Looking around Gillette Stadium at the start of Saturday night’s game between the Revolution and Sporting Kansas City, one couldn’t help but notice the lower bowl was only half full (that is if we’re being generous).
The announced attendance was 17,592, which was about as believable as the fake Red Sox sellout streak.
By trading the latest face of the franchise-captain and midfielder Shalrie Joseph-last week, it is clear that New England has put itself in full rebuilding mode for the rest of the 2012 regular season.
They came into the game tied for 9th place with Philadelphia out of 10 teams in the Eastern Conference and they are eight points out of a playoff spot, meaning the postseason is not likely this fall. Sporting Kansas City won 1-0 thanks to a goal in the 20th minute from striker Teal Bunbury following a defensive breakdown by New England. It was the third time the Revolution were shut out in their last five matches, they are winless in that span (0-4-1) and have scored four total goals in this brutal stretch.
So how has one of the top franchises in Major League Soccer become a complete afterthought the last few seasons? The Revs were the Buffalo Bills of MLS as they reached the MLS Cup four times (2002, 2005, 2006, 2007) but never took home the champions trophy. They missed the playoffs the past two years and have gotten progressively worse in the process. Sound familiar Red Sox fans? Taylor Twellman, the best striker in team history, had to retire prematurely in 2010 due to multiple concussions. Since then, New England has struggled to find its next consistent goal-scoring star or even an above average and dependable supporting cast. Right now, goalkeeper Matt Reis is their longest tenured and most respected player but at 37-years-old who knows how much longer he’ll be around or if he’ll want to be part of this project?
In the past, there has been talk of the Revolution playing in a soccer-only stadium closer to Boston and I think it is time to revisit that idea. The crowds will always be small as long as they struggle and that stands out more at cavernous Gillette. New England should take a page from the Union (Philadelphia), Columbus Crew or Chicago Fire-some of the MLS teams that are the only tenants of their home stadium. You have to believe that many of the Revs fans come from the Greater Boston area to begin with and Foxboro is a bit of a hike from basically anywhere. Build a new smaller stadium on the water around Boston and the team would get an energy boost that they haven’t felt in years. Figuring out how not to create even more traffic would be tricky but at least they could be near bus stops, the T or commuter rail. As it stands in Foxboro, the only way to get out here is to drive.
The other way the Revs can make an immediate splash is to sign a big name designated player (international) like striker Thierry Henry (New York Red Bulls) or midfielder David Beckham (Los Angeles Galaxy) that will not only sell tickets and merchandise but improve the overall product on the field. Looking at the current roster, they don’t have any household names that are field players. It’s tough to get any casual fans to pay attention when there are no All-Star caliber guys on the team. More importantly, if you can get one superstar like that, you can more easily sign additional solid role players.