Teddy Chronopoulos knew little about New England when he was drafted in 1996. He grew up in California and spent two years at California State University before transferring to San Diego State University. From there, he went overseas to play in Greece. He would soon grow to love New England, though, after living in the region from 1996-2002.
★ ★ ★
Teddy Chronopoulos was a bit hesitant when he heard about the formation of Major League Soccer. He was playing in the Greek First Division with Panionois and wasn’t sure if he wanted to move back home to join an unestablished league. A trip back to the states during the 1995 holiday season changed things as the American grew excited about the prospect of playing in front of friends and family.
The decision to join MLS was easy, actually doing so was a bit harder. Heading into the Inaugural Player Draft, Chronopoulos was told by his current club that he wouldn’t be loaned or sold. Regardless, the Revs selected the defender in the fifth round (45th overall). It was a shock for Chronopoulos, who was ultimately allowed to return to the United States.
Once in New England, Chronopoulos and his teammates began to work on building a successful team on and off the field. This meant more than daily practices as the players were required to do public appearances to drum up interest. The league was new after all, and the success of the 1994 World Cup didn’t necessarily mean that MLS would thrive. Chronopoulos didn’t mind the meet-and-greets, however. In fact, he actually enjoyed them.
"I remember doing 4-5 appearances a week," Chronopoulos said. "It was about building the brand and fan base. Making a connection with the fans and building a fan base was the easiest part. New England fans are the best fans in the country. Their dedication and commitment to the club was great."
The grassroots marketing proved to be effective as 32,864 attending the Revolution’s home opener at Foxboro Stadium. It was a game that featured goals from Diaz Arce and Geoff Aunger before being settled in a shootout, which fortunately went the Revolution’s way. Though he wasn’t on the field that night, Chronopoulos remembers the passion of the fans.
It was a passion that didn’t go away, despite the Revs finishing with a 15-17 record and missing the playoffs. The diehards were always there, and that’s something that Chronopolous still values.
"My favorite chant was ‘Oh when the Revs’," Chronopoulos commented. "The fans were great—best in the league. We had 20-30 thousand fans at every game and the international games were sell outs. Win or lose we had fans at the game. They are true fans!"
★ ★ ★
The disappointment of Revolution’s inaugural season was highlighted by the MLS Cup Final. The marquee event was held in Foxborough in front of an impressive crowd of 34,643. The Revs players were forced to watch as D.C. United captured the trophy via an Eddie Pope golden goal.
"Of course it was difficult," Chronopoulos said of the MLS Cup Final. "You always want to be in the final game, especially when it's at your home stadium. I remember the weather more than the game itself. The game wasn't the best due to the weather, but it did have a great ending."
The Revolution’s lack of success during that first season was a bit surprising considering the talent on the field. Alexi Lalas and Michael Burns were regulars for the US national team while Robert Ukrop and Geoff Aunger were studs in the lower divisions. They also had international stars in Naveda and Welton.
The 1996 Revs did have their moments, including a four-game winning streak between Jul. 4 and Jul. 20. There was also the impressive 4-2 home win over the Tampa Bay Mutiny on Aug. 21.
For whatever reason though, the team couldn’t put it together on a consistent basis. Chronopoulos has a story that helps summarize that first year.
"I remember Welton being this talented player but he didn't understand English or how we wanted to play," Chronopoulos said. "He was one day away from being released and then one training session changed everything.
"We were a day away from leaving pre-season camp to return to Massachusetts. We had to stay an extra week because of the snow storm up north. We had a training session at a local park (that's what we had to deal with back then), and Frank Stapleton had us doing 1v1 to goal from a good distance. Let's just say Welton arrived from Brazil. He was explosive, creative and Brazilian! From that moment on we saw his talent then of course we traded him."
★ ★ ★
Chronopoulos stayed with the Revolution until 2002, becoming a key contributor despite being used sparsely in 1996. After stints with the New York Metro Stars and a couple of lower division teams, Chronopoulos retired. He would then go on to hold various coaching and front office jobs.
Looking back 20 years later, Chronopoulos can’t help but be impressed by the growth of the league. The quality of play has improved as the talent pool has deepened. There’s one thing that stands out the most when Chronopoulos reflects on the growth of MLS and it’s something that the Revs will hopefully have soon.
"The stadiums!" Chronopoulos said. "There are more soccer specific stadiums. You can create a great environment with soccer specific stadiums. They are more fan friendly—players and fans love it!"
Chronopoulos is also happy for the opportunities given to former players. Of the 20 teams, 16 employ coaches that once played in MLS. Chronopoulos himself spent time coaching with the Metro Stars and Chivas USA. Looking to former players to help grow the league is important to Chronopoulos.
That said, the current Pateadores Academy Director doesn’t want to see too much emphasis on the past. The 1996 jerseys, which felt like "a 10 pound backpack," don’t belong in the modern game. The same can be said for the "nerve-racking" shootouts.
The past should be remembered but not dwelled upon. It’s especially important to pay homage to those who helped build the league into what it is today.
"In the end, without the Krafts there is no team," Chronopoulos said. "They believed in us as players, the team and league. They continue to be leaders in the community. I want to thank Mr. Kraft, Jonathan Kraft and the late Myra Kraft for their commitment and dedication. I had the pleasure to work with Myra at the local Boys and Girls clubs and it is something I will never forget."