Don’t call it a rebuild. They’ve been here for years, 18 to be exact, and the New England Revolution are not content citing 2012 as a small stepping stone toward something better.
“We felt that while we made some strides last year it still wasn’t good enough,” general manager Mike Burns told Metro in advance of the club’s home-opener Saturday against Kansas City. “When I say it wasn’t good enough, the bottom line is we didn’t get in the playoffs.”
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In fact, the Revolution, twice conference champs and four times MLS Cup finalists, have not made the playoffs since 2009, finishing 26 games below .500 in that span. While it may seem as if baby steps are necessary to dig out of such a hole, Burns and his staff were not willing to wait around.
There was a massive roster upheaval following the dismal 2011 season that included the ouster of longtime head coach Steve Nicol, and again many major changes after what most would perceive as progress in 2012. And now, Burns has the personnel he hopes will give second-year coach Jay Heaps the tools he needs to find success.
“We’re not going to predict or guarantee anything, but the feeling is that we have a much deeper team than we’ve had in the past few years. It’s becoming much more challenging for the players in terms of getting in the starting 11, getting in the travel party,” Burns said, citing some unhappy campers who didn’t get into the season-opening win in Chicago. “That makes for a better competitive environment as far as we’re concerned. We feel we have a lot more players this year who are capable of playing than probably we had in the last few years, and I think that’s why we’re optimistic.”
Some of that optimism was subdued when New England followed up the win over the Fire with a 1-0 loss in Philadelphia last weekend. Yet, the Revs were not woefully outplayed by the Union, rather succumbing to one unfortunate sequence that led to the only score.
With that in mind the loss will not be tough to overcome, especially with a full home slate on the horizon – New England was 7-4-6 at home last season and just 2-13-2 on the road.
“It’s the second game of the year,” said goalie Bobby Shuttleworth. “These are the kinds of losses we want to get out the way now so we can move forward, build on this, get points on the road and keep it going like.”
Regardless of where 2013 takes them, the Revolution are firmly entrenched in something bigger than most could imagine 18 years ago. They are among the building blocks for a league that many thought would crumble, yet is now looking to take on its 20th franchise and continuing to build soccer-specific stadiums that fill up with die-hards. New England will not be supplanting the Pats, Sox, C’s or B’s anytime soon, but the only legitimate uncertainty lies in how, when or if it rises back to the top of the Eastern Conference.
“I don’t think there’s another country in the world that has made as much progress in their league or in soccer for that matter, than the US has in the last 18 years.” Burns said. “I do not say that to make it sound like we’ve made it, because we still have a long way to go, but I really believe that. I don’t think there’s another country that can compete with us in terms of what we’ve done in the last 18 years.”
Three things Revs storylines to watch:
1. The return of Saer Sene: The talented forward, who led the team with 11 goals last season, is nearing the end of his rehab from a torn ACL. Burns said that barring any setback Sene will see game action in April.
2. The battle in net: Shuttleworth and veteran Matt Reis staged a battle for the starting goaltender position, with Reis, who turns 38 on March 28, edging his likely eventual replacement with a start in the opener. However, Reis was left out in Philadelphia due to a groin injury. Expect this to remain a fluid situation.
3. Kansas City doldrums: The Revs were 0-2-1 against Kansas City last season, getting outscored 4-0.