A month ago, many New England Revolution fans were hopeful of the upcoming season.
There are two new centerbacks in Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua to bolster the Revs backline. Xavier Kouassi makes his long awaited debut after an ACL tear derailed his pre-contract signing last year. Juan Agudelo and Kei Kamara have a full season together to antagonize opposing defenses.
This weekend’s season opener should be about happier times. Then Rob Stone hit the Revs with the Stone Cold Stunner this week. And rightly so.
You see, New England has a problem. We have hope. There is this singular hope that one day, as Don Garber constantly says, there will be a groundbreaking in Boston for a soccer specific stadium for the Revs to call home. A place of their own, close to a ravenous, young, urban fanbase that has adopted soccer as their favorite sport.
We also have hope that one day the Revs will have a USL team to call their own. To help the burgeoning young academy develop further and transform youth players into full professionals.
We also have hope that one day our club will have three designated players and a handful of TAM players to compete year after year with the best teams in MLS.
But, before all of these things can happen, New England must accomplish one thing first. Because in order to show the commitment as a soccer franchise on the grand scale, first they have to fill their basic MLS roster.
I hope, above all other things, for the Revs to have a full roster of 30 players.
Because until the Revs show the general commitment to fill out the first team roster, how can we reasonably expect them to move on to things like a USL team or an SSS? Let’s be reasonable, those two things are multi-million dollar investments that take years of planning to execute. Meanwhile, the current Revs squad has 23 players with the addition of Joshua Smith today, and they won’t even spend pre-allocated league dollars on some of the team’s cheapest roster spots.
Honestly, if we can’t get New England to commit to 30 players, a third of which aren’t on the MLS salary cap and none of which cost the team any money that is not already spent (the league pays all salaries, including DP salaries up to $450k), how can we expect them to commit to a stadium? Or build a full USL franchise from scratch? Or expand the youth development program/academy with a PDL team?
Would fans of any other professional Boston team expect to win if their team only had a roster that was 75% full? Would Patriots fans expect a roster of just 40 players to win a Super Bowl? Could the Red Sox play 162 regular season baseball games with just 19 players at the Major League level? Could the Bruins play a full season with just three lines of attackers and two lines of defenders? If the Celtics remained completely healthy could they win the NBA title with a roster of ten or eleven players?
Because that’s what the New England Revolution are trying to do right now. Compete for a MLS Cup with a roster that’s missing a quarter of it’s potential players.
Rob Stone is right in a lot of ways. Less so on the relocation or the changing of the beautiful Crayon Flag logo, in my opinion, but his words yesterday ring true to what every Revs fan wants from this team.
Commitment. Every year. In as many phases in the game of soccer as the club can offer. Commitment to areas of the game the rest of the league has embraced and are excelling at already.
I will forever praise the front office and their ability to use various MLS mechanisms to build a roster. They’re among the best at using trades, draft picks and other MLS tactics and have built a solid core of MLS talent that got to an MLS Cup Final.
That’s what is so frustrating about this season. For all the solid additions made over the last year in the centerbacks, Kouassi and even Cody Cropper, this meager roster still doesn’t allow the team the flexibility to give young players a chance to gain experience besides first team MLS minutes or during the US Open Cup.
All the while ten MLS teams, just about half of the entire league, operate full USL franchises in the second division. FC Dallas, who won the Supporter’s Shield in MLS last season, had two homegrown players on loan to the USL Oklahoma City Energy. New York Red Bulls II, winners of the USL regular season and playoff championships, featured nine players on loan as they demolished the USL from start to finish.
Last year, three Revolution players made one appearance each in the USL for the Rochester Rhinos.
So while GM Mike Burns wants to “look beyond the current window” and thinks roster flexibility is a benefit for the Revs this season, I don’t see any spot in the starting lineup that is in need of imminent replacing with another player. There isn’t a need for major improvements to the top of the roster; in fact, I bet most of the senior roster is full at this point. What’s missing, however, is the back end of the roster, where most of the current 8 open spots reside.
There were several open roster spots late in 2016, but instead of adding to the roster last summer, the Revs subtracted from it.
Since the stunning addition of Jermaine Jones in the summer of 2014 - and let’s not forget Geoffrey Castillion that wonderful summer, either - the Revs haven’t exactly been active in the summer transfer window.
The last roster moves for the Revs in 2015 were adding homegrown Zachary Herivaux in May while losing Jerry Bengtson in June due to a mutual parting of ways. After the blockbuster trade the Revs made for Kei Kamara in May of last year, they waived Michael Gamble in June, traded Charlie Davies on deadline day on August 4th and waived Samba August 27th. Goalkeeper Cody Cropper was added on August 18th.
