Sweeney: Despite results, covering the Revs was a great experience

Alright, the Revolution season did not finish up the way we wanted. No, that’s not exactly breaking news.

For eight months, we huddled in front of the TV, or basked in the warmth of summer on Route 1. We watched our favorite soccer team score some goals — or soil the bed, take your pick. What started out as a season with such promise, with such a renewed energy about the squad, fell apart at such a rapid pace. Honestly, MLS is so screwy in the way that the teams around the Revs either couldn’t take care of their own business, or that the Revs did just enough to stay in contention until the middle of October. Go figure.

With the campaign complete, without playoff football on Route 1 for the third consecutive November… we’re left to face the cold, dark winter, and think about what might have been.

And so, it’s time for The Last Word.

You all have read my thoughts about how this season unraveled, starting with the Galaxy game back on July 14, the mentality issues that crept up — seriously gang, these are professional soccer players, and you would have thought that someone deep in their pasts taught them how to kill off a game; high school coaches around here are always preaching about soccer IQ in the latter stages of a match. The story of the season became the never-ending summer swoon, of how there were new ways where the Revolution blew matches. There’s really no reason to rehash it — unless you really want me to….

No? Good. I don’t want to get angina. At least not before Thanksgiving.

But yes, even with the way the last four months played out, there were some bright spots, mostly before the month of June expired. VAR didn’t always have to go against The Boys In Blue, as we learned against Sporting Kansas City on April 28. Teal Bunbury’s torrid pace through June. Cristian Penilla stepping into the spotlight. Juan Agudelo’s first goal in 15 games back in March. Getting to speak with Kelyn Rowe about his work with the Jessie Rees Foundation, as well as his helping out Rich Shertenlieb last month.

Of course, there were some things that weren’t so great: Lee Nguyen’s departure in May, and no moves at the Secondary Transfer Window’s deadline when there were so many problem areas that could have been filled. Claude Dielna, Gabriel Somi. Chris Tierney’s ACL injury. Antonio Delamea’s Handle of Death in August.

As we’ve said, this team wasn’t good enough. I don’t have to beat this topic down again; we already knew this. The way the bottom fell out of this club, though, and in such miserable fashion… yuck.

We can only hope that certain parties get their way, and the winners Brad Friedel spoke of bringing into the club a few months ago can alleviate the problem spots. But if the Revolution continue to be thrifty with the second-lowest payroll in the league, continue to stay on budget, and continue to be stagnant, then we already know the results of next season before it even begins.

If you as a fan accept mediocrity, keep filling Gillette week in and week out. If you don’t, cancel your season tickets and just watch from home (DIANE!). It’s your money, after all.

A couple of — well, four — interesting tidbits from the season

Oh, oh, oh, to be a Gooner: For my first training session, I got a few minutes with Brad Friedel, just as a way to build a relationship between myself and the gaffer. And before we went on the record, I said, “I just want to let you know before we start… I am a Gooner.” A Gooner, for those who don’t know, is a supporter of Arsenal. Friedel, of course, spent quite a few years at Tottenham — Arsenal’s bitter archrival. He laughed and said, “Oh, hold up. Interview over… he supports Arsenal.” Despite that — he carried on with the interview — it was a good way to establish a rapport with the gaffer, and he and I would speak about both clubs every so often; I would bring up Arsenal, he would say, “Don’t swear at me,” then give a grin. We even spoke about Tottenham in flattering ways, but don’t tell him I had my fingers crossed… Brad was great to work with, and I believe I learned loads more just from him over these last six months than I ever learned from a Premier League pundit. I also told that to Michael Mancienne during our first talk, and he smiled about that. Upon leaving, he patted me on the shoulder and said, “Top man, top man… except that whole thing about Arsenal.” And he gave me a grin about it. That’s the great thing about soccer, especially as an American following the Premier League: you can find common ground about it, and have a few yucks about it without it being personal. Mind the gap, lads.

