By Jason Davis – WASHINGTON, DC (Mar 2, 2016) US Soccer Players – The greatest trick for the 2016 MLS season is troubled clubs convincing fans that this year things will be different. Rebuilding projects aren’t just about revamping a roster, or installing a new head coach who will bring about a shift in style. It’s also about selling the idea that a turnaround is not only possible, but likely. Each and every time an MLS team hits the winter with change on their minds, the list of tasks always includes the small matter of marketing that change as hope.
Honestly, the job is easier here than almost anywhere else. The league’s very structure is built to help clubs send the message that if the fans just ride it out a little longer (and buy some tickets, naturally), there’s going to be a playoff appearance just around the corner. From there, it’s not too difficult to sell the notion that a championship is possible. After all, stranger things have happened over this league’s 20 years of history than a team going from missing the playoffs to MLS Cup champion in just one year.
There are different ways to sell a project, and talking rarely cuts it. Talk is cheap. What fans want to see when teams break camp in the first week of March is a new look, complete with fresh faces ready to give everything they’ve got at what is hopefully a higher level of play than last year. In other words, fans want to see action in the buildup to the season, action in the form of signings.
A few teams are in the business of rebuilding in 2016, while at the same time trying to convince their fans that they’re heading in the right direction. Here are a few.
Thus far, the biggest signal the Fire have sent to their fans about their intention to actually win a few more games this is the hiring of Veljko Paunovic as head coach. Paunovic has a pedigree, sort of, since he won the U-20 World Cup with Serbia just last summer. That turned him into a coaching star-in-the-making, and somehow it was new Fire GM Nelson Rodriguez who snagged him for Paunovic’s first-ever senior job. As for the talk, Paunovic says all of the right things, no matter fans will care or not. At least he’s earnest.
“To all the players I interact with, I try to spread that passion, that love for the soccer,” Paunovic told MLSSoccer.com. “Not just when things are good, also when things are not as we want them to be. But I always try to say, if you have faith, you will learn from this situation and you will be better in the future. If you just think soccer is good when things are going good, you’re wrong. Because soccer is good even when you’re not going good. That is the great opportunity and great test for you in order to prove you love this game.”
Good for the coach, but the Chicago approach is risky on numerous fronts. Paunovic’s sage approach will salve some wounds, but the club did trade away a hometown kid in Harry Shipp this winter. It’s not exactly clear what strides the team has made. We’ll find out if anyone is sold when the Fire open their season at home against NYCFC on Sunday.
Where the Fire went the more subtle “hire a new coach, institute a new system, and try to win games” approach, the Rapids have fired off a big honking cannon to get their fans’ (and others’) attention.
If the reports are to be believed, USMNT goalkeeper Tim Howard will be making his way to Dick’s Sporting Goods Park come the summer, and on a pretty hefty contract. It’s clear Colorado wants to make a splash, but it’s worth asking if signing a goalkeeper to a DP contract is the type of thing that will help them win games. Giving up goals actually wasn’t Colorado’s problem last year. It was scoring them.
To be fair, Colorado did sigh Shkelzen Gashi to help with the bigger problem. Of course, Rapids fans are saying “Who?”, which makes selling Gashi as the key to a playoff run rather difficult. There’s also the small problem of head coach Pablo Mastroeni, who has yet to prove he knows how to win in the League.
Why will 2016 be better for the Philadelphia Union? Because they hired a new sporting director, of course.
Tongue firmly in cheek here, since Earnie Stewart’s influence won’t extend directly to the field. However, it is true that his arrival is the best selling point the organization has. Spending has been limited, with most of the club’s new signings being of the budget variety. The Union will look different in 2016, but it won’t be easy convincing those fans still sticking around that “different” necessarily means “better” barring a great start. The Union have to show it on the field before anyone is going to buy regime change as a change in the team’s competitive fortunes.
Make no mistake, bringing in Stewart is probably the best thing the Union could have done for the long-term future of the club. It just isn’t a move easy to market to a wounded fan base.
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