Some teams are just terrible. They appear to be assembled from a random pool of second-rate players who lack the talent or the commitment or both to compete at the level their competitors demand. Anyone who endured with me the Chicago White Sox of my childhood knows what I’m talking about.
This is not the problem with this year’s New York City Football Club. But neither is it the problem with the New England Revolution.
For there are also teams that actually have talent, but for reasons that defy logic, never seem to be able to put all the pieces together to win. Teams that look terrific on paper but once they hit the pitch, or the field or the ice or the court, fold like a cheap card table.
This is the problem with the New England Revolution.
Now, when a visiting side faces a team that is just plain terrible, one can more comfortably predict a victory. Because you know what you’re up against. Men against boys, as it were. Professionals versus amateurs. Experts and duffers, so to speak. There are gaps one can count on exploiting – it’s just a matter of waiting for them to inevitably show themselves.
But when a side faces a team that actually has talent but is not performing to expectation, all bets are off. Because there is always the possibility that they will finally figure out what they’ve been doing wrong all season and turn on the power for one, random match.
And this is the problem facing NYCFC.
Now sure, the Revolution just beat the Colorado Rapids, a match I’m still scratching my head about. But they’re currently sitting on thirty points. Even if they won every single one of their remaining games they still wouldn’t match their record last year. And anyone who watched them lose to the New York Red Bulls in Harrison on August 28th saw just how unlikely that is. The Revs looked like eleven random guys pulled out of the stands and forced onto the pitch in matching jerseys. No communication, no intuition, no connection, no anticipation, no familiarity. No wonder they lost.
But they’re not hacks. They’ve got Kei Kamara, who scored 22 goals and had eight assists last season and led the Columbus Crew to the MLS Cup Final. And Lee Nguyen – two years ago he had18 goals and five assists. And Diego Fagundez – three years ago when he was a kid of 18 he had 13 goals and seven assists.
Plus they have Juan Agudelo and Kellyn Rowe and Chris Tierney and Bobby Shuttleworth – all of whom other teams would be happy to have on their sides.
And yet, this year? This year Kamara has nine goals and no assists, Nguyen has five goals and eight assists and Fagundez a measly three and three. That’s a difference of 36 goals and nine assists!
And that’s exactly the problem with the New England Revolution for New York City Football Club. They have the talent to win. The question is, will they pull it together on Saturday?
Perhaps this wouldn’t be of concern if NYCFC had dominated the series. But the two teams have played fairly closely overall. Last season New England actually won the series (for although NYCFC memorably won their home opener in March, New England won the other two matches, and were +1 on goals). And while New York City currently leads on points this season (with a win and a draw), its been about as possible, as indicated by a goal differential of, again, only +1, though this time in NYCFC’s favor.
So we’ve got a tight series against an opponent that’s loaded with talent but is curiously under-performing.
But wait, there’s more.
Because one would have to assume that Jay Heaps is coaching for his job at this point, right? For we all know how MLS front offices feel about teams that fail to make the playoffs, especially when they believe they’ve made the personnel moves to get them there.
Or perhaps I’m just projecting…
So will there will be an element of desperation in the Revolution’s line up on Saturday? Some variation nobody has seen before, some unexpected arrangement and maybe even new faces? Add another variable to the mix.
On the other hand, maybe the Revs are just going to ignore this match altogether. Maybe instead they’ll focus on their Open Cup Final against FC Dallas on Tuesday. For what better way to salvage their season (and for everyone to hold on to their jobs) than by hoisting some hardware in Frisco?
(A win that might so deeply demoralize Dallas that they’d be hopeless in their next MLS match. Which just happens to be against NYCFC. Hey, we can dream, right?)
I don’t know. Too many variables. Too much to speculate about. Which is exactly the problem with the New England Revolution. They’re all speculation. Take away the speculation and they almost cease to exist as an organization. They’re just a notion, an idea, a feeling.
Well, okay, maybe more than a feeling. But just.