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New England fans deserve better.

By Jerry Langdon
Gannett News Service

(Wednesday, August 26, 1998) -- No area has backed Major League Soccer as well as New England. And no team has deserved support less than the Revolution.

It is the worst team in MLS this year, and cumulatively for all three seasons. Coach Thomas Rongen left small-market Tampa Bay after winning Coach of the Year in 1996 for bigger money and more fan support at New England, which was trying to recover from a controversy-filled opening season under Frank Stapleton.

The team finished in last place at 15-17 in its first year, with a 43-56 goal differential of minus-13.

It didn't change much under Rongen, though the personnel did. The Revolution were fourth in 1997 at 15-17, with a 40-53 goal differential of minus-13 -- and quickly were eliminated in the playoffs. And they are sixth and last in the Eastern Conference in 1998 at 8-18, with a hideous 42-60 goal-differential of minus-18.

All of a sudden the hard-nosed Stapleton doesn't look so bad. Especially when the talent the past two years was said to be better, especially in 1998, though some observers say the overall quality was not as high as team pronouncements indicated.

The failures at New England, which this week replaced Rongen with '97 superstar goalkeeper Walter Zenga (Italy), making his debut this week as coach, were numerous:

1. The departure early in 1997 of Welton to Los Angeles, where he proceeded to score 11 goals for the Galaxy, and then explode for 15 goals along with 11 assists this season to rank No. 2 in MLS scoring.

2. Making defender Francis Okaroh, viewed by many as New England's top defender despite the presence of U.S. national team mainstays Alexi Lalas and Mike Burns, available for the 1998 expansion draft, where he was promptly taken by the Chicago Fire.

3. Completely changing the five-player international contingent after the 1997 season, including dropping of midfielder Alberto Nevada and respected defensive midfielder Alejandro Farias.

Injuries played a key role in this year's mid-season slump, particularly in the midfield, but the slump has turned to a collapse. Despite the abysmal performances on the field, fan support continues strong.

Average attendance in Foxboro Stadium is 17,690, third in MLS. It was third in 1996, at 19,025, and first in 1997, at 21,423.

The Revolution's lone strength has been up front -- with Raul Diaz Arce accounting for 17 goals. Confusion has resulted elsewhere, however, with frequent lineup changes, and the defense has been seriously hurt by the losses of Lalas and Okaroh, and injuries to mainstay Ted Chronopoulos.

The Revolution was unable to get help on defense prior to the trading deadline, and instead picked up another forward, the erratic Damian. So bad were the problems on defense that Edwin Gorter (Netherlands), brought in to be the playmaking midfielder, this summer was switched to sweeper -- leaving a gap in midfield.

Rongen, 41, is a respected coach -- national team Steve Sampson used him as an assistant during the World Cup -- who has had overseas offers. But the roster selection left more than a few questions.

"We need a complete overhaul," midfielder-forward Joe-Max Moore said after the 6-1 humiliation by Los Angeles. "I usually don't speak negatively of my teammates, but these guys aren't getting the job done."

Jerry Langdon is sports editor of Gannett News Service and can be e-mailed at jlangdon@gns.gannett.com.

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