Imagine Toronto FC's MLS season, but slightly worse, without the hope giving late improvement and with no CCL exploits to keep you interested. Sounds pretty rugged doesn't it. Welcome to the reality of New England. Before Saturday's game, I caught up with Steve Stoehr of SB Nation's excellent Revs blog The Bent Musket. It's a bit of a depressing one is this, so with genuine concern this time, New England, How you doin'? You alright? Not going to do something you might regret?
Waking The Red: When last we emailed, you mentioned how the team's continued struggle despite the arrival of Rajko Lekic and Benny Feilhaber led to a sense of betrayal and disillusionment. Things obviously haven't got much better for you so how are fans feeling now?
The Bent Musket: I think at this point most fans are just tired. There's certainly a large element of frustration and anger, but I'm hearing a lot of apathy at the moment, and that might be the most damaging of all possible emotions toward a sports team. I expect that unless the Revs make some big changes in the offseason to capture interest, a decline in buzz and attendance will continue. Not that things can get much worse, anyway.
WTR: Will Steve Nicol be back next year?
TBM: I honestly don't know. Attacking it logically, you would have to say no. Even for a coach of Stevie's caliber, back-to-back no-playoff seasons for a team that made the postseason it's undisputed home for a decade should be considered unacceptable, and when that happens, heads roll. Blame can be placed elsewhere (ownership, FO, etc.) but at the end of the day, the head coach is the one held accountable. Even if the playoff angle weren't enough, the fact that this season has set a record as the most feeble both in wins and in defense in the franchise's history should be the nail in the coffin.
We can't attack this logically, though, because the Revolution are involved. Nicol's contract is up after this season, but who knows what goes on in the heads of the Revolution FO and ownership? The same technical staff that will be looking to improve next year is the staff that thought bringing in Didier Domi and Ousmane Dabo would make the Revs a playoff team, that Seth Sinovic (starting left-back on playoff-bound SKC) wasn't worth a roster spot anymore, and that drafting/signing a preponderance of mostly-anonymous forwards would somehow create roster depth in defense and out wide. The same staff that had their most ardent fans harassed and arrested.
I don't want to name names because I like my press credentials, but there are real serious questions about whether or not certain people in the Revs front office have any idea about what they're doing. Given that, I can't tell if Stevie will go or stay, because it almost seems as though these decisions are made on the flip of a coin.
WTR: There were issues with security earlier in the season, leading to 'Support the Fort' demonstrations throughout the league. How are supporter/Front Office/Security relations these days?
TBM: "Cool" would be the best way to describe it, and I don't mean in a good sense. I haven't heard much about it since, and I will be checking up on the issue soon, but it seems as though there has been a "forgive but never forget" approach taken by the supporters. To my knowledge, the FO is no longer even concerned with the issue. I'm not convinced they ever cared about the feelings and opinions of those supporters in the first place.
WTR: I'll let you finish on a high note, AJ Soares, are you surprised by his season so far? How good can he get?
TBM: I was very surprised and pleased with A.J. Soares. Obviously, it's disappointing to see him miss the last few games (and this weekend's game) after ankle surgery but hearing that he played as well as he did even with a nagging ankle problem (I think it's bone spurs), I think he has nowhere to go but up in his game. He should immediately enter next season as a centerpiece in the Revs' defense, a unit that needs a serious re-tooling and rebuild going into the 2012 campaign. I could honestly see him getting USA call-ups during his career, maybe not as an ever-present rock in the national team defense, but certainly as a Jay DeMerit or Clarence Goodson type from the last cycle. Sort of as the first defensive sub. He's certainly been better than Tim Ream this year.
TBM: Another year and another playoff opportunity gone by the wayside. I can't say too much seeing as the Revs are below TFC in the table, but Canada's first MLS team has disappointed yet again. Despite going without the postseason for yet another season, the stretch run has definitely shown some life in the Reds machine. Danny Koevermans, in particular, looks to be a steal, and with a full season I certainly could see him breaking the 20-goal mark. What do you look forward to for next season out of the group you think will remain, and do you believe that Aron Winter and Paul Mariner can put the pieces together around Koevermans and Torsten Frings to build a real contender for 2012?
WTR: I'm very very confident that TFC will be at least in the playoffs next year. Getting to the CCL quarter finals was a great cherry on top of what was another disappointing season overall, but having those 2 big games in March will mean that we'll actually be prepared to start the season. Almost every year so far we haven't had a settled squad leading into the season. A lot of the preseason work has been done with a massive squad rehaul in July, now management will surely be going all out to set things up right from the start next year, and I'm confident Winter and Mariner can get the right players in.
Koevermans will be great if he can keep his form up over a full season and we have a few good secondary scoring options as well now with Ryan Johnson and Joao Plata in particular. There's a lot of young players in the squad who could have a big impact next year. The main priority in the off-season has to be to get a top class Centre Back, as well as make sure we extend Plata's loan or buy him outright, that kid's been great.
TBM: Koevermans and Frings aren't the only good performers in Toronto red lately. Youngsters like Ashtone Morgan and Doneil Henry have shown promise, and some solid efforts from guys like Richard Eckersley and even backup goalkeeper Milos Kocic are encouraging. If you had to pick a non-Koevermans MVP for the last two months of the season, who would it be?
WTR: Aside from Koevermans and Frings, I'd say it's actually been the other DP Julian de Guzman. Since Frings' arrival to shore things up behind him, and the addition of more skilled players like Avila and koevermans ahead of him, he's looked a lot better and played like the Gold Cup 2007 MVP that's been MIA for the last 2 years. He looks a lot more energised and committed, he's actually managed to score a few goals as well, and he played a huge part in the CCL win in Dallas.
TBM: Give us an under-the-radar player Revs fans should watch out for on the pitch. (your last answer was, I think, Richard Eckersley)
WTR: It depends on our formation, if we go with 3 at the back allowing the full backs to attack, then I'll say Ashtone Morgan. He's a Left Back who's come through our academy and clinched a starting spot over the season as well as getting his first Canada cap, and he's a great compliment to Joao Plata on the Left Wing as well as a rapidly improving defender. If we got 4-3-3, then Eric Avila. His career never took off at Dallas but he's been great so far, with the skill, tricky dribbling and passing that we've missed since Amado Guevara left after the 2009 season.
TBM: Who do you think Toronto fears most on the pitch for New England? (your last answer was Shalrie Joseph)
WTR: I don't think anyone's really stepped up to displace Joseph have they this year? I guess, going by reputation, Benny Feilhaber is the big name people will be looking for. AJ Soares will get some attention, but I doubt he's really someone to strike fear. (edit: I emailed my answers before Steve emailed his with details of Soares' injury. Lazy bloggers, never do research etc etc).
TBM: Finally, let's have your projected starting XI and a scoreline prediction.
WTR: Starting XI? 4-1-2-3. Stefan Frei; Matt Stinson, Ty Harden, Andy Iro, Ashtone Morgan; Torsten Frings, Julian de Guzman, Eric Avila; Nick Soolsma, Danny Koevermans, Joao Plata.
Prediction? TFC are on a high after getting to the next round of CCL, and will probably be looking to put on a show. Without the whole team focussing on defence, then we can get very shaky at the back, so I'd say a high scoring game, I'll say 3-2 Toronto.
Thanks Steve, best of luck next year.