Don’t question mah knowledge: When the Revolution welcomed Columbus on May 19, I had brought up the point in the post-match news conference about Friedel switching up the formation when he had specifically said earlier in the week that there would be no changes. Friedel had cut me off and explained that we in the Fourth Estate shouldn’t be so obsessed with number formations, i.e. a 4-4-2, or the 4-2-3-1 that Friedel usually employs, and that the philosophy didn’t change. OK, point taken. But it was such a point made that the media relations staff had included it in their own post-match recap. So score one point for Sweeney.

Billy Joel said it best when he sang “Pressure”: Picture it. It’s nearing 8 p.m. on Saturday, April 14. FC Dallas in town. First night on the BSJ beat… aaaaaaaaaaand I feel like I have an elephant on my chest. Seriously. I’ve covered thousands of games, written millions upon millions of words — hell, I’ve covered Revs games for Fitchburg before — and I’ve never felt like this; either I had to use the facilities, or I had to throw up. Or both. The first 15 minutes of the match, I was in a daze. 15 minutes in, nothing has happened of note, and I’m in serious panic mode in the front row. I had no ups, no downs. I’m thinking to myself, “What if nothing happens? What if I can’t put together a coherent statement? Maybe I’m not cut out for the pros; maybe I should just resign myself to covering the high schools. Oh my God, Greg’s gonna fire me and it’s only the first game!” Breathe, dumbass. Second half happens, and you knock it out of the park. Paycheck, earned.

Gillette worlds collide: Back in mid-August, Greg asked me to take a look into the Revs’ nutrition; he had observed Diego Fagundez’s wattage output during the home game with Philadelphia. I subsequently went down to Gillette for training and media availability a couple of days later. That particular day, I spoke with Anton McElhone, as well as Fagundez himself; DF14 had just finished with the regular notebook avails, and as we began talking about that, he had said, jokingly, “Why is it always you?” Remember: Fagundez and I have known each other for years, so that type of interaction between us is normal. During the regular interview with Friedel, I watched as former Pats wide receiver — well, temporary wide receiver; calling him a former wide receiver might elevate his status — Eric Decker walked from the Pats locker room toward the practice field. Big dude. And as I interviewed Fagundez, who walks by? Bill Belichick. No Tom Brady, though.

Shout-outs and thank you’s

Since my regular work is completed for the season, some thank you’s to extend before we wrap this up:

Of course, a thank you first to Greg, the proprietor. Thanks for taking this tall, somewhat skinny kid — OK, maybe not that skinny — born in Fitchburg’s Patch neighborhood and giving him a chance at the dream he had held for nearly a quarter of a century in sportswriting: a pro beat. When we spoke on Mar. 22 and you said, “I like your stuff; it’s in line with what we’re doing at BSJ,” I gave a rather authoritative fist pump. You don’t know how much that meant to me. Your text during that first weekend, “Slow down, pace yourself. It’s a long season…” yeah. That helped, too. Thanks for your backing when you said that you felt comfortable putting me in front of any general manager in Boston. And thanks for Aug. 18 and that Fenway debut: I carried a lot of people with me as I walked up those ramps.

Thanks to Chris Price, Sean McAdam, Brian Robb, Miguel Benzan, Jess Deede, Conor Ryan, and especially to Tom Benedetto, one of the best sidekicks around. Great gentlemen — and lady — who I am proud to call colleagues. And Tom, I’ll be going back and reading all the breakdowns a second, a third, and even a fourth time over the winter. Learned something new every week.

Special thanks to the Revolution Communications staff. Great people who I admire and respect. Thanks to Brian Bilello and Mike Burns for your professionalism, always. Thanks to Brad Friedel, always a gentleman. To the players who probably didn’t want to deal with me knowing I was going to be critical — thanks for putting up with me. It’s not personal; I just want you guys to give me something awesome to write about. And speaking of writing…

Thanks to my esteemed Blue Level denizens: Frank Dell’apa (the Dean of Boston Soccer Writers), John “Jocko” Connolly, Carl Setterlund, Jose Pereira, Julian Cardillo, Jonathan Sigal, Seth Macomber, Sean Donahue, Brian O’Connell, Kyle McCarthy, Jeff Lemieux, and Elizabeth Pehota. Thanks for welcoming me back in April, and for countless fist bumps. I was generally joined on Tuesday mornings by Jeff and Elizabeth — or I joined them, take your pick — and sometimes Jonathan, and there may be a little emptiness next week when I don’t have to drive to Gillette for training and media avails. Special thanks to Brad Feldman and Paul Mariner; Paul and I joked about Arsenal this past Saturday, and back in May I asked him if he was putting in for the Arsenal manager’s job. He laughed, of course. Brad was great when we spoke on the phone last month; we could have talked for two hours.

