US has talent for developing coaches more than players
Before MLS kicked off in 1996, opportunities in soccer were scattered for prospective professional players in the United States. Despite the chaos and disorganization, the New York/New Jersey area produced some high-level performers, and some have gone on to successful coaching careers.
In the early ’90s, Chris Armas (New York Red Bulls), Giovanni Savarese (Portland Timbers), and Peter Vermes (Sporting Kansas City) were competing for teams such as the Long Island Rough Riders and New York Centaurs/Fever.
Savarese and Vermes have proven themselves in their post-playing careers. Savarese, an ex-Revolution striker (his top assistant is Carlos Llamosa, who also played for the Revolution and Centaurs), led the New York Cosmos to three NASL championships. Vermes guided Kansas City to the 2013 MLS Cup title and three US Open Cup championships. Armas succeeded Jesse Marsch during the season and took the Red Bulls to the Supporters’ Shield.
The US might be developing coaches, but player development appears to be stalling, and the semifinalists’ rosters reflect the trend in MLS toward relying on imported attacking players, with domestic players in supporting roles.
Atlanta United led the league with 70 goals — only two converted by US-born players (Greg Garza, Jeff Larentowicz). Portland totaled 54 goals, all by foreign-born players (including three from Paris native Jeremy Ebobisse, who played for US junior national teams).
Unless drastic changes are made in player development, the US is unlikely to produce high-level offensive performers. Evidence of this failure was on display as the US national team was outclassed in its last two games — losses to England (3-0) and Italy (1-0). The roster values of England ($1 billion), Italy ($435 million), and the US ($92 million) reflect the gap in talent level.
This month marks the anniversary of four of the Revolution’s five MLS Cup final defeats. The Revolution had a remarkable run from 2002-07, but each season ended in disappointment.
And even when the Revolution made a strong recovery under the coaching of Jay Heaps, they fell at the finish in 2014, making them 0 for 5 in MLS Cups.
Now, the Revolution seem determined to return to the playoffs after three successive losing seasons. Coach Brad Friedel has promised major changes and seems confident of adding key players for next season.
But the Revolution will not find it easy to challenge the league’s elite. They do not plan to outspend Atlanta or Toronto, and it will be difficult to develop better team chemistry than teams such the Red Bulls. Friedel is still developing as a tactician, and his emphasis on conditioning and motivation can take the team only so far.
Even should Friedel display the resourcefulness necessary to make a short budget go a long way, the Revolution could be heading toward another dead end.
Unless the Revolution get off to a strong start and gain home-field advantage, they could end up playing meaningful matches on the road — if they make it to the postseason.
Pareja has world view
Oscar Pareja is set to become the next former Revolution player with a chance to become established on the international coaching scene. Pareja, who performed for the Revolution in 1998, will take over at FC Tijuana after five seasons with FC Dallas.
Pareja, 50, guided FC Dallas to the 2016 US Open Cup title (a 4-2 victory over the Revolution).
The Revolution acquired Pareja from Deportivo Cali, then traded him to Dallas for Mexican forward Damian Alvarez. Pareja retired in 2005, then worked as an assistant coach with Dallas and the US U-17 team before taking over the Colorado Rapids for two seasons.
Safira thinks big
Last year, the GPS Omens of the Bay State Soccer League came within a game of facing the Revolution in the US Open Cup. Now, it could be Safira FC’s turn.
“Our goal is to maybe play against the New England Revolution,” Safira coach Andre Ferreira said after his team edged the Omens, 7-6, on penalty kicks after playing to a 2-2 draw in a third-round qualifying match at Rotch Field Saturday.
“We will be playing futsal to get ready for next year, because we might be playing against a professional team and we know how hard it will be to beat them. But no one says it’s impossible. I always say that inside the four lines, once they blow the whistle anything can happen, and why not?”
Safira began as an indoor team in 2007, named after Ferreira’s hometown, Sao Jose da Safira in Minas Gerais, Brazil. Safira, which has won four US Futsal titles, formed an outdoor squad and joined the United Premier Soccer League last year.
Ferriera said he wanted to change the team name to Boston United, but was dissuaded by his players, who consider Safira “a lucky name.”
Safira tries to bring futsal’s tight-control, two-touch, short-passing style to the outdoor game. The match with the Omens featured composed, skillful play by both teams, Safira’s 19-year-old goalkeeper Patrick Vilela making the difference by converting his penalty kick and saving three Omens attempts in the shootout.
In last year’s Open Cup, the Omens were eliminated by the Rochester Rhinos, 2-1, surrendering a 120th-minute goal after Keith Caldwell (brother of Revolution midfielder Scott) had equalized. The Rhinos (who have suspended operations) then fell to the Revolution, 3-0.
The next round of the Open Cup is set for March. The Omens had planned to add former Revolution players such as Charlie Davies had they advanced.
Frantzdy Pierrot was named a Globe All-Scholastic in basketball while competing for Melrose High School. The 23-year-old Pierrot, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, also starred for the Melrose soccer team and went on to play soccer at Northeastern and Coastal Carolina. The Colorado Rapids selected Pierrot in the MLS draft, but he decided to sign with Mouscron in Belgium.
The move has paid off, so far.
Pierrot — whose brother Destin is a central defender with Safira FC — has totaled four goals in 15 games in Belgium’s Jupiler League and recently made his international debut by scoring twice for Haiti in a 13-1 win over Saint Maarten.