The Revolution can’t win on the road, and it could keep them out of the playoffs
Early this season, with the Revolution facing extreme weather conditions that made training and travel difficult, it was pointed out to coach Brad Friedel that such circumstances had hindered previous New England teams.
Friedel was not buying it.
“Nothing,” Friedel said, “is going to keep this team down.”
Friedel has worked to revive the Revolution’s confidence in his first season, but he has not yet been able to turn this into a successful road team. After playing Los Angeles FC to a 1-1 tie Saturday, the Revolution have a 2-6-6 away record, their best since 2015. But unless the Revolution can earn at least 4 points in their final three road games, they will have difficulty advancing to the playoffs.
Plus, the Revolution are having enough difficulty in their own backyard: They are winless in four home games (0-2-2) since June 30 going into Saturday against the Chicago Fire at Gillette Stadium.
The Revolution showed signs of overcoming their road woes early on, taking a 2-0 victory at Houston March 31. But they did not win away again until getting a 1-0 result at New York City FC Sept. 5.
This has been an improvement on the last two seasons: The Revolution had a 1-13-3 mark last year (including eight successive defeats), and they were 2-10-5 in 2016. They have not won consecutive road games since 2015, during an 8-3-2 run to close the season.
Friedel is contending with a 23-year history of Revolution road problems. Climate has figured into the equation, the Revolution usually starting the season away from home, making it difficult to get off to a strong start. They are often the opponent in teams’ home openers; in 2002, they played their first four games away, three times in opponents’ home openers.
Sometimes the Revolution have been able to capitalize as the schedule turns in their favor later in the season, rallying for a strong finish. But this season, the schedule was top-heavy with home games early, so five of the final eight matches were on the road.
Competing as the visiting team in England can be challenging because of strong home support and sometimes less-than-welcoming facilities, though most of the trips are relatively short. In MLS, the most difficult obstacle for visitors is often the travel itself.
If Friedel can transmit the confidence and resilience he developed while playing for 20 years in Europe to the Revolution, they might be able to reverse the trend.
Genoa CFC striker Krzysztof Piatek, who leads Italy’s Serie A in scoring with four goals in three games, was offered to MLS before moving on a $4.6 million transfer in June. Piatek, 23, who earned his first cap for Poland last week, likely would have been a great fit for MLS’s plan to allocate funds for young players.
Ralston in command
A few days after being selected by the Revolution in the 2002 MLS dispersal draft, Steve Ralston loaded his belongings and family into a trailer and drove up from Tampa. Ralston wasn’t one to wait around for a moving truck or worry about expenses being covered.
He also moved quickly when it was time to begin a coaching career, eight years after he arrived in New England. When Houston Dynamo assistant John Spencer left to become head coach of the Portland Timbers in late July 2010, Ralston was contacted by Houston coach Dominic Kinnear.
Ralston, recovering from a dislocated elbow, decided to retire and begin his coaching career as a Dynamo assistant. Ralston has been at it ever since, having followed Kinnear to San Jose, remaining as an assistant, and taking over as head coach of the Earthquakes after the firing of Mikael Stahre on Monday.
Ralston never maxed out in salary or aggressively sought a move to Europe while playing for the Revolution. But he was among the most respected players on a team of high-profile types such as Clint Dempsey, Shalrie Joseph, and Taylor Twellman.
In 2005, Ralston scored the deciding goal as the United States defeated Mexico, 2-0, to clinch a place in the World Cup. But Ralston was not selected for the ’06 World Cup team, then was injured in the MLS Cup final and unable to attempt a penalty kick as the Revolution lost to the Dynamo.
Ralston, known for his technical play and crossing ability from the right wing, played 378 games in MLS, totaling 244 matches in all competitions with the Revolution. Ralston is third on the Revolution all-time scoring list with 42 goals, but was known more for setting up scores. In 2007, he broke the MLS assist record set by Carlos Valderrama.
Ralston and Valderrama teamed with the Tampa Bay Mutiny in 1996, MLS’s first year, a few months after Ralston’s senior season at Florida International University. Ralston had been a central midfielder, but that was Valderrama’s position, so he moved to the right wing. Valderrama was so impressed with Ralston that when his retirement game was announced in Colombia, he invited two US players: Landon Donovan and Ralston.
Though Ralston’s leadership qualities and tactical savvy indicated he could have a coaching future, he did not display the obsessiveness of some. In the offseason, Ralston went off the grid, crossbow hunting in the North Carolina mountains or fishing in Missouri, often with former Dynamo midfielder Brad Davis.
Several former Revolution players have gone on to successful coaching careers, including Jay Heaps, who guided his former team to the 2014 MLS Cup final. Current FC Dallas coach Oscar Pareja won the 2016 US Open Cup and the Timbers’ Giovanni Savarese captured three NASL titles with the New York Cosmos.
Others have won championships elsewhere: Leonel Alvarez (Independiente, Colombia), Chiquinho Conde (Ferroviario, Mozambique), Mauricio Wright (Brujas FC, Costa Rica), and Walter Zenga (Red Star, Serbia).