FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Years ago, when Steve Nicol had just signed a new contract, the Revolution coach said he wished it had been for nine years instead of the one-year deal he agreed to.
With big plans, Nicol knew it was going to take time to instill his values and attain success with a club that, up to then, had experienced very little of it. While indirectly, Nicol got his wish. As he enters his 10th season, the former Liverpool and Scotland star defender has firmly placed his imprint on the team.
But with the success of reaching six successive Eastern Conference finals and playing unsuccessfully in four MLS Cup championship matches in his tenure, the Revolution are coming off one of the teams’ worst seasons, with a 9-16-5 regular season record, while failing to qualify for the postseason for the first time in his tenure.
Uncharted waters for Nicol, who has 107 wins in his career. He said the team’s demise last season was foreseen early on when the players he was counting on to provide goals -- Taylor Twellman and Edgaras Jankauskus -- barely played due to injuries.
Twellman, who never played a minute in the season and finished his career with 103 MLS goals, was forced to retire because of symptoms due to a concussion. Jankauskus featured in only two games as a substitute while recovering from groin and leg injuries.
“When you find out that your two main strikers aren’t going to kick a ball, that’s tough,’’ the coach said. “Obviously, early on in the preseason when we realized that Taylor wasn’t right, the signs weren’t good and then the way it turned out with Edgaras. So those are your two main strikers and before you kick a ball and have no outlet to make any changes that’s tough. But you have to get on with it and do what you can.’’
Two weeks into their six-week preseason odyssey, the Revolution are hoping the team is on the right track as they leave this weekend for a training spell in Orlando. To that end, the team signed Frenchmen Didier Domi (a defender) and 34-year-old midfielder Ousmane Dabo. They hope the experienced veterans can help bring out the best in attackers Marko Perovic and Iliya Stolica, two Serbs who came to the team a year ago.
With veterans Shalrie Joseph and goalkeeper Matt Reis aboard from the start of the season unlike last year when Reis was recovering from injury and Joseph missed six games through suspension, the Revolution should not lack veteran leadership.
“It’s not any different than it has been any other year,’’ said Nicol. “You want to do the same things and you want to do good things. Obviously, last year, the personnel changes at this time were experienced players. But we try to concentrate on what we need to do and try not to think about the name on the back of the jersey. It’s more of what can we get from the guy on the field.’’
Nicol said a big part of the team’s difficulties last season was having a sizeable portion of the salary cap tied up in Twellman and Jankauskus’s contracts. This left them with limited options to remake the team when it became clear neither would play a role in the lineup.
“It was just as tough the year before,’’ he added. “We were in the same position two years ago where we really had no real means of changing a lot of things in terms of being able to spend money on players. We didn’t have any. The fact that we got into the playoffs two seasons ago probably hurt us more, looking at it now because we were left with no allocation money which meant we couldn’t make any changes again.
“The last two years have certainly been tough,’’ said Nicol. “But two years ago we were five minutes away from getting into the conference final. So you just don’t know. You’ve just got to stick at it and if you do sometimes good stuff will happen."
Soccer is plenty tough
An NFL fan from the time he arrived in the U.S. in the mid-1990’s, Nicol recently was apprised of a comment made by Steelers safety Troy Polamalu, who criticized the NFL for fining players involved in helmet-to-helmet tackles. Polamalu criticized the NFL for trying to take the controlled violence out of the game, saying in part, "if people want to watch soccer, they can watch soccer."
Soccer still might be a bore to many Americans, but it has never been easy to play and it is hardly for the faint of heart.
“I couldn’t care less what he said because he’s coming from a point of view of where he doesn’t know what he’s talking about,’’ Nicol said of the Steelers’ defensive back. “If I was to talk bad about the NFL, why would you listen to me? I don’t know anything about the NFL. He doesn’t know what he’s talking about.
“Tell him what he should do is go over to Europe and play rugby without any pads or helmets and see how he gets on,’’ added Nicol. “Tell him to go play rugby without any helmets and pads and then tell me how big and hard he is.’’