While the New England Revolution ran rampant over the Rochester Rhinos on Tuesday night, a growing rumble of discontent coursed through pockets of the Revs' fanbase following a small news item from the previous evening. Twitter, and in particular the #NERevs hashtag, seemed rife with backlash following the team's decision to recall Tyler Polak and Gabe Latigue ahead of the match.
After engaging several of the discontented supporters and hearing their arguments, I feel compelled to voice my own opinion on the matter. In short: you've got to be kidding me.
There are a host of reasons why recalling those players not only made sense, but it was the best move to make. The most widespread accusation I heard was that it was done to give the Revs a competitive advantage by taking a team already crippled by injuries and wounding it further, removing two healthy players who would presumably start the match. On the one hand, if that really was the motive, the Revs are totally within their rights to make such a move involving their own contracted players, and I have to imagine Rochester was well aware of the possibility when they signed the affiliate agreement this past winter.
On the other hand, I doubt that was more than a happy coincidence. The most obvious reason I see for the recall is to avoid cup-tying the two players. Look at the situation with Bilal Duckett: New England elected not to recall him before Rochester's Open Cup match last week, and Duckett featured, thereby cup-tying him to the Rhinos. He can't appear for anyone else in the tournament. Now, Rochester is out, and if the Revs have a crisis of depth in defense later in the year, they can't recall Duckett and use him in the Cup.
Obviously, the Revs went into Tuesday's match expecting to win. To me, by recalling Latigue and Polak they announced to everyone that Rochester didn't need those players, because they weren't advancing anyway. Now, the Revs can use both players in future rounds of the tournament should the need arise. Furthermore, both players featured - heck, Latigue started - so it doesn't seem disingenuous to assume they needed the depth last night, too.
There's also an analogy here to loan deals in other countries. In the EPL, for example, young players or reserve players are often loaned to lower-table sides in the same division or other teams in divisions below the Prem (or Championship, or whatever level the originating team plays in). Those loan agreements frequently include clauses that preclude the player from suiting up against his former team; many of them also include clauses preventing those players from suiting up in cup competitions, especially those in which the parent club also competes.
Obviously the loan agreement between the Revs and the Rhinos didn't include that (or maybe it did and we just don't know it). However, is recalling the players so that they can't participate any different? I don't think so.
Some people saw this as the Revs (and MLS) refusing to take the Open Cup seriously and diluting the competitiveness of the competition. I see the exact opposite. The Revs saw two possible weapons that would have been lost to them in later stages of the competition had they let Rochester play them; thus, rather than give up an advantage, they protected their interests in the tournament and recalled the players.
Now the Revs are in a good spot going into the next round. They earned a very convincing 5-1 victory, and we'll all get a chance to see them play on the T in Cambridge at Harvard in a couple of weeks. Is someone going to honestly tell me it wasn't worth it?
Editor's Note: As pointed out in the comment section, the loan agreement with the Revs and Rhinos did not extend to the US Open Cup. I solicited a statement from the team, and they were planning to recall Polak and Latigue (and maybe Duckett and Horth, had circumstances been different) regardless of opponent, especially with the injuries the Revs have had recently. New England and Rochester getting paired up in the tournament seems to have been a bit of a freak occurrence, but it's not as though this was a surprise to the Rhinos.