MLS New England Revolution

Sweeney: Monday’s moves should show fans that new regime isn’t pulling punches

Go on. Admit it. When you learned that midfielder Carles Gil was done for the season a couple of weeks ago, you threw your hands in the air and gave a resigned sigh. “That’s the season!” you said. “Without Gil, the Revs don’t stand a chance!” you said.

And that’s perfectly fine. It’s a completely rational response from a fan base that has been put through the ringer when it comes to player acquisitions since Michael Burns took over in 2011. While Los Angeles and New York City got Steven Gerrard and David Silva and Andrea Pirlo, three legends of the game in England, Spain, and Italy respectively, the Revolution got six absolute busts in Xavier Kouassi, Krisztian Nemeth, Gabriel Somi, Cristhian Machado, Guillermo Hauche, and — how can any of us forget — the legendary Sabinha.

And that was the difference between many teams in Major League Soccer and New England during the Burns Era. While sporting directors and general managers went out and got proven players who fit the manager’s plans and would help lead their teams to the upper echelon of the league, the Revolution tried — over and over and over again — to jam player square peg into positional triangle hole, only to act surprised when it didn’t work… or, when they came up short to get a player, dusted off and trotted out the ol’ “We tried!” mantra, or the “It gives us flexibility for the summer window” line. Lather, rinse, repeat.

Of course, we’ll be fair here. The Old Regime did come up with some big pieces, like win a blind draw for Jermaine Jones — and I won’t even delve into that, given how everything played out behind the scenes — as well as signed Cristian Penilla ahead of 2018 and Gil ahead of 2019. We’ll give them credit for that.

But other than that, you can just blow a raspberry. Revolution supporters had been burned too many times by players that were allegedly good fits for what Jay Heaps and Brad Friedel wanted to do in Foxborough. Hence the reactions from the masses — fans and media alike — in Revs Colony several weeks ago. It’s how you’ve been conditioned to react to bad news with this Original Ten outfit.

Yet with Monday morning’s moves, is it fair to say that the fans’ reactions were premature?

Let’s remember who is in charge of the soccer operations here. It’s no longer Michael Burns. We have Bruce Arena in charge at Patriot Place, and he pulls no punches. He identified a problem area — losing Gil for the season — and made a move for a player in Kekuta Manneh who, when around solid players, can make things happen with his pace. He’s a proven goal scorer in this league — sure, four goals with FC Cincinnati… but really? How much of a dumpster fire are they? — and is good on the ball. And at 25 years old, he’s younger than offensive-minded regulars Gustavo Bou, Teal Bunbury (both 30), and Penilla (29). I can see Manneh playing up top with Adam Buksa, while Bou sinks back to dictate more of the game like Gil did as a No. 10/false No. 9: you’ll remember 13 months ago that Bou said he likes to have the ability to float and read the game on his own. He can do that in this manner, setting up teammates for off the ball runs after drawing attention and bodies his way when he’s on the ball.

But Manneh can do some pretty things on the ball, too. He could be Gil’s temporary replacement at the No. 10, before he moves out to the left or right upon Gil’s return next season.

And let’s not forget about Tommy McNamara, Monday’s second acquisition. A New York State native who played intercollegiately at Brown as well as some old PDL service in both Ludlow and Worcester (long live the Hydra!), McNamara has excelled in his last two stops with New York City FC and Houston. At 29, his best years may be behind him, but he’s still a hard-nosed player who works his tail off. Any Boston sports fan can respect that.

Of course, the price tag here is an interesting one: two 2020 international slots, one of which being the slot filled by outgoing midfielder Wilfried Zahibo, who heads to Houston following two-and-a-half seasons in Foxborough. The other one is Luis Caicedo’s slot; with him on the season ending injury list, his was freed up.

The kicker is that the Revs will get those two slots back when the roster resets in January. So no harm, no foul.

The Revs also received $175,000 in allocation money in the McNamara deal. Again, not a bad trade-off.

Honestly, should Manneh and McNamara pan out and Arena gets their absolute best out of them for however long they play on Route 1, this day will long be remembered as one where the supporters realized this club is no longer dragging its heels when it comes to fixing problem areas on the pitch, and is looking to compete with quality, not has-beens.