That’s it. That’s the list. The Revs roster got smaller last summer. Could an extra defender or midfielder to replace Samba or Gamble have solidified the Revs roster in the summer? Would a trade or an international signing have pushed the Revs just over the edge into a playoff spot? Maybe, maybe not. We’ll never know.
I can understand the arguments of patience if, over the last few seasons, it had yielded results in the summer. And, yes, I was patient after the Charlie Davies trade. But now, I can’t accept arguments about flexibility in a roster with eight open roster spots. I do believe you’re not always looking for the best players but rather you’re looking for the right ones. It would help if New England currently had a half dozen unsigned players in training right now in the hope of finding another “right” player.
While you spend the bulk of last season without carrying a full roster, preaching patience and flexibility, the rest of the league is overtaking New England in terms of overall talent and youth development. And by overtaking, I don’t mean passing you in baby steps; I mean moving past the Revs in leaps and bounds. There are MLS teams taking massive strides and sprinting past New England every day, and the Revs don’t even have a full roster or players on loan in the USL.
Every draft pick, young player and homegrown that sits on the end of the bench and gets released after a year with no game experience in MLS or USL is a wasted opportunity. Those minutes played and experience lost are things the rest of league is certainly taking advantage of with their own USL teams, affiliates, and young players. Every roster spot that goes unfilled is hours and weeks and months of time on the training field that New England does not utilize.
Right now, the confidence the fanbase likely has in the Revs to bring in, let alone sign, more trialists or free agents to fill the roster is probably low. The track record the Revs have with midsummer signings recently just doesn’t support the wait and see approach. There’s only waiting.
At this point, most Revs fans could be resigned to the fact that our team is going to start the year with 23 players. The Revs clearly think ending the year with 20 outfield players worked so well last year, the first non-playoff year since 2012, because it would appear they’re going to keep with the strategy for 2017.
If Delamea or Angoua miss serious time with an injury, are the Revs comfortable with Je-Vaughn Watson, London Woodberry and Joshua Smith at centerback? Who’s behind Andrew Farrell on the right back depth chart? Watson and Woodberry again?
There are only so many spots on the field Watson can cover in a pinch, and my goodness is he good at plugging gaps when needed. But at some point, there needs to be someone else behind him ready to step in. That player might be young and inexperienced but I don’t need the guys on the developmental roster to be ready to play 30 MLS games right away. That’s why it’s called the developmental roster: you develop those guys over time to one day be on the senior roster and contribute to the MLS team. However, you can’t develop those players if they don’t exist in the first place.
I am asking for very little. I’m not asking for a championship-level USL team to happen overnight. I’m not asking for millions spent on additional Designated Players at positions without needs. I think I’m being very reasonable. I just want a full complement of players at the back of the roster, with perhaps a few to send to Rochester, so that one day, if called upon, they’re prepared and ready to play soccer in MLS.
I look at the current roster in New England and think, “it’s pretty good.” In fact, it might even be damn good. This roster would be complete with one or two more MLS veteran types like Tristan Bowen and a few others to fill out the back end. The core of the team is there; what’s missing is the commitment to the future and the overall depth that most of the league already has.
What this boils down to is that I can’t logically ask the Revs to send players to Rochester if a single loanee means they won’t have a full complement of players to have an in-house 11v11 scrimmage at practice. Currently just a single injury or loanee at Rochester would put the Revs below 20 outfield players. You need ten outfield players a side for a full team scrimmage.
I can’t logically ask the Revs to start their own USL team, like the defending league champion New York Red Bulls II, if they can’t even fulfill a basic obligation like loaning players to their affiliate.
I can’t logically ask the Revs to build or find a suitable stadium for their own USL team when they don’t even have an SSS of their own in Boston.
I can’t logically ask the Revs to build that soccer-specific stadium in Boston when they can’t even field a full roster.
I can’t logically ask for anything else from the New England Revolution until they hand out a small handful of MLS minimum-salary contracts, all subsidized by the league.
You’ve got to crawl before you can walk.
What excited me the most going into this preseason wasn’t the fact the Revs could have a solid centerback pairing. It wasn’t the debut of Xavier Kouassi, the man who was supposed to replace Jermaine Jones last summer.
It was the hope that the Revolution might have a full roster for the first time since probably 2014. I think we went to the MLS Cup final that year. Might that be a coincidence? I thought that Tristan Bowen, Tyler Turner, Napo Matsoso, and even Emmanuel Appiah were going to round out an already solid roster and lay a few building blocks for the future while winning a lot of games in the present.
And what disappoints me, and probably Rob Stone, and a lot of others...
Is that the single most basic thing I was excited for hasn’t happened.
And I wasn’t asking for much.