Wynalda: Rare sights from the Revs
The New England Revolution are the best team in the league ... right now.
"You can't get too high with the highs or low with the lows. We know exactly how fast things can turn around," said forward Pat Noonan. And they do know.
Of course, the Revs' performance so far comes as quite a surprise to many of us who have been around for all 10 years of MLS. The Revs, most famous for dull, dreary seasons and their annual late playoffs push, are nothing close to what we are used to seeing out of them for this early in the year.
Usually we get the same old story and excuses of why successes are few and far between out of the northeastern corner of our country, which always seems to be the last place to heat up throughout the MLS season. They can't prepare well enough due to bad weather, the field is under repair, the guys aren't fit because they haven't had a chance to get enough games prior to the start of the season, and of course injuries, which get blamed on the weather as well.
But, all in all, that's not the case this year. Head coach Steve Nicol's gang look good. They look poised to do something special this year. My argument is that's because they are special, and here's why.
For one, they got rid of some people. Rusty Pierce and his "Heckle and Jekyll" style and inconsistent play have left for Salt Lake. Brian Kamler's departure might be a bit of a hindrance to the Revolution because of his versatility, but he cleared some cap room and made it possible for the young guys to get their chance. Kamler has found a better home in Salt Lake and Matt Reis is the starter because Adin Brown is off to Norway to revamp his career.
Since Nicol's options are now limited, there is some serious consistency to the Revs' backline this year, while it was ever-changing last year. Then there's Richie Baker, who went back to Ireland. He has two legs, he could run, and he could definitely cross the ball, but the ball was not his friend. And of course, there was the English guy who came over for a few games and a better dental plan and departed with a mouth full of money. Thanks for coming, Steve Howey, but the Revs certainly don't miss you.
The Revs also kept some people from last season to now, Andy Dorman for one. This kid was great as a substitute last year in the playoffs and is making a serious difference as a starter. We all remember how the year ended for this team in D.C., with a penalty kick shootout that saw Clint Dempsey squib one. The season was over just like that. Well, a lot of guys would not have recovered from that so quickly. Dempsey has in a big way. He's leading the league in goals from a midfield position; that should impress anyone.
And then they have forwards Noonan and Taylor Twellman. What else can you say about these two? They look a little like bosom buddies (mainly because Noonan could be Tom Hanks' illegitimate son), and they don't really dazzle you but they get the job done, plain and simple. They are the epitome of what a forward tandem should be. If you're watching on Saturday, when the ball's on the way to Twellman, watch Noonan, and if the ball's on the way to Noonan, watch Twellman. Their movement up front is why Dempsey has been able to sneak through the middle and be their X-factor. If you concentrate on the forwards, a smart player like Dempsey will find the seam and get the goal (see also: Michael Ballack, Bayern Munich). Also, Twellman and Noonan are the perfect complement to Steve Ralston's right foot and Shalrie Joseph's get it and give it style.
The last bit, I guess, is that they have a good find: central defender Michael Parkhurst isn't bad. He's one of four rookies to have played every minute this season. I normally would be a bit nicer but as some of you have figured out, I don't believe in praising rookies. He is solid and not the constant worry of Carlos Llamosa or Howey because he's young and will stay healthy. Sure he is going to make mistakes but he'll get better. Besides, he's in good hands.
It took a long time to build this Revolution team but they sure look like a Bill Belichick team. Maybe Belichick and Nicol have been talking (if they can actually understand each other). The thing with both the Patriots and Revs is that their team attitude is that it's all about the guy next to you. In the movie "Friday Night Lights," Billy Bob Thornton's character says, "Being perfect is about being able to look your friends in the eye and know that you didn't let them down because you told them the truth. And that truth is you did everything you could."
That seems to be the attitude this year in New England. Or maybe the Kraft family's fortune in football and last year's Red Sox success has something to do with it. Good sports towns have a way of building off and feeding off the other sports' success. But I don't think that's it at all. I think it's a team that might just win the championship because they have the right elements.
I like this team. I like their attitude. I like their commitment to each other. And it doesn't seem like there's a team in MLS that's enjoying what they're doing more than the Revolution right now, which is impressive for a team that has been, since the inception of the league, in last place in the wins category. In fact, before the start of this season, the Chicago Fire - on hom the Revs got a two-year headstart - had the same number of wins as the Revs.
So New England is the team to beat, huh? Well this week it's off to New York to play the winless-at-home MetroStars on Saturday live on ESPN2 at 4 p.m. ET. The surface will make this game interesting, but I expect a fairly even game. Eddie Gaven looked good last week and Amado Guevara and Youri Djorkaeff seem to be figuring things out.
Watching this game will be interesting due to the fact that the Revs midfield tackles a bit harder than most in MLS, and we all know what reactions we will get from a couple late tackles in the Meadowlands. Here's a little advice, Amado: if you don't want to get kicked, get rid of the ball a little quicker Saturday.
The Metros are coming off a pretty 3-0 good win in Chicago, though, on goals from Guevara and Gaven which reminds us that the forwards still aren't producing in Metroland. Metroland, if you're not familiar, is the place where some forwards go upon their arrival at the Meadowlands. It's not a friendly place, and only a select few have figured out how to get it down in New York. Sergio Galvan Rey currently has a season pass. I'm not sure what ride he's on right now but he needs to either get out of Metroland or have dinner with Giovanni Savarese.
So, maybe it is the Red Sox and the Patriots rubbing off with their winning ways, or it's the fact that this is a good team and a cohesive unit that enjoy playing for each other, or it's just the fact that they are all too aware of the possibilities if they let their guard down. As much fun as they are having, this is a group of guys who have just enough experience and just enough knowledge to know how bad things have been and can be in New England, and that's probably why they're such a good team right now. Boys, you've been fun to watch. Keep it up and don't blow it. Uh oh, I just jinxed you. Prediction: 2-1 New England.
Former U.S. international forward Eric Wynalda scored the first goal in MLS history, and is currently the analyst on RadioShack's Soccer Saturday on ESPN2. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. The views and opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Major League Soccer or its clubs.