The New England Revolution have hired a new head coach and according to reports, Brad Friedel will take control of a team that has been under performing (including missing the playoffs the last two years) since making the MLS Cup Final in 2014.
The debate will, as it usually does, boil down to whether or not the Revs made a good hire. Is Friedel, a legendary USMNT goalkeeper, short-term USYNT coach and broadcaster, better than Jay Heaps, who was a legendary Revs defender and broadcaster?
That’s a fine question but I’m more interested in if the new coach will get that resources he needs and deserves.
I’ll get back to that in a bit. Let’s start here: my initial thoughts on Friedel as a head coach are mixed. I’m not necessarily overwhelmed by Friedel’s coaching credentials but they are an upgrade to the zero professional experience that Heaps had when he was hired six years ago. Despite Friedel’s limited coaching resume, he does have a UEFA coaching license and has spent time leading the U19 USBNT. Let’s not forget that he has solid name recognition. All of this helps us understand why Friedel was at the top of the Revs’ wish list.
However, and this is the underwhelming part, the Revs didn’t exactly pass over a lot of experienced coaches to get to Friedel. Yes, Bruce Arena was likely called as a courtesy but I don’t think he was ever coming to New England and after 2014 I’m not sure how well that would go over with the fanbase. Former Argentina national coach Daniel Passarella was reportedly interviewed as well, though there’s some off-the-field baggage there and he hasn’t coached since he was the manager or River Plate a decade ago.
The rest of the rumored names had some potential and could’ve made for good hires. Former players like Pat Noonan and Steve Ralston have extensive resumes as assistants in MLS and the fan darling Giovani Savarese from the New York Cosmos of NASL has been dominating the second(?) division of the US soccer pyramid. The Revs had a pretty realistic list of coaches they wanted for the job and they hired someone, which they were going to do anyway. At the end of the day it really doesn’t matter who the Revs’ next head coach is.
I don’t care that Brad Friedel has never coached a professional team before, everyone has to start somewhere. I don’t care that Revs GM Mike Burns and Friedel were roommates twenty years ago on the USMNT. I especially don’t care about the opinion of a certain soccer agent on Twitter, because even if Ron Waxman is right, Friedel’s coaching ability isn’t going to turn the Revs into a MLS Cup contender overnight.
The real question facing New England is not whether or not Friedel is a good hire or a good coach. But rather, this:
Will Kraft, Burns, and Bilello finally give their head coach the players and resources to succeed in MLS?
The Revs found success with Heaps by borrowing the small market baseball playbook (think Tampa Bay Rays). They rebuilt with youth, got really competitive, and then hit that home run trade in the summer (Jermaine Jones), which propelled them towards a title. The 2014 run was great but what followed hasn’t been good enough.
Now, Heaps is no Joe Maddon as far as coaches go, but lost in Heaps’ firing was the really solid rebuild job he did as the head coach of New England in the first half of his tenure. It didn’t bother me that Heaps didn’t have any coaching experience, because the front office had a solid plan in place for the 2012-2014 seasons and it was executed well. The Revs raided the draft, signed a solid homegrown in Scott Caldwell and picked up players that had been pushed aside by other teams. This lead to the Revs having one of the best cores in the league. Then the team effectively sat back and stopped getting better after signing Jermaine Jones, perhaps assuming they’d still be a good team. Their was a plan in place to support Jay Heaps and get back into the playoffs. There wasn’t a long term plan for after the Revs were already a playoff team.
They took two years replace AJ Soares at centerback, then the team got unlucky with the injury to Xavier Kouassi, and pulled off a relative blockbuster trade to get Kei Kamara. All the while, the Revs were passed on- and off-the-field by the rest of the league and moved from the top of the East, down to fifth and then below the red line.
Here's how @NERevolution win 1st MLS Cup: give coach 2 more DPs, 1 more assistant coach, 1 more zero on contract.— Frank Dell'Apa (@frankdellapa) December 8, 2014
I wrote and pinned this back in August of 2016 and the original tweet from Frank “The Godfather” Dell’Apa is from after the Revs’ 2014 loss in MLS Cup. This tweet is still true today, and that’s a problem.
Heaps for the first five years of his coaching career had two assistant coaches. Remi Roy was the team’s goalkeeping coaching for Heaps’ entire tenure while original assistant Jay Miller was replaced by Tom Soehn. It wasn’t until 2017 that Heaps’ got additional help in the form of Carlos Llamosa. Simply put, this isn’t enough help.
We will get our first indicator of what the new era will bring when we see how many assistants Friedel is allowed to bring to the club.
I’m dead serious, if Friedel’s is given full reign to bring in a staff of like six coaches, that’s a legitimate indicator that things are changing in New England. If Friedel hires one or two new coaches and Remi Roy stays as the ‘keeper coach then I’m expecting much.
The next indicator will be the type of players that Friedel brings in. If we see high-profile players (like Jones) then we are truly seeing a new attitude from the front office.
Brad Friedel might be a good coach, he might not be. In the same breath, he could be better than Jay Heaps or he could be worse, we don’t know yet (in fact, we don’t even officially know that he has the job).
Gerardo “Tata” Martino is probably a good coach but he also has Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez starring on an expansion team and those two guys combined probably cost the same as the entire Revs roster combined. Patrick Viera had a couple of seasons in charge of the Manchester City reserves before City Football Group put him in charge of NYCFC. That assignment came with David Villa to build around and Andrea Pirlo and Frank Lampard to sell jerseys. Good coaches also have good players to go along with their good tactics and good formations. Good coaches also take okay players and young guys and develop them and make them better and turn them into good players.
Are Viera and Martino better coaches than Heaps or Friedel? Maybe, maybe not - but do they have more and/or better resources than New England does? Absolutely, and it’s not unfair to say that’s been the difference between New England and the rest of the league in the past two years.
The Revolution have underachieved the last two seasons. New England at the very least has the talent to be that in playoffs because, well, everyone makes the playoffs. The question beyond that however...Just how much better should the Revs be?
Could they win a one-game playoff in Atlanta or Chicago? I mean, sure in a crazy one game scenario I guess anything is possible. But looking back at 2017, where the Revs missed the playoffs by four points to the Red Bulls and were 10 points back of Chicago and Atlanta in third and fourth and 9 points back of Columbus in fifth, I think at best they’re a six seed. The Revs were clearly in the second tier behind Toronto/NYC/Chicago/Atlanta and while they can compete with those teams individually on any given game day, they definitely weren’t good enough to compete long-term througout the season. And Heaps or Freidel as the head coach probably doesn’t change my mind when I say that Toronto, NYCFC, Chicago and Atlanta were significantly better than the Revs last year.
So I’m not over or under-whelmed by the hiring of Brad Friedel as the new Revolution head coach. I don’t think it’s a surprising, random, out of the box hire and nor do I think it’s completely unambitious. The truth, as with many things, lies somewhere in the middle. I am simply “whelmed” that the Revs have a new coach.
The next steps, and what the Revs give Brad Friedel on and off the field for 2018, are far more important than hiring Friedel now.