The Belichick of the Soccer Pitch

June 24, 2009 - 12:38 pm
Stevey Nicol is the Bill Belichick of Major League Soccer. Now that is a compliment, especially given that it was bestowed byNicol's boss, Patriots President and New England Revolution owner Jonathan Kraft, in an interview with the Dale & Holley Show on Wednesday afternoon. The Revs are looking to clinch a spot in the semifinal round of the SuperLiga competition with a win tonight over the Kansas City Wizards at 7 p.m. Doing so would give the club a chance to defend its 2008 SuperLiga title. The Revs won the first game of the competition on Sunday night in a 4-2 thrashing of Mexican rivals Santos Laguna without leading man Taylor Twellman and captain Steve Ralston, who went down before the half with a hamstring strain. Nicol has worked all season through myriad injuries to put a winning team on the Gillette Stadium field. With a 4-4-4 record and 16 points, the Revs are taking a break from MLS action to focus on defending their SuperLiga title. "Stevey did a wonderful job at getting our younger players to step up and contribute," Kraft told Dale & Holley. "With four games in hand, if they win all four we would be first place." Kraft compared Nicol's analytical and tactical coaching style to Belichick. "With Stevey Nicol we really got the best of both worlds. He played in Liverpool and is still considered to this day to be one of the best defenders in Premiership history," said Kraft. "He has lived and raised his family in the US for close to 15 years and has coached in the minor leagues of soccer in the US so he came with an understanding of how Americans approach the game but with a real cache and knowledge of what it's like to play at the highest level." The Nicol comparison to Belichick, the Krafts' all-but-adopted son, is a good sign for the Revs coach. So, too, is his longevity: Nicol has been with the team since 2002 making him the longest tenured coach in MLS history. "I think our drafting and signing of free-agent players has been dramatically better and it's been a wonderful fit. It's the same type of consistency we've had with Bill Belichick," underscored Kraft. "Stevey Nicol, in my opinion, is the Bill Belichick of Major League Soccer." Nicol has led the Revs to the MLS Cup four times  - in 2002, 2004, 2006 and 2007 - and entered the 2009 season with 87 career victories. While Belichick's championship rings give him a few more bonus points, Nicol is not far off the mark. With Kraft opening the door to Pats-Revs comparisons, it will be interesting to monitor whether New England's soccer team can enjoy the same sort of success without its top playmaker as did the football club. The Pats, of course, spent the year without Tom Brady after his infamous knee injury. The Revs have enjoyed limited availability from Taylor Twellman due to his severe whiplash symptoms that date back to a game in late August well he was kicked in the head. Twellman is still recovering from those injuries but has appeared in two of the last four Revs games, both of which the team won. The speed and agility of midfielder Shalrie Joseph is not far off that of wide receiver Randy Moss. Defenseman Jay Heaps has been with the team since 2001 and made his MLS 300th appearance on June 7; he is as much the heart of the team as linebacker Tedy Bruschi is to the Patriots. But enough of comparisons. The biggest difference between the teams -- aside from the size of their followings -- is the lack of championships for the Revs. But Kraft insists that the soccer team is working to correct that deficiency, both at the national and international level. Kraft thinks that with the progress the MLS has made in the past 15 years that it can compete on the international level with the English Premiership in another 20 years. The Revs can prove worthy of their international standing if they can pull off a win tonight to advance to the SuperLiga semifinals. (As for the fan base, the Krafts are trying to do their part to bring fans into the stadium with free parking on game days. Kraft told Dale & Holley that they negotiated with MLS to work the parking price into the ticket price without raising it so families could come to watch the game without the added expenses.) To listen to the whole interview with Jonathan Kraft, click here.