Special shout-outs to my boys, Ray Sullivan, Jon Huot, and Alex Almeida, of Six States One Podcast. Thanks for giving me an outlet to be a snarky SOB about this team — even though I express myself better with the written word. To Corey, James, and Monty — good friends, passionate about this team, and always good for a word. Thanks to Mike D’Abate for the words of encouragement.

A huge thank you to my wife, Jen. Thank you, gorgeous, for letting me fulfill this dream, for letting me out of the house on Saturday nights, for taking on a certain number of duties when I got a late-in-the-day email about those signings, and for not complaining when I took the laptop to the cemetery when I expected an email about Michael Mancienne’s signing (seriously, we buried my uncle on August 3; I was talking with my mother’s first cousin and his wife when I heard the email chime on my phone; I excused myself and ran to the car — let no one say I’m not committed to my part-time job when I bring work tools to a committal).

And last but certainly not least — Thank you, of course, to Revolution fans and BSJ subscribers. Without you, I wouldn’t have this job. Thanks for all the comments, the retweets, the likes on Twitter, the conversation about this team we all love. I hope that I kept you informed in a timely manner, kept you entertained at times, and made you want to tell others about what Tom and I are doing over here: Being honest about the Revs in what we see and report. I hope that I have been fair. I wanted to do the job like I learned to after reading Dan Shaughnessy’s book “At Fenway” back in 1996. He had written a section about Peter Gammons, one of my heroes and a writer who I try to emulate — have you ever read my prose? It rambles and lacks punctuation — who said that you need to be the first one in the press box before the game, and the last one out. Those are words that I’ve taken to heart ever since. On many occasions in 2018, I was the first one into Gillette at about 5:30 p.m., and generally the last one out at about midnight.

Let me get personal for a second: If you’ve told some people about the work we do at BSJ — and not just about the Revolution — let me extend my thanks to you. Do me a favor, though: tell more people. Have you told the guy who sits next to you at Fenway, the Garden, or Gillette? How about on the T or the Commuter Rail? Have you bought a gift subscription for someone? Word of mouth is key, and those renewals, as Greg said at our one-year anniversary in July, are our lifeblood. In fact, I know one gentleman who gave up his free military subscription and bought a full annual just to help us out. And he subbed primarily for the Revs.

Greg also said back in April that he would give Revs coverage a year, and that’s where we are now: the end of season one. To be honest, I’m not too certain where we stand. I don’t think supporter apathy in the last two months in terms of too few comments and too few eyes on stories helped my cause for a second season on the beat — my September live chat, only a handful of questions came in compared to chats in the summer, when the team was still in contention — but that’s the risk in covering a team that goes in the tank year-in, and year-out. In Sean McAdam’s Red Sox chat earlier this week, he said that BSJ plans to cover all five pro teams the way we have since July 2017, so that would be a positive, I think. Will more subscriptions for Revs coverage guarantee a second year? I would hope so. That’s not up to me, though. I’m obviously up for returning, and I’m operating — until I’m told otherwise — as if I’m coming back.

While the written Revs coverage will slow down due to the offseason, I’m still thinking about the team — well, to a lesser extent than 24/7. We’ll have the roster decisions for you later this month, plus some analysis of where the roster stands afterward; we’ll have the list of protected players and unprotected players for the expansion draft in December. And after that, time to start watching film on players the Revs may think about drafting during SuperDraft in January (as long as the league gives me a list of the players who are eligible)… all while working on my next novel (hopefully… I might have forgotten how), and giving the kids in Fitchburg and Leominster some ink, too. And then, I hope, covering the start of training camp in late January, and starting this party up again.

Until the next time we speak, my friends, thanks for a fabulous 2018.

I am, as always, BSJ’s first soccer guy.



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