005* (4 for 6, *drafts from here onward include sup draft)

  • Michael Parkhurst (2005-8)
  • James Riley (2005-7)
  • Tony Lochhead (2005-7)
  • Jeff Larentowicz (2005-9)

2006 (0 for 6)

2007 (3 for 9)

  • Wells Thompson (2007-9)
  • Amaechi Igwe (2007-9)
  • Adam Cristman (2007-8)

2008* (3 for 9)

  • Mike Videira (2009-10)
  • Kheli Dube (2008-11)
  • Chris Tierney (2008 -)

*Note, Rob Valentino was on the revs 2008-9 but failed to make an appearance, so I’ve excluded him from the “success” category of this draft class.

End of Craig Tornberg era (13/35 = 37% draft success rate)

Start of the Mike Burns era… (2009-present)

2009 (2 for 7)

  • Kevin Alston (2009-)
  • Darrius Barnes (2009-)

2010 (3 for 5)

  • Seth Sinovic (2010-11)
  • Zack Schilawski (2010-11)
  • Zak Boggs (2010-12)

2011 (2 for 8) – *this and subsequent draft calculations do not include re-entry draft picks.

  • AJ Soares (2011-)
  • Stephen McCarthy (2011-)

2012 (2 for 6)

  • Kelyn Rowe (2012-)
  • Tyler Polak (2012-)

2013 (3 for 8)

  • Andrew Farrell (2013-)
  • Donnie Smith (2013-)
  • Luis Soffner (2013-)

12 / 34 = 35% success rate under Burns for players with at least 2 seasons on the revs’ roster. So Tornberg and Smith had better success rates than Burnsie which confirmed my gut, although it was closer than I thought.

Budget vs Talent Decision Making: Does higher salary = more success in MLS?

MLS Cup Trophy
How much will it cost in player salaries to win the MLS Cup?

Some revs fans believe Mike Burns and Jay Heaps are hampered with a comparatively small salary budget when compared with their competitors. This may be true to a degree, but when it comes to winning in Major League Soccer, I’m a firm believer it’s “how you spend” not “what you spend.”

Recent history has shown a lack of budget isn’t always a limiting factor for MLS cup winning clubs.

soc_u_goncalves_gb1_400
Jose Goncalves has been the lone international success for Mike Burns and Jay Heaps in 2013.

For example, Houston wasn’t a big spending team in 2006 or 2007. Columbus won it in 2008 and apart from Guillermo Barros-Schelotto I don’t think they broke the bank on too many “name” guys. Ditto for Real Salt Lake in 2009 and Colorado in 2010. LA has been the exception the past couple years with their glitzy lineup and mega budget, although it’s been a combination of spending on the right players (unlike NYRB, for example). History has show it’s very possible to win the league or be at the doorstep with the right people making the decisions and a little bit of luck. Since 2008 the revs have had neither.

Budget vs Talent Decision Making: How the Revs Have Done
As far as budget vs talent decision making, this off season will be interesting.

This year, Burns has hit on one international (Goncalves) and missed on the rest (Toja, Cisse, Bengtson) with the jury still out on our red card magnets Imbongo and Dorman, who have 5 reds between them. Woodbine hasn’t seen much of the field yet so we can’t judge him, other than he hasn’t been able to beat out Tierney for the LB spot.

Domestic players have been a mixed bag with Agudelo a success, Barrett and Simms neither a success/failure just mediocre, and Davies has shown very little in his limited time so far. Burns gets credit for signing homegrowns Diego and Caldwell who have performed well.

Looking Ahead to 2014
For me there are 4 key transactions to pay attention to this offseason:

1. I said at the beginning of the season, Jerry Bengtson needed a break out year if the revs would be successful. He’s all but disappeared and if our “DP” #27 is still here in 2014, to me it transcends budgetary restraints and gets into the realm of oblivious.

2. Replace Agudelo.

3. Getting a veteran GK to replace Reis or if Shuttleworth becomes the de facto #1, only having to beat out Sofner;

4. Getting more bite in the midfield to partner Caldwell (what Cisse should have been).

Of course, we could always upgrade at outside back but I suspect Tierney will once again start next year. Some things never change! It will be interesting to see what happens – will the revs upgrade or stand pat?

US Open Cup at Harvard: Boston’s Urban Soccer Specific Stadium Audition

This post is a bit of a rant because the Revs getting an urban soccer specific stadium accessible via the T is a topic I’m very passionate about because it’s vital to the future success of this club.

