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Bilello talks Revolution, stadium, and Krafts

Posted by Julian Cardillo  May 13, 2013 11:34 AM

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The New England Revolution is not where club President Brian Bilello wants them to be either on or off the field. Ten games through the season the Revolution are in seventh place in the Eastern Conference, five points out of a playoff spot. And in his eleventh year with the organization, Bilello has seen the Revolution go from being one of the league’s best teams into a club that is slow to evolve with the rapidly changing structure of MLS.

“On the field, [it’s] a little disappointing,” said Bilello prior to the Revolution’s 1-1 tie with the New York Red Bulls on Saturday night. “We’re hoping to be in a better position right now. When you look at where we are in the East, we want to be a little further up the board.”

“We were very good for a long time. We have a job to do right now. We need to turn things around on the field…We’re still playing in a football stadium outside the city and we’re in the bottom third in terms of draw in the league.”

The Revolution haven’t reached the playoffs since 2009 and in some respects, not much has changed. Coach Jay Heaps is struggling to get consistency out of his players, while issues such as game atmosphere, player acquisition, and a seemingly endless search for a soccer specific stadium have drawn the ire of even the most loyal Revolution fans.

“I understand it,” said Bilello of many supporters’ frustration. “Where I get disappointed is how things get painted with one brush, everything is either ‘good’ or ‘bad.’” There are a lot of things we’ve done well. We’ve been working at it for a while.”

Bilello points mainly at the success the club has had with retaining a base of supporters, citing the high renewal rate of season ticket holders. He’s also pleased with the success of the Revolution Academy, one of the strongest youth soccer academies in the country, which has already produced Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell as the club’s first homegrown signings. Fagundez scored on Saturday night and now leads the Revolution with two goals, while Caldwell has been in and out as a starter in Heaps’ lineup.

“If you look at our Academy, it’s rated one of the best in the entire country,” said Bilello. “Ultimately our goal with our Academy is to lead [the league] in minutes played by Academy players. We’re putting money into those areas where we think we can really make an impact on the team on the field.”

Fagundez and Caldwell have been bright spots on a team that is still trying to find its identity. And the Revolution does have a strong core of fans from which they can continue to build support. But the bottom line for fans, players, and the league is for the Revolution to step into this decade of American soccer.

Thirteen of the 19 MLS teams (San Jose will be the 14th in 2014) have their own soccer specific stadium. The Revolution isn’t one of them. Both supporters and the organization believe this is hindering a potential high-energy game-day environment and a spike in attendance. What’s more, according to an anonymous player survey done by Sports Illustrated’s Grant Wahl, the Revolution have the worst field in all of MLS.

The negative reputation of the Revolution’s artificial turf field could also be preventing them from signing a high-profile player. The state of Gillette Stadium’s field prevented New York’s Thierry Henry from playing on it this Saturday. The likes of David Beckham and Antonio Valencia have also decided not to play on the turf field in the past. A stadium of their own, preferably with natural grass, would definitely change players’ minds.

Bilello says the Revolution is working on the stadium, though he still won’t comment on the status of the plan. The club has publicly looked at Somerville in the past, while ideas have floated around about the Revolution being involved in building a stadium in Chelsea, Everett, or Revere in the wake of the casino and slot parlor constructions in Massachusetts.

“We’re in a difficult situation in terms of trying to get that done,” admitted Bilello. “We’ve been at it for six years and I’m confident about it. When you’re working with municipalities and cities it’s hard for us to necessarily control a timeline. Once we get our stadium project off the ground, a lot changes.”

Six years has been too long for some. The backing of the Kraft family as owners has come under fire recently. Supporters have used facebook, the club’s website, and news outlets to vent their frustration at ownership. It appears to many that the Revolution are the Kraft family’s second priority, rather than an equal investment, to the New England Patriots.

“I think both the Kraft family and the Hunt family, because they have NFL sides as well, I think there’s a weird perception,” acknowledged Bilello. “Both families have been involved with the sport since the very beginning. The fact that they’re involved in the NFL, that hurts them.”

But supporters aren’t the only ones who question the efforts of the Kraft family. The same anonymous player survey that Sports Illustrated conducted which revealed that the Revolution have the worst field also said that the Krafts are the league’s worst owners.

Bilello doesn’t think so.

“There’s a lot of great things about having the Krafts as owners. They’ve supported this league. They do things behind the scenes not just for the Revolution, but for the sport of soccer in this country.”

“When you look at that, from an involved with the business standpoint, I would highly disagree with that. I think a lot of the owners would disagree with that too. There are some things the players know a lot about and some things they don’t know a lot about. I don’t know what a Portland player knows about our owner and what they’re involved with or not involved with. I don’t think that’s a fair question for players.”

From a standpoint of backing the league, few will argue against the Krafts involvement. They were one of the original ownership groups when MLS was founded in 1993, putting the Revolution on the field when the league kicked off in 1996. Nevertheless, it seems unlikely that the Krafts will spend Patriots player money for a Revolution player.

In regards to the field, the Krafts and the Revolution came under fire from the sports and NFL community in 2008 when CBS commentators blamed the fact that soccer is played on the Gillette Stadium field for a series of scuffed field goals. The turf has since been fixed and meets FIFA standards, but popular opinion shows that it’s made for football more than futbol.

Nevertheless, Bilello believes that having the backing of the Krafts is very positive for American soccer. He is happy to have their support for the Revolution too, even if the team is a work in progress on and off the field.

“For all the owners, you’ve got these 19 groups who want to support and invest in soccer,” explains Bilello. “It takes a lot of work and energy and faith. If you’re soccer a fan and you’re trying to rank owners one to 19, that’s 19 out of how many millions of people that have the money to invest in something like this and invest in it and support it.”

To their credit, no one seems to be jumping up and down to buy the Revolution from the Krafts. If the Krafts chose to sell the Revolution, there is a good chance the franchise would relocate.

“If you’re a soccer fan, all 19 of those groups are doing an awesome job because they’re growing the sport and putting their efforts behind it,” continued Bilello. “This is not something people are making a ton of money at. It’s because they care about the sport and trying to grow it.”

In the short term, the Revolution are working on moving up in the conference standings and continuing their search for a stadium deal. Bilello also says that the club is working on an exhibition match to be played at Gillette Stadium during the summer.

“There’s one more big friendly that we’re working on right now,” revealed Bilello. “From our perspective, until everything is signed and dotted and we make the official announcement, there’s not a game. [Not] until that official announcement comes out. But we’re working on something pretty big and I think fans will be excited.”

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About Corner Kicks: Julian Cardillo offers insight and analysis about the New England Revolution as well as European and international soccer.

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