Under Steve Nicol’s coaching, the Revolution set high standards, advancing to the MLS Cup playoffs the first eight seasons (2002-09) of his 10-year reign. The team fell off the pace, though, advancing to the postseason only thrice (2013-15) before rallying for a playoff berth this year.
The Revolution will be underdogs in the playoffs, starting with a visit to Atlanta United on Oct. 19, but Nicol likes his former team’s chances.
“Well, it’s like everything else, when you’re in, you’ve got a chance of winning it,” Nicol said. “I don’t think it’s changed — obviously, the money and everything else has — but, actually, the premise hasn’t changed. You’ve got to get in and once you’re in, no question certain teams are favorites, but having been in it enough times, it’s not about favorites, it’s about a short stretch of games.”
Nicol, now an ESPN commentator, often helped rally the Revolution to strong finishes, launching them into the postseason with momentum. The trend started with a 5-0-1 finish to the ’02 season, the Revolution reaching the first of five MLS Cup finals.
This season, the Revolution (11-11-12, 45 points) have had a lengthy winning run, going 9-3-10 under interim coach Mike Lapper and sporting director/head coach Bruce Arena since May 8.
Nicol, like Arena, was adept at motivating players, and tried to set them up for peak performances in the postseason.
“I have to say we didn’t over-train the players, put it that way,” Nicol said. “Because the objective is to win MLS Cup. Unfortunately, winning the Supporter’s Shield doesn’t get you a lot. So, definitely wanted to make sure players had something left in the tank at the end of the year. I always thought it was important to take it easy, especially in the middle part of the season, when it’s a thousand degrees, and you’re flying out to LA in the middle seat.
“You always had the likes of Shalrie [Joseph] who wanted to keep training and asking if we could practice longer. And, no, we’re not. I want you to have something left in your legs.”
Arena also conducts concise training sessions and plans to give the Revolution a three-day break this week.
“Sometimes you’ve got to take care of the soul,” Nicol said. “Sometimes guys need a couple days off and they need to get away from it, then come back refreshed. And you always see it in training, after a couple days off, you see the benefits straight away, everyone is eager.”
The Revolution have been sparked by acquisitions, such as Spanish midfielder Carles Gil, a $2 million transfer from Deportivo La Coruña, and Argentinian forward Gustavo Bou, whose salary and transfer payment could be worth as much as $16 million.
“That raised my eyebrows,” Nicol said of the Bou deal. “That would’ve been handy. At the time, we tried to get some players that would have cost a significant amount but we could never get the right one. We talked to half a dozen prominent players from Spain and Argentina.”
Arena has noted the Revolution are “hard to play against. We’re not an easy team to beat, and I think our record shows that.”
Nicol’s Revolution had a similar identity.
“We always tried to convince our players nobody wanted to play them in the playoffs,” Nicol said. “We drummed it in. There was a good reason teams don’t want to play you — we didn’t give too much away and, hopefully, we could also play at times. If teams wanted to come at us and fight we would fight you, and if they wanted to play, we could play, and maybe beat you.
“We always had a good mentality and I’m sure Bruce will give them a good mentality.
“It’s nice to see them getting in the playoffs and having a chance of winning the MLS Cup. Robert and Jonathan [Kraft] are desperate to win that trophy. We had chances. The first time at our place , no question we overachieved then. We went from complete underdogs to a team that should’ve won it. Definitely, we should’ve won, but somehow we didn’t.”
When Diego Maradona took over as manager of Club de Gimnasia y Esgrima last month, the La Plata team had an 0-4-1 record.
Gimnasia y Esgrima lost its next three games, dropping to the bottom of the Argentine Superliga standings before Maradona started shaking things up. Seven players were sent to the reserve squad and the team’s training center was shifted to Ezeiza, the Argentina national team’s facility, near the Buenos Aires airport.
Maradona’s moves might be working, as Gimnasia y Esgrima (1-7-1, 4 points) escaped the cellar in taking a 4-2 victory over Godoy Cruz (1-8-0, 3 points) in Mendoza.
In Maradona’s last gig, he twice guided Dorados de Sinaloa to the finals of the Mexican Liga de Ascenso playoff final, but lost on goal differential to San Luis both times.
Liverpool on target
Manchester City’s roster listed two healthy center backs for its game against Newcastle United last week — 18-year-old Eric Garcia and 31-year-old Nicolas Otamendi. Coach Pep Guardiola decided pair Otamendi with defensive midfielder Fernandinho, and the combination mostly struggled in a 2-0 loss. Newcastle squandered chances off turnovers before Adama Traore scored on breakaways in the 80th and 90th minutes.
Man City (5-2-1, 16 points) could have difficulty catching Liverpool (8-0-0, 24 points), which is seeking its first title since 1990, when the Reds’ back line included Nicol.
“It’s fantastic, it’s where they were when I was playing,” said Nicol. “If somebody’d said to you in 1990 they wouldn’t win it for 30 years, they would’ve laughed in your face. Unfortunately, it’s been 30 years and, hopefully, they’ll get it.
“It’s Liverpool’s to lose, no question. They’re in the driver’s seat.”