In 24 years, the Revolution have never gone four successive seasons missing the MLS playoffs. Now, as they fade from postseason contention, they have replaced coach Brad Friedel with assistant Mike Lapper on an interim basis. The change was announced after the team returned Thursday from a 5-0 loss at Chicago.
Though the Revolution (2-8-2, 8 points) are off to their worst-ever start to a season, they had hoped to either allow Friedel time to regain control of the situation or give his replacement breathing room as the schedule thins out.
But defensive collapses have continued and margins of defeat have gotten worse. The Revolution, who sustained blowout losses at Philadelphia (6-1) Saturday and at Chicago Wednesday, will take a four-game losing streak into a match against the San Jose Earthquakes at Gillette Stadium Saturday.
Friedel had difficulty getting the best out of his players, but hoped to add a Designated Player to help rescue the season. However, a deal for Paul-Jose Mpoku fell through this week. The Revolution had set up the transfer with Mpoku’s club, Standard Liege, but Mpoku declined the offer, which could have totaled nearly $14 million (transfer fee plus a multiyear contract).
But the Revolution might need more than one player to help them regain momentum. Unless they make a spectacular recovery, they seem unlikely to return to the postseason for the first time since 2015.
The poor performances have affected attendance and led to the team’s most prominent supporters group, the Midnight Riders, issuing a statement calling for the replacement of general manager Michael Burns as well.
Crowds of about 20,000 are expected for the San Jose match and a charity contest against Chelsea FC next Wednesday, far smaller numbers than previously projected. Announced attendance for the Montreal game April 24 was 9,422, lowest for a Revolution home match since 2013, and the crowd appeared much smaller.
This is the second time in three seasons the Revolution have fired their head coach during the season. Late in the 2017 season, they replaced Jay Heaps with assistant Tom Soehn on an interim basis.
In 2012, team president Brian Bilello and Burns acted on a hunch that Heaps could be successful, despite having no head coaching experience. They expressed similar confidence in Friedel, who had been Burns’s roommate on the US national team, though his experience had been limited to coaching the US Under-19 team.
But after a promising start with the Revolution, Friedel’s tenure soon became marked by frustration. Friedel guided the team to a 7-4-6 mark (27 points) halfway through last season, but the team collapsed in the second half, finishing at 10-13-11 (41 points).
Friedel used connections developed during a 20-year playing career in Europe to make ambitious signings. Michael Mancienne arrived as the league’s highest-paid central defender last year, and this year Spanish midfielder Carles Gil was acquired on a $2 million transfer from Deportivo La Coruña, the highest price the Revolution have paid for a player.
Despite a perceived upgrade in talent, the Revolution seemed to lack chemistry, and Friedel believed the players were often uninspired.
In most games, the Revolution failed to produce a coherent or effective possession game. Defensive vulnerabilities also were apparent, as opposing teams often controlled the midfield and the defense appeared porous.
Injuries and suspensions contributed to inconsistent back-line setups, and the attacked faltered as Cristian Penilla and Teal Bunbury, last year’s top two scorers, were ineffective. Another promising import, Wilfried Zahibo, made a promising start but was demoted to a reserve role this year. Juan Agudelo and Diego Fagundez, who had been productive under Heaps, also tailed off.
Though the Revolution seemed rejuvenated early in Friedel’s tenure, he might have been haunted by some early personnel decisions. The team delayed in resolving the desire of former captain Lee Nguyen to be traded after the 2017 season, and Nguyen never played for Friedel, despite being on the roster for the first two months of the 2018 season.
Then Friedel made Swedish-Somali left back Gabriel Somi his first foreign signing, but benched Somi midway through the season and left him there this season.
Though it might to be too late to salvage playoff hopes, the Revolution have a chance to recover with games against San Jose and at Montreal May 18.