Please note, this mini rant isn’t directed at anyone specifically, in general I personally hate when fans and MLS pundits constantly point out that we don’t have our own Soccer Specific Stadium.

We do tonight.

As you’re no doubt aware by now, the New England Revolution host the New York Red Bulls tonight in a 4th round US Open Cup game at 7:30 at Soldier’s Field Soccer Stadium at Harvard.

The revs playing a meaningful game accessible via the T is a LONG time coming. After 18 years, the club finally got it. Lots of people live in the Boston area. Many of those people don’t have cars. Bring them soccer via the annual USOC tournament. Soldier’s Field at Harvard is a great venue. Bingo!

The game is sold out. My fiancee and I will be there, in revs gear. I can’t wait!

I anticipate a loud, passionate, intimate crowd for the Revs USOC accessible by the T and can only dream this is a teaser for things to come.

Doesn’t matter to me that the Bruins are playing – I’m a bruins fan too. We’re all going to miss the first period. This is too important.

My prediction is 2-1 revs. Psyched!

Opening Day Victory: Is it Groundhog Day or Are there Signs of Progress?

ImageLike many revs fans, I woke up this morning with a smile on my face as I drank my coffee. Given the revs have traditionally had a tough start out of the gate, winning the opener on the road is obviously a great way to begin the 2013 season. To win in Chicago is even more satisfying.

But before we get overly excited about last night’s performance sans Sene, and anoint the revs MLS Cup contenders, we should remember the revs started off the Heaps era a year ago with a comprehensive 3-1 win at the Champs in LA. Fans were understandably re-energized and excited at the new-look revs under Heaps.

And then the 2012 season happened. The revs failed to win another road game for 6 months.

Moving ahead to this season, after watching last night’s game, the revs still have the same core problem as a year ago. It was fun to watch the tiki taka combination play orchestrated by Toja in the second half but the reality is thuggery trumps finesse and MLS teams know this. How the revs deal with the thuggery will go a long way towards deciding if this season is another Groundhog Day under Heaps or the Revs will make genuine progress in the 2013 campaign.

Signs of Groundhog Day?
Based on the importance of the skillful and creative Toja, Rowe and Nguyen to the attack, I’d anticipate the 2013 Revs will match up well against (perhaps ironically) the more skilled, finesse teams like LA, NYRB and SKC. Then, they will likely get beaten to a pulp again by the Houston and Seattle’s of the league who don’t play soccer and just hack the crap out of you all game. Last season, teams learned quickly this was an effective game plan against the revs and were able to marginalize their attack by simply fouling everyone. It’s why Benny led the league last year in most fouled. They knew the revs don’t have a dead ball specialist – so why not put them in dead ball situations?  We saw the start of it again last night with the thuggery in Chicago, taking out Soares, Nguyen and Rowe – with old friend Ginger the culprit on a couple occasions.

Strong Toja and Bengtson Performances: Signs of Progress?

We know he can score for Honduras - will that finishing ability translate in Foxboro?
We know Jerry Bengtson can score for Honduras – will that finishing ability translate in Foxboro in 2013?

One of the key to success for the 2013 revs is whether a true El Pibe type emerges, which the revs have lacked since the Ralston era. Toja had a strong second half last night, playing out of position as the false 9. The combination play, vision and off the ball runs were positive and enjoyable to watch, especially in the second half. As the season progresses, if Toja (or Rowe, even Dorman..) can be that man who sprays balls around the pitch supporting the attack and providing service for Bengtson and Sene to finish (a second key to success) then we will be in good shape.

However, this brings us back to the initial cause for concern which is the rampant thuggery, which we know MLS clubs will use to beat the revs. A major achilles heel is losing the creativity and sharp edge Toja brings in the attacking third. If the revs become predictable and don’t really keep teams pinned back or fearful of our attack, it will be 2012 all over again. So to avoid Ground Hog Day, strong play from Cisse and Simms is vital to the overall success of the revs attack.They need to consistently provide bite in the middle of the park that will serve notice if teams target our skilled guys, there will be hell to pay.

Time will tell: Groundhog Day or Signs of Progress?

So the takeaway from last night, while it’s a good start, the revs need far more consistently this campaign. Getting the full 3 points on the road is a big x factor to being in the playoff conversation or floundering in obscurity. After a tentatively optimistic start only time will tell whether the revs have learned their lesson or will repeat the same mistakes as 2012.