Jay Heaps has helped the Revs develop an identity. That identity arguably includes inconsistency too often, but compared to the two years prior to his hiring he has improved the squad. Given how this ownership group manages their sporting properties he is relatively safe in his position. How has the rest of the technical and leadership team supported his and our club’s success?
While Jay was the last of the three significant personnel decisions that 2011 offseason, all have a notable homegrown or tie to New England. Jay is a New England native who played for and worked as a broadcast commentator for the Revs. Brian Bilello, New England Revolution President, is an MIT graduate who worked in consulting before joining the Kraft Sports Group. Brian has represented the Revs in league governors meetings and always performs admirably during interactions with fans. Mike Burns, a former USMNT player and World Cup 1994 starter, is our current GM. He had a similar title, though it has been suggested much less actual authority, under the previous leadership of Sunil Gulati. Mike is from Malborough, Massachusetts and displays a clear disregard for cultivating any sort of publicly ebullient persona or sharing even the slightest bit of information about any work in progress. As the two most visible members of the technical and leadership staff above Jay Heaps how have these two performed?
I have opined several times in the past, on The Rebel Alliance Podcast (RIP, long live #TRAP!), if Brian remains in his current position through at least the start of construction of a soccer specific stadium then his legacy will be secure. His embrace of analytics and “present the analysis to the coaching and technical staff, but don’t tell them what decisions to make” approach is also notable and a benefit to the club.
Mike Burns, however, is a character in New England Revolution history with a mixed or largely unfinished story. Since his playing days ended the first-ever New England Revolution player’s title has included GM in some way. In the fall of 2011 he was seemingly finally handed full authority for player personnel decisions and negotiations. He must get some credit for the success since 2011 even if he must also bear responsibility for any that did not work out. The secrecy surrounding his operations makes evaluating his performance difficult at best.
There are avenues to ensure player development beyond simply signing talent or current players work with the coaching staff. So, in addition to work on a soccer specific stadium, the development of a “path to the pros” type reserve team step between the academy and the first team is currently missing from this organization. That falls outside of Jay Heaps’ responsibilities and therefore must be addressed by Mike, Brian, or ownership.
The philosophy expressed about the acclaimed Revolution academy’s contributions to the first team has been “quality over quantity,” but that is not a philosophy or identity for the entire club. If competition within the squad is one vehicle aimed at improving in-game performances then we need a bigger roster. Major League Soccer rules restrict roster size so a reserve or developmental roster is the only currently available path to increase the pool of players competing for starting spots.
I am not trying to suggest that we adding a USL team would immediately address any perceived or real weaknesses in the starting lineup. It would provide another source of options to consider for player acquisition than our anemic scouting efforts and player signing process. I suspect that securing a stadium is a top priority for this group, which is admirable. Ignoring avenues to impoverished the quality on the field and further develop the players we invest in developing with our academy could be a short term oversight with long term repercussions. In the MLS Eastern Conference and entire league we are falling behind the leaders of player development. If we were more aggressive and ambitious in signing players then I would be less concerned about this potentially missed opportunity. There is still time to create a “path to the pros” in New England, but until we start that process it looks like we have missed it.
(image courtesy of MLS Soccer)