The New England Revolution

The New England Revolution lost their 5th championship match on Sunday in as many tries. I haven’t written about the Revs in just about forever. I think this is because it still seemed like such a niche thing to me. Most people just weren’t aware they existed so who would want to read about it? Twitter has helped enormously in the past 5 years in helping me realize that there are many passionate soccer fans locally and around the world. Ultimately though this entry is mostly therapy for myself. If you enjoy it, great. If you don’t know what the Revolution is, no worries.

I was born in Boston but moved to Delaware when I was three. Even so I grew up knowing I had to be a passionate Red Sox fan and to a lesser degree, a Bruins fan. This was during their long, long championship droughts so paying attention to their yearly suffering was a badge of honor. I grew up playing soccer though and that was my true sporting love as a kid. When MLS was due to start in 1996 I knew the Revolution had to be my team. I watched the first game where San Jose and Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in league history. In 1997 when I started 7th grade we moved back up to Massachusetts.

My dad took me to a few games growing up and I went to MLS Cup in 1999 at Gillette. Those early years though MLS barely seemed on the radar and of course, the Revolution rarely did well. Which made their first run to the final in 2002 so surprising. A few wins and we were in the playoffs! A few more results and we were firmly in uncharted territory.  Heartbreakingly, we lost in overtime. It was ok though back then or so it seemed. We weren’t even supposed to make it. It was close. It was our first time. We would make it back again. And we did.

The Revolution losing the championship 5 times in 19 seasons is shocking but when you dig into the details its utterly depressing. Three overtime losses (to the same team!) Another loss on penalties. Another loss we scored first but coughed up the lead to lose 2-1. The most unbelievable fact to me about these losses is how rule changes absolutely killed us. FIFA flirted with rule changes in the early 2000s and had “golden goal” sudden-death overtime in 2005. LA scores and the game is over. A year later they went back to the traditional 30 minute extra time regardless of how many goals are scored. We score after 110 long minutes and before we can sit down Houston has tied it. We lose on penalties.

I think I was surprised at how relaxed I was this past week leading up to the game. It was a surprise to make it back this season for sure after 7 seasons away. But I was worried that as I got older I was caring less even though I have been attending more games than ever. I did have one bad premonition 2 days before the final when I dreamed that we were losing 3-0 by halftime. Other than that though I mostly just waited for Sunday.

If this game taught me anything it is that I surely do care. I probably care a bit too much. I was upset before kickoff that the ESPN brain-trust didn’t give the Revolution a chance. And I was horrified when we almost conceded in the first 2 minutes, clearing off the line. Nearing half-time I realized my stomach hurt. A lot. I was watching so intensely my muscles, my organs were tightening up. We did have one chance to celebrate. After looking dead in the water for most of the second half we amazingly and suddenly tied it 1-1. A chance for redemption and victory. With 5 minutes left a beautiful chip over the LA keeper hit the crossbar. Overtime. Again.

And so we let up a goal and lost. 5 attempts with no Cup to show for it. My body felt utterly tired and worn out afterwards. MLS Playoff set ups have often been at best silly and at worst nonsensical. But Cups matter. Championships matter. I cannot wait to celebrate a Revolution MLS Cup championship. I think we have a strong enough and young enough core of a team that we will be back here again and soon. I don’t know when we will finally win one but when we do I can promise one thing: I’ll be watching.

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How to fix the MLS Playoffs

As an avid  American soccer fan I am tied to the fate of the pro league here, Major League soccer. For better or worse, I will be a fan regardless of what stupid policies the league institutes.  The current playoff system is one of the stupider policies I’ve seen. Wedded to a nonsensical conference system, the playoffs have matched eight nearly inseparable teams in a confusing and unfair way.  The last two years a conference champion has been a team from the opposite conference. It doesn’t have to be this way.

First off lets take off the table what won’t happen. MLS will never have  a single table, even if they use one to denote playoff standing. This is America, we have conferences. If you don’t like it I hear the quality of soccer in Europe is pretty awesome. With that in mind here is a minimally different system which I think is more fair and workable.

Keep the conferences. Regular season winner of the conference is the conference champion. Enjoy the t-shirt. 18 teams in league next year and more on the way make 8 teams qualifying for playoffs fair. This number should not be increased. This is soccer, playoffs can be anticlimactic.  It should get harder to qualify not easier. Conference champions get top two seeds in playoffs. Yes I know RSL was better than NYRB this year but I feel we should throw the conference champion a perk. Remember we are in America, not Europe. After that top 6 qualify. 1v8, 2v7, 3v6, 4v5 aggregate series. Then one game semifinals (higher seed hosts), then MLS Cup. Probably would be fairer for higher seed to host this but if MLS wants a big nuetral site, that doesn’t bother me.

This probably doesn’t go as far as many hardcore soccer fans want but that’s why it’s plausible. This is a good way for MLS to keep conferences while making the playoff system fairer and easier for the causal fan to follow. Hopefully some changes will be instituted this off season.