When the Revolution were at their best from 2002-08, they conducted preseason training in Bermuda, Brazil, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Mexico, and Portugal. They have remained closer to home in recent seasons, but coach Brad Friedel likely made a positive move by bringing the team to Marbella, Spain, this month.
The Revolution went 1-1-2 against teams from China and Europe in Spain. The variety of competition should benefit them, and also provide an example of how clubs develop players overseas.
Both FK Krasnodar and Dynamo Kyiv presented starting lineups that averaged 23 years of age. Both teams are likely trying to work in their younger performers while preparing for the season. And even in scrimmages, European clubs usually try to up their competitive level against MLS opposition.
FK Krasnodar defeated the Revolution, 2-0, on Sunday on goals by Magomed-Shapi Suleymanov, 19, and Ivan Ignatjev, 20. Krasnodar’s starting lineup included three 20-year-olds and three 19-year-olds, including goalkeeper Matvey Safonov. Four of Krasnodar’s second-half replacement field players ranged in age from 19 to 21.
The Revolution took a 3-1 win over Dynamo Kyiv on Wednesday, scoring all three goals in the second half against 21-year-old goalkeeper Volodymyr Makhankov.
Friedel is involving the Revolution’s younger players, and giving playing time to 19-year-olds Isaac Angking, Tajon Buchanan, and Justin Rennicks, and 18-year-old Tyler Freitas. But once the season starts, there do not figure to be many opportunities for them. They could follow the path of midfielder Zach Herivaux, 23, who has made two starts in four seasons for the Revolution.
Meanwhile, the Dynamo Kyiv and Krasnodar youngsters will be involved in plenty of game activity with junior and reserve teams. Several MLS teams have entered the USL, and the Revolution will need to do something similar should their academy program continue to produce talent. The Revolution have discussed a relationship with the USL’s Hartford Athletic, set to start competing at revamped Dillon Stadium this year. But the Revolution are not likely to loan many players to Hartford, partly because Hartford has a full roster.
The MLS setup simply does not factor in lower-division clubs, which could be used as feeder teams, and also provide a platform to improve the competitive level of the game. New York Red Bulls II have set an example for the league, but even they cannot be expected to provide enough opportunities.
Red Bulls II have been credited with giving Tyler Adams a chance to perform before he moved to the Bundesliga. But few others have progressed to successful professional careers, and fewer still have increased their value on the open market, after competing for MLS reserve squads.
A bitter parting
Toronto FC received compensation for sending Sebastian Giovinco to Al-Hilal in Saudi Arabia. But even though it received a $1 million transfer fee and Giovinco could earn close to an eight-figure salary, the deal could turn out to be a lose-lose situation.
Neither party got what it wanted. Giovinco clearly preferred to remain in Toronto, and the Reds apparently wanted to keep him.
Both can be blamed for failing to come to an agreement.
Toronto offered Giovinco a contract that would have cut his salary from the $7.11 million he earned last season, but the deal would have kept him among the top five highest-paid players in MLS, according to a team source.
That seems like a reasonable negotiation, since Giovinco’s production has dropped off. His goal totals in all competitions have declined from 23 in 2015 to 22 in 2016 to 20 in 2017 to 18 last year. At 32, the player nicknamed “La Formica Atomica” (The Atomic Ant) could be slowing down.
But Toronto did not take into account that Giovinco would feel slighted. And since he had an offer from Al-Hilal, he also had leverage in negotiations.
Toronto also can be faulted for not considering the absence of Jozy Altidore, who paired with Giovinco up front, and was out for most of the season with injuries. Altidore played only 13 MLS games, and a lack of consistency at the other forward position surely affected Giovinco’s performance.
Also, Giovinco believed his game was affected by the choppy surface at Toronto’s BMO Field. The team plans to redo the field with a combination of grass and synthetic turf, which could have helped Giovinco, who noted that his style of play resembled “a Ferrari, not a Jeep.”
But no matter how many assists and goals Giovinco could be expected to produce, his threat on free kicks provided a dynamic that cannot easily be measured. He converted 17 goals on direct free kicks since joining Toronto in 2015 and had become such a threat that the opposition had to alter defensive tactics near the goal; defenders had to be careful not to foul, which often meant giving Giovinco, and his teammates, extra space to attack.
Toronto has been working on signing a replacement for Giovinco, but it will be difficult to find someone who provides a similar combination of effectiveness and intangibles.
Don’t get physical
The US national team got off to a strong start under coach Gregg Berhalter, taking victories over Panama (3-0) and Costa Rica (2-0).
Neither the Canaleros nor the Ticos tested the US, but they did expose some US weaknesses, starting with an inability to calmly play out of the back against high-pressing tactics. Though Berhalter emphasizes a passing game, the US still seems to instinctively revert to physicality to solve problems.
Berhalter is hoping to instill the mentality that brought success to the Columbus Crew, one of the few MLS teams that placed a premium on the passing game in recent seasons.
Once the US has its full team available, for the Gold Cup in June, there will should a chance for Berhalter to make progress with his system. But there is not much time, thanks to the delay in naming Berhalter coach a year after Bruce Arena resigned.