FOXBOROUGH — A sun-splashed day, an enthusiastic crowd, a first-place team hosting a bitter rival, everything about the setting was perfect for the New England Revolution to proselytize soccer to the nonbelievers. Well, everything except the result.
Despite a frustrating 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on Sunday at Gillette Stadium, the Revolution remain atop the table — in soccer parlance that means in first place — in the Eastern Conference with 23 points (7-5-2). The Revs squandered numerous chances to convert a goal in a game they controlled, losing to New York in Foxborough for the first time since 2002.
But they still have a chance to capitalize on the current state of affairs on the Boston sports scene. With the Red Sox lagging and the World Cup looming, it might be time for Mr. and Ms. Boston Sports Fan to give Foxborough’s other football team a follow, as they say in the Twitterverse.
People always ask and debate what kind of sports town Boston is. There is an inherent and inherited interest in baseball and the Red Sox. The area is also a hockey hotbed. But the simple answer is that this isn’t a baseball, hockey, football, or basketball town. It’s a Winners town, period.
Whichever teams are winning are going to be garnering the attention and capturing the imagination of the faithful in the Hub of Hardware. That’s why the Patriots, a laughingstock for much of their existence, are the most popular team in an area that does not have a grassroots connection to football. The Patriots just happen to be the winningest franchise in major professional North American sports since 2001.
Well, the Revolution are winning. They should be no exception to the rule. The Revs came into Sunday’s match unbeaten at home (4-0-1). The team had a seven-match unbeaten streak snapped May 31 by Montreal. They have one of Major League Soccer’s most captivating young stars in 19-year-old midfielder Diego Fagundez, who narrowly missed a spectacular goal Sunday, hitting the post with a physics-defying shot in the 44th minute.
Soccer is always going to be a tough sell to some folks. They don’t know US national team striker Jozy Altidore from Josie and the Pussycats. American Men of a Certain Age will never embrace it.
If soccer started counting goals as 6 points, like a touchdown in football, it would change the perception of the uninitiated and strip the naysayers of one of their most repetitive critiques of the sport — that it’s too low-scoring.
It has been said for more than 40 years that soccer is the sport of the future in this country. But the future is coming, promise.
The Revolution drew a season-high 23,950 to Gillette Stadium on a picturesque Sunday afternoon. It was the seventh-largest stand-alone Revolution crowd in Gillette Stadium history.
Before the match, the parking lot was filled with rambunctious kids who had turned the pavement into a playground. Some were booting around a soccer ball, oblivious to the cars around them. Others were playing a more traditional brand of American football and living out their dreams of being Tom Brady or Julian Edelman. But they were there, the next generation of sports fans and future consumers.
Like those young Revs fans, MLS still has some growing up to do. However, the league just got an eight-year, $720 million television deal in May with Fox, ESPN, and Univision.
The first season of MLS was 1996. Ask yourself, where was the NBA, founded in 1946, at in 1964? According to the Association for Professional Basketball Research, the Celtics averaged 7,445 fans per game during the 1963-64 season and 8,318 fans per game in 1964-65.
The Celtics won the sixth and seventh of their eight consecutive NBA titles in those seasons and were still being outdrawn by the Bruins, who were in the midst of an eight-season playoff drought.
The elephant in the room for the Revolution is trying to get a home of their own, so they are not the second sons of Gillette, vassals in Bill Belichick’s football fiefdom.
A rowdy and enthusiastic soccer crowd gets lost in the cavernous confines of Gillette Stadium, just drowning in the vastness of Patriot Place. Like a child playing dress-up with his father’s suit and dress shoes, it’s just not a good fit.
In the tunnel after the game I ran into an avid Revolution fan sporting a team cap. His name is Jonathan Kraft, better known as the president of the Patriots. He is also the Revolution’s First Fan, as the team’s investor/operator.
An April piece in Boston Magazine offered a scathing review of the Kraft family’s ownership of the team, but the younger Kraft is passionate about the product.
Before jokingly chiding a reporter for showing up for this Revolution game, Kraft reiterated his family’s commitment to finding the Revolution a venue of their own.
“When we are in a soccer-specific stadium in the city we have no doubt we will be banging it out with 20,000 fans a night, and we’re working hard to make that a reality,” said Kraft. “The soccer fans of New England who have supported us for 19 years deserve that.”
Of course, those same fans will say we’ll believe it when we see it to a new stadium for the Revolution. The lack of their own facility is one of the biggest impediments to the Revolution being treated like equals on the Boston sports scene. There is no way around that.
It seems to be the Revolution’s luck that just when the market creates conditions that they can capitalize on, they’re going dark. MLS is taking a two-week hiatus for the World Cup, which kicks off Thursday in Brazil.
The Revs won’t play a league match until June 28, when they host the Philadelphia Union.
That gives us plenty of time to familiarize ourselves with the other winning football team in town.