View from the Cheap Seats: Revolution surge
Prologue: I think I'm a talisman. Both for good and for bad. For example, a few months ago, I hammered the Crew and then they went on a seven-game unbeaten streak. This morning, I filed a story about New England's resurgence, and then this afternoon found out that Clint Dempsey is out maybe six weeks with a busted-up jaw. So, as the Reverend Jesse Jackson's game-show host on SNL would put it: The column is moot!
Sadly, for the New England Revolution, posting a 2-1-2 record in their last five games counts as a run of form. No, it's a veritable "surge." They're on a roll, man. Last place with a bullet! Dare we call them a ... a ... juggernaut?
Let's not get carried away. After all, they're still in last place in the Eastern Conference, still two points out of the final playoff spot.
Then again, this is the Revs we're talking about, the same team that has gone on late summer runs the past two seasons that have seen them climb from last to first, and in 2002 carried them all the way to the MLS Cup final. They're the diametrical opposite of the Red Sox, who are famous for their midsummer swoons - which the Sox are in the midst of right now, screwing it all up again, blowing their best chance ever at that elusive World Series, squandering the opportunity to destroy the Evil Empire once and for all, wasting all that talent and money and hope and all the undying faith of Red Sox Nation, and ... and ... no, I'm not bitter.
So, is this the start of the annual Revolution surge?
Maybe. Maybe not. It's hard to say because, unlike previous years, the Revs' early season woes weren't really the team's fault. In previous years, it's been a case of good players playing badly until they finally started playing well. But this season, it hasn't been that. It's been good players not playing. Everyone was hurt. Joe-Max Moore, Taylor Twellman, Pat Noonan, Brian Kamler, Shalrie Joseph - all spent significant time on the DL. I think at one point, coach Steve Nicol even contemplated calling me up and asking if I was available. Then he realized that I was a second-rate MLS player when I was 24 and in shape. Now I'm 31 and flabby. He'd do better to suit up himself than to toss me my old No. 15 jersey.
Seriously, this year's Revs have reminded me of "Spinal Tap." Remember how the Tap just couldn't seem to keep a drummer in the band? Well, actually, they couldn't seem to keep a drummer alive? ("You can't dust for vomit.") But David St. Hubbins, Nigel Tufnal, and Derek Smalls didn't give up. They plugged away, pulling out every trick they knew, such as dwarves dancing around Stonehenge, fighting with the mechanical pods, rocking really hard in Cleveland. They are, of course, redeemed when "Sex Farm" hit #5 on the charts in Japan, and they go on tour in the Far East.
That's what this year's Revs are like. Even with all the injuries, they have managed to stay within spitting distance of that final playoff spot, mostly because Clint Dempsey "goes to 11." (If Clint doesn't win Rookie of the Year, I'm going to infect the MLS servers with a virus that plays Ratt's "Sweet Cheater" every time someone at 110 E. 42nd Street turns on a computer.) And now perhaps the Revs are ready to make that patented bottom-to-top surge.
Nicol finally has his horses back. Taylor Twellman showed us all what we were missing when, against Chicago last week, he scored two goals and earned a red-card for a two-footed tackle on Andy Williams. Gotta hand it to TT: The kid's got huevos the size of Gillette Stadium. Then last Saturday in Columbus, the Revs put on a clinic. Pat Noonan was everywhere and had two or three wonderful chances that were turned away by Crew goalkeeper Jon Busch. If the Revs had put away a few more of their chances, the game would've been over by halftime. As it was, they settled for a disappointing 1-1 tie.
One question arises: When all the horses are healthy, who gets to pull the chariot? (I think that's an ancient Roman aphorism attributed to Pliny.) With TT, Pat Noonan, and Clint Dempsey all available this weekend when the Revs take on the San Jose Earthquakes, what's Nicol going to do? Who plays where?
In my mind, you've got to keep Dempsey up top. At 6'1", he gives the Revs a big target who can hold the ball if need be and can get on the end of crosses in the box. Then you let TT buzz around, getting on the end of through balls, hounding the opposing defense. And, finally, let Noonan sit in behind them. Noons is not the physical player that the other two are. He's more of nuanced player, cerebral even. He knows how and when to run without wasting anything.
I never thought I'd say something this ludicrous, but I can't wait for this weekend's clash of last place teams New England and San Jose. Of course, I also never thought I'd say I liked a Christina Aguilera song but then she released that "Moulin Rouge" song and I was singing "Voulez vous coucher avec moi, ce soir?" right along with the queen of skank.
New England-San Jose has the to potential to be one of the best matches of the season, as both teams are running on all cylinders right now. One of my colleagues even suggested that it could be an MLS Cup preview, but then that colleague also thinks Rusty Pierce has gotten screwed out of the Defender of the Year four seasons running. I won't be hyperbolic, because at this point, every game is potentially an MLS Cup preview. However, I will predict that this will be a rip-roaring affair full of goals, chances, probably a few yellow cards, and maybe, just maybe, if we're lucky, we'll see another Spinal Tap drummer spontaneously combust and leave a little green globule on his stool.
Mortal Lock: There's a famous old saying in sports: When two last place teams meet on a soccer field, always go with the team that has Canadians on the roster. Something like that. San Jose over New England.
Greg Lalas played for the Tampa Bay Mutiny and the New England Revolution in 1996 and 1997. Send e-mail to Greg at firstname.lastname@example.org. Views and opinions expressed in this column views and opinions are the author's, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or MLSnet.com.