FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Eleven seasons, 246 games, 13 goals and 40 assists later, Chris Tierney has called it a career.
The New England Revolution’s longtime left back officially retired on Thursday as the club’s longest-tenured field player, wrapping up a homegrown player career before the term existed, as club president Brian Bilello called it. Tierney, born in Wellesley, Mass., was recovering from a torn ACL that caused him to miss nearly all of 2018. Soon to be 33, a return to the playing field just wasn’t in the cards.
But what defined Tierney and, namely, his superlative left foot? His teammates and coaches offered up several favorite memories, seeking to encompass a journey that spanned from Supplemental Draft pick to MLS All-Star.
1.) 2014 MLS Cup
Tierney was quick to call the Revs’ 2014 MLS Cup run the best stretch of his career. While New England fell, 2-1, to the LA Galaxy in extra time, Tierney scored a late equalizer on Galaxy goalkeeper Jaime Penedo.
“He was someone that never made mistakes, so he was always cleaning up messes and making that initial pass, threading that ball that would lead to something,” Caldwell said. “It might not come up in the stat sheet, so it was under the radar and people maybe didn’t understand the value he was to the organization, what he offered us on the field.
“So in MLS Cup, when he put that ball in and finished it,” Caldwell continued, “finally people actually saw how good he was and what he was capable of.”
2.) 2014 Eastern Conference Championship
While the goal in MLS Cup sticks out, New England would not have advanced that far had they not gotten a result against the New York Red Bulls at home in the Eastern Conference Championship.
Charlie Davies stole the headlines with two goals in a 2-2 draw that sealed the aggregate win, which also happened to be Thierry Henry’s last-ever professional game. The provider on Davies’ two strikes? Tierney, one off a short corner and the other on a patented left-footed cross that the former national team striker headed past Red Bulls’ goalkeeper Luis Robles.
“Whenever Chris was on the ball, if you knew he was open he was going to find you,” Davies said. “On that day, he found me in the first half off the set piece, a short corner. The second half, I knew when he was on the ball in the left wing and if I could find space, that he’d find me. Sure enough it was the perfect ball. All I had to do was redirect it. To see the crowd erupt like that, to send us to an MLS Cup was pretty special.”
3.) 2014 Eastern Conference Semifinals
But to reach the RBNY series or MLS Cup final in 2014, the Revs first had to take care of business vs. Columbus Crew SC in a semifinal series.
Former Revs’ coach Jay Heaps recalled how it was the first time away goals factored into a MLS playoff series, and New England had the first leg in Columbus. Instead of sitting back and playing for a result, the Revs blitzed Columbus and escaped with a 4-2 aggregate win.
The second goal – a patented Tierney free kick the curled into the top corner – came just after halftime and gave New England a cushion. Riding a MVP-esque season from midfielder Lee Nguyen and the late-season addition of Jermaine Jones, Tierney also came up big in the playoff run that year.
“Chris, he got better as the playoffs went on,” Heaps said. “As much as Jermaine and Lee and Charlie were the guys who got the headlines, when I look back objectively on playoff performances, it’s one for the best left back performances in the history of the league. Against New York he had the game-tying assist, the game winning assist. In the final he scored. It was a significant run and was a huge part of it.”
4.) Professionalism and intensity
Appearances were hard to come by for Tierney during 2008, his rookie season. After all, following a stellar career at the University of Virginia, he entered a club that had just made three MLS Cup finals, losing each time.
But Tierney seized his chances when they arose, including the 2008 SuperLiga final at home vs. the Houston Dynamo. Following a 2-2 draw through regulation, Tierney banged home a penalty kick past Pat Onsted.
Kelyn Rowe said the ability to step up in those big moments will always stick out, but also the intensity Tierney brought each and every match day.
“One of my favorite memories was him yelling at me on the field and I don’t even remember what it was about,” Tierney said. “I turned around and I was like, ‘What was that for?’ He goes, ‘I just needed to yell at someone’. It was the second year of my career, I was 21 and I was kind of startled by it. He’s been a big brother to me on the team, so every moment with him was pretty special. He was supporting me, he was pushing me, whatever it may be.”
5.) Career-ending injury
The highs far outweighed the lows throughout Tierney’s career, one that spanned the coaching tenures of Steve Nicol, Heaps and Brad Friedel.
But Tierney was unhappy for never truly getting to experience the Friedel era, after he tore his ACL in a May 30 game vs. Atlanta United, ending his 2018 season. The Revs struggled to sort out their left back situation as the club missed the Audi MLS Cup Playoffs for the third consecutive year, and Friedel was left wondering what could have been.
“It was a real shame that he got injured because he had started to get himself into a position where he was earning the left back position and he would have seen a lot of playing time this year, no doubt,” Friedel said. “His leadership, even while he was injured was a welcomed addition to the overall squad. It was a shame we didn’t get more time to work with him.”
Now, New England have to try and fill the void Tierney leaves behind – Friedel knows it. But doing so for a player that offered two-way consistency for over a decade? That’s a tough ask.
“For every day like this where a player has to retire – I’ve been there myself – you rebuild and try to find a replacement,” Friedel said. “Finding leaders is nothing easy. Having to replace a homegrown guy is not easy, but we’ll work very hard to try and replace him quick.”