Let's talk about MLS 1.0 for a minute. Via Fake Sigi, The Viper's Nest blog puts forward some explanations as to why the Red Bulls haven't lived up to expectations, viz., anyone wanting to see their games. Worrisome stuff.
But it's New England's woes that I find jarring.
Hey, it's early. And it's cold and the Celtics and the Red Sox and the Revs have a new signing and they may win fifteen in a row. And they might even pull a Wizards - sorry, Sporting - no, I'm not sorry, Wizards - and build their own stadium. That wasn't the panacea for New York, though, as we saw from the first paragrpah. Or FC Dallas. Or the Rapids. Or the Fire. Or even the Galaxy, unless this is one of their profitable years. If it's a choice between a new stadium, and moving out of town, then yes, a new stadium is very helpful. But otherwise, a new stadium doesn't do much by itself. It's not like tickets to new stadiums are cheaper, after all.
To me, the issue is that Foxboro used to be one of the hottest places in American soccer, and there's no reason it shouldn't be still, apart from malignant neglect.
I'm sort of treading on Roger Allaway territory here, but if St. Louis and Kearny, New Jersey were the great localities in American soccer history, then the New England area was the great soccer region. The Revs could wear throwbacks of great New England teams all year, and not get within twenty years of the Tea Men.
And immediately before MLS began, the unofficial home of the US national team wasn't Columbus or Washington - and absolutely, positively not Los Angeles. It was Foxborough, Massachusetts. The national team played in Foxboro for the first time in June, 1991 - and drew over 50,000, easily the year's highest total.
Fine, so maybe playing Ireland near Boston was canny marketing. Two years later, a friendly tournament called US Cup changed the course of the national team. Two games in three days, one in New Haven, the other in Foxboro, culminated in the US beating England for the first time since 1950, and in comprehensive fashion. Largely on the strength of that game, Foxboro anchored the next few sets of World Cup qualifiers, culminating in 1997. Soon to be legendary coach Steve Sampson held Mexico to a draw - and the US would have won if not for a freak Kasey Keller error.
The Revolution basked in the reflected glory - this reads like a slow bleed now, but it shows where the Revolution were once.
In other words, it has taken a special effort to ruin soccer in New England. What the hell happened?
First of all, the US national team abandoned them for greener and/or colder pastures. Columbus ripped the big money, big prestige Mexico qualifiers away, a move that probably even diehard New England-based US fans probably approve. Foxboro has since gotten its share of US games, but largely Gold Cup games, with more than a few garbage friendlies in the AEG-owned stadium in East Hartford. The last great qualifying triumph in Foxboro - over Jamaica in 2001 - was overshadowed by the beginning of the war in Afghanistan.
And, of course, the early years of the Revolution were distinguished by some very, very crummy teams, with even crummier coaches. The strength of the fan base, and the vibrancy of the fan culture, was so ridiculously out of proportion with the quality of the product that the "Pictures of Chairman Mao" fanzine was able to achieve Beckettesque levels of comic despair.
Then there was 2002, probably the great turning point year in the history of the franchise, if not the league. The Revolution were hardly dazzling that year, but they finally had the right coach, the right players, and the right general manager. The cruelest blow came first, when Todd Smith was diagnosed with leukemia, and died the next year. Had Smith lived, the Revolution probably would have weathered the disappointment of MLS Cup more effectively.
I suppose everyone else realized this long before I did, being a Galaxy fan and all, but celebrating MLS Cup 2002 is probably the American soccer equivalent of a drunken Civil War re-enactment where the South gets to WIN this time. The Revolution, meanwhile, drew a sellout crowd to watch their team lose a long, horrible game. It's amazing anyone came back the next year.
If they did, it was to see Taylor Twellman finally lead the Revolution to the ranks of the genuinely good. Those mid-00's teams won't get the respect they deserve, largely because of their agonizing insistence on losing poorly played MLS Cups. It's been argued that missing the championship by a close margin several years in a row is worse than simply being hideous season after season, and the Revolution provide some powerful evidence.
Perhaps losing the 2007 MLS Cup - their fourth total, and third in a freaking row - broke that team. If not, the terrible 2008 season certainly did. Be you not fooled by the uptick in attendances in 2007 and 2008 - regrettably, those numbers can almost entirely be chalked up to the presence of a certain Galaxy midfielder.
In fact, the 2008 Beckham visit probably qualifies as the second most devastating game in Revolution history, for it was on that day that Taylor Twellman and Steve Cronin collided, giving Twellman concussion problems that eventually ended his career.
If that wasn't bad enough, weeks later New England dropped a 4-0 game at home to Jack Warner's Joe Public. They haven't been the same team since - not even close.
Which brings us to 2011. I did send an e-mail to the Revolution asking what they think the problem has been so far - they've drawn under 8,000 twice already. They haven't responded, primarily because their focus is hopefully on reversing that trend rather than dealing with bloggery chuckleheads.
But Jonathan Kraft did talk to Kyle McCarthy the other week - that's not the problem, people should talk to Kyle McCarthy. It's that Kraft said this:
Emphasis added. Yes, I know, he was trying to be reassuring, and I'm taking his words out of context. And the Revolution hadn't dipped below 8,000 when he said that, let alone twice.
But business as usual can't continue there. And they can't keep continuing to blame things like the Celtics, the Red Sox, and the Bruins taking away precious media time. None of those teams are going anywhere, the Revolution were always going to have to carve out a niche. (They do have one - even in dwindling numbers, Revolution fans are vastly more tolerable than Red Sox fans.)
Yet I can't help feeling that there is a factor I'm missing. Someone who has been around for a while, but has achieved very little, except to watch the team's influence dwindle into nothingness during his tenure.
Wait, what does the President of US Soccer have to do with...oh, that's right.
I'm a big fan of reading between the lines on press releases and official biographies. For those of you who like to use their time more productively, suffice to say that Gulati was been with the Revs for twelve years, and all of the accomplishments listed on his bio are about the USSF.
Occasionally you will read that it's a conflict of interest to have Gulati as Presidents of Kraft Soccer and US Soccer. I can only imagine the hollow, bitter laughter from the Northeast at that accusation. More like a conflict of no interest. On the bright side, "Fire Sunil" signs come in twice as handy.
I was a big fan of the theory that little sisters of NFL teams had to live on scraps - the same thing happened to the Wizards for a long time under Lamar Hunt. But now the Sounders have squarely put the lie to the theory that an MLS team in the shadow of an NFL team can't thrive. There's no reason the Revolution shouldn't do the same - shouldn't have done the same all along.
The discussion continues here, of course. They, being closer to the issue, would say I haven't given nearly enough blame to Mike - sorry, Michael Burns.
Fortunately for MLS, Cascadia and the Rocky Mountains - at least, Wasatchia - will overshadow a lot of the issues afflicting the league's older teams. At least the Revolution will suffer in privacy. And who knows, maybe even fix their problems. But if it's still business as usual for the Revolution, they may succeed in doing the impossible, and kill soccer in New England.