Can The New England Revolution Get With The Program?
For those who may not understand the dilemma of being a football fan in America and living near the New England Revolution, let me explain. MLS is growing, and if you believe some people it is growing at an incredible rate. New stadiums pop up like pregnancies in a public high school, T.V. deals bring in much needed exposure (and revenue), and more foreign players are arriving with the mentality that this is an actual league and not a place to walk around for 90 minutes and collect a paycheck. All of these strides are great, and for most clubs in the league these changes have meant a rise in quality for the fans. But for the New England Revolution...life is different.
Once one of the perennial contenders in MLS at the beginning of the last decade, they boasted the likes of Fulham legend and USMNT stalwart Clint Dempsey, goal scoring machine Taylor Twellman, and a host of other top notch players that helped get them to the league championship game year after year. Despite the fact that the title never came back to the Boston area they were competitive and to a certain extent, exciting. Those days are gone now, replaced with a malaise that could be construed as a lack of care. While other teams in MLS search for permanent stadiums that can bring in much needed cash for the club and also stand as statements of intent for the fans, the Revs continue to play in the massive, empty, graveyard-like Gillette Stadium in Foxboro, Mass. Home to the American Football giants the New England Patriots, Gillette is perfect for a team that draws an average of 60,000 fans. But for almost every MLS team (yes, even you Seattle) that remains a goal and not a constant reality. There are many consequences for sticking a team fighting for relevancy in its own market (and for its sport in general) inside a massive stadium like that. The first consequence is that you immediately kill the game day atmosphere. There is nothing quite as depressing as getting excited to go see a professional sports game and finding the stadium 3/4 empty when you arrive. Another problem with stadiums like Gillette is they are not designed for the kind of fan experience most footy fans have come to expect. Singing, chanting, and loud drums are all apart of the best atmospheres in MLS but you can hardly hear any of those things in these massive American Football stadiums. They are not designed to keep the sound in and that just kills the buzz right from the start. The second part about playing in a stadium that is not specifically your own is the mentality it puts the entire club in. You are a second class citizen in your own building, and you are never short of reminders of that fact. Logos from other sports clubs, other sponsors, the list goes on and on. How can you feel like you are playing at the highest level when it just seems like you are renting out the building (and by the way YOU ARE)?
There is not really a lot to say about the roster of the Revolution because most of the team are unknowns. Benny Feilhaber is a U.S. International, but for the past few years he has been a fringe one at best. Shalrie Joseph is great but at this point in his career I don't know how much he can really change the fortune of the club. Matt Reis is one of the leagues best keepers, and a loyal servant to the club, but to paraphrase Captain Jean Luc Picard, "I have become aware recently that there are fewer days ahead than behind". He will not last forever and is already showing early signs of decline. They have this young whipper-snapper from Fall River, Mass named Diego Fagundez but I still think that name sounds better as the name of a foot fungus or a cheese and until he replaces that idea in my head with a wonder-goal I will not really count him as a factor. To be honest nothing has really changed from last year unless you count the change of head coach. Steve Nichol is out, replaced by club legend Jay Heaps. Jay Heaps was of course off learning how to coach since he retired so he is the ideal optio....wait what? Jay Heaps was not learning how to coach, he was actually a broadcaster for the club since his retirement? Well...that seems promising.
It was not even until the middle of last year that the Revolution aquired a kit sponsor for the front of their jersey. While the whole idea of a kit sponsor is newer to MLS than most other leagues, for a long time it did not even feel like the Revolution were trying to get one. The same way that it feels like they are not really trying to get a new stadium. Oh there have been rumors. For years it has been whispered among fans, like rumors of Excalibur laying at the bottom of the lake, that the team was scouting a location in Somerville. "Somerville, where good things go to die". Perhaps tomorrow I will awake to a brilliant new dawn and news that the Revolution have decided to move from the quiet, almost too-quiet, suburbs in Foxboro to an urban environment where they can build the kind of fan base that has proven to be a success in MLS, namely young urban adult men and football savvy immigrants with a desire to reconnect in person with the game they know and love.
But it is more likely that I will awake to a Zombie Apocalypse in its early stages. I would not be that upset about awaking to a Zombie Apocalypse, because I have a plan. Move into the hills, using a cross bow and katana to fight off the mutants while traveling by sturdy mountain bike because it cannot run out of gas. But that's not the point! My brain could handle the Zombie scourge, I don't think it could really handle the news that the Revs were getting serious. It would be like finding out my sometimes funny, mostly scary, grandfather had decided to give up drinking and find Jesus.
How are we going to laugh/cry at Christmas now? The Revolution are kind of like that family member to me. I really don't want to have to deal with their bull crap, but what can I do? In the same way that family is forever, I only have one hometown club. I am only from one place and try as I might to support other MLS teams because they have cooler uni's (I'm looking at you Portland), cooler fan experience (still looking at you Portland), or just the true vibe of a club (OK just watch this and tell me I'm wrong about Portland - Fans at the Portland Timbers Game Sing the National Anthem) I cannot ever really have another hometown. I might some day live in another urban area, and attend match days somewhere else. And maybe that club will even become important to me. But I will always be from this area and I will always know in the back of my head that I'm a transplant to wherever else I end up. So I guess a good new years resolution for 2012 would be to support my hometown club with the kind of passion that I want to see them show, and then maybe they will. Or maybe I should get ready for the Zombie Apocalypse because lets be honest that is WAY more likely than the Revolution being worth anyone's time this year.