There are no guidelines about how to act when you've lost four MLS Cup finals in six years, since no team had done just that before the New England Revolution. After their 2-1 defeat against Houston on Sunday, the Revolution seemed stunned. But a couple of days later, nearly everyone seemed optimistic and ready to return to action.
The mood of the Revolution when they returned to Gillette Stadium for final meetings of coaches and players Tuesday contrasted with the team's mood after the '05 and '06 seasons; New England limped away from those finals both mentally and physically drained. The shock of a third successive defeat in the final wore off quickly, though. Joe Franchino, who missed most of the season with an injury, symbolized the spirit of the team by saying everyone wished they could return to the field tomorrow.
"We are really frustrated and disappointed," midfielder Shalrie Joseph said. "Our goal from the beginning of the season was to win the cup, and we had a good season but not a great season. But we're all fresh and feeling strong and we're looking forward to coming back. It will be hard to get back [to the MLS Cup] but we're keeping the core and nucleus of the team intact and we'll keep pushing ahead until we win the cup."
The Revolution seem comfortable with their identity. The team's early years of existence were marked by frustration, but since reaching the '02 MLS Cup, the Revolution have developed confidence and an effective style of play which combines physicality with skillful play. New England's tactics emphasize playing quickly and as directly as possible. But the Revs are not nearly as concerned with defending as you might expect with a coach who was a Liverpool FC defender. And though Steve Nicol wants the Revolution to play rapidly, that does not mean aimless clearances and careless link-up play, but rather a striving for precision.
Nicol brings steadiness to the helm -- he has completed six seasons with the Revolution and is the longest-serving MLS coach -- and believes in continuity. So players seem comfortable and well-suited to their roles. The Revolution might not be able to win the big one, but they do win most of the time.
The Dynamo rightfully should be held up as an example of how to build a winning team in the MLS and could well be establishing a dynastic model.
But the Revolution are showing the way for the league by developing players for export. Clint Dempsey brought in a league-record $4 million transfer fee from Fulham FC earlier this year. Joseph has been valued at more than $1 million by Celtic FC. Goalkeeper Adin Brown (Aalesund) and Daniel Hernandez (Puebla) have moved on. Midfielder Andy Dorman likely will be next to go; he has dual British-U.S. citizenship and has trials set up in England starting next month. And defender Michael Parkhurst is apparently in Fulham's sights, though Nicol expects him to return to the Revs next season.
Playing for the Revolution can be a fulfilling experience for 364 days of the year. If you have talent, there is a chance to move on and make real money. The only drawback to being with the Revolution is that one game on the final day of the season.
Frank Dell'Apa is a soccer columnist for The Boston Globe and ESPN.