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.

The (Soccer) Moments of our Lives…

This past weekend was the final trip I had with my fellow ESI teachers for the year. We headed to the southern part of the Czech Republic, to the small town of Cesky Krumlov. It is a little touristy place on a beautiful curved river. The main activity of the weekend was a rafting trip on Saturday. The sun was out in force and while the river was far from white water the current took us along at a nice pace. It was really awesome to have this last week of fun and fellowship with my fellow teachers. A small story illustrates this.

After the rafting we had a dinner reservation at a nice local brewery restaurant. The dinner was nice but the main event in my mind was America’s opening game in the World Cup against soccer power England. I have always been a huge soccer fan and World Cups are the pinnacle of the game. I scream at every pass, shot and especially goal when I watch. I had brought the jersey of my favorite player to wear for the game but that was about it. However, a fellow ESI teacher had managed randomly to procure a number of USA flag cowboy hats, multiple red, white, and blue bandanas and even brought his grandfather’s American flag, which he wore as a cape.

Even as a soccer fan I can be pretty self-conscious but I figured this wasn’t the time to worry about such things. Soon I found myself walking through a small Czech town bedecked in hat and bandana. It was great, but better things were to come.

Right before the game starts the teams come out and the national anthems are played. To my shock and amazement, when the Star – Spangled Banner began all my ESI American friends shot up and started singing lustily. For a moment I was frozen. This was a Czech pub, other people were around and they were rooting for England. But then my amazement gave way to excitement and I shot up and joined in. It was probably one of the best moments of this year.

I love soccer and I love my friends and too often they are separate. But watching the game last night with everyone was as perfect an ending as I could make up for this year. This has been a great year and last night typified that for me.

I saw Fulham!…and London too…

So this is my last night in London and as I should be horribly tired and busy with travel and school until probably Wednesday I thought I should give a recap while it’s fresh in my mind.

I ended my trip by going to my favorite English soccer team, Fulham Football Club (they play in London). As an American it’s hard to follow and get into European soccer but this is where the best players play and so a few years ago I picked Fulham as my favorite, most because they seemed interesting and had around five Americans at the time (they still have one). I been learning and following ever since. Going to this game today was undoubtedly the highlight of my trip. Fulham didn’t play great but they won and it was a great experience as a fan to be able to watch them.

Why was it so great? One word: atmosphere. British soccer just has it. In American sports, you have jumbo-trons, cheerleaders, time outs, distracting music. Often you’re so faraway from the action it doesn’t even matter. Here in Britain it is different. It’s just the fans and the soccer. Fulham’s stadium fits just over 25,000 people. The stands go right up to the field, you are so close to the action and players. No big screen, just a scoreboard with the clock. The fans know exactly when to cheer, clap and chant, it was awesome. I must also say the away fans were fantastic. One entire block of stands behind one goal was filled with fans of the other team and you couldn’t help but feel their presence. They chanted, jumped, jeered. They were magificent. I’m glad they went home sad but thanks for the effort guys.

So here in short are a few other things I did in London.

  • Went to British Museum and saw the Rosetta Stone.
  • Went to Tower of London and saw crown jewels and lots of cool, old stuff.
  • Went to a Church service in Wesminster Abbey. Very cool.
  • Saw Buckingham Palace and walked around a lot of London.
  • Met up with a few friends and had lunch and hung out in a London Pub.

So now I fly back tomorrow just in time to start teaching again come Monday morning. But it was a great trip and I’m sure after a few days I’ll be readjusted back to the lovely land of the Czechs.