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Soccer notes

Revolutionary changes, or just tweaks needed?

By Frank Dell’Apa
Globe Staff / September 27, 2011

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The Revolution are not the first team to be eliminated from Major League Soccer playoff contention. In fact, the Revolution (5-13-12) still have a chance to advance to the postseason, according to the league’s tiebreaking procedures.

In fact, only the Vancouver Whitecaps are officially out of the running. The Revolution and Toronto FC (6-13-12) are one point away from being ousted, and their chances of making a successful playoff run are, basically, slim and slimmer. The website sportsclubstats.com has completely written off both teams. The site usually runs through a series of outcomes to determine probabilities, no matter how slight, but is not even bothering to do so after the Revolution lost to Chicago (3-2) and Toronto FC fell to Chivas USA (3-0).

The only eventuality keeping these two teams in the race is the possibility of a multi-team tie for the 10th and final playoff spot, which would be settled by a series of tiebreakers. But that scenario could be over as soon as Thursday - if D.C. United defeats Philadelphia, both the Revolution and Toronto will be out.

If that happens, the Revolution will be playing the final month of the season - including home games against Seattle (Saturday), San Jose, and Columbus - with nothing at stake. The Revolution were in a similar situation last season, but at least were able to make it into October without having been eliminated. They finished with a 9-16-5 record last season, their second-lowest win total since Steve Nicol became coach in 2002.

Before Nicol was hired, the Revolution experienced several single-figure victory seasons, but the team has never officially had successive seasons with less than 10 wins - until now. There is a caveat to that number; since shootout victories were counted as wins (only one point was awarded) through 1999. In three of the Revolution’s first four seasons, they totaled less than 10 3-point victories.

In the team’s early years, it desperately sought solutions, going with five head coaches in its first five seasons. Nicol brought stability and success. But, now, the Revolution’s formula for producing quality teams appears to be failing.

The Revolution might not make a major shakeup, but decisions will have to be made on the status of Nicol and captain Shalrie Joseph, whose contracts expire at the end of the year.

If Nicol is retained, he will need some help. He is second on the all-time MLS coaching victory list, but he has lost his winning touch as the team has lost influential players, plus his top assistant, Paul Mariner.

The Revolution could add a technical director, or expand Nicol’s role, essentially promoting him to head coach/technical director. That would mean giving him more responsibility and more control over the team’s administrative workings.

Mariner would be the perfect addition, but he has a secure position as director of player development and a significant budget to work with at Toronto FC.

The way the Revolution function worked for several years. But the chain of command is not set up for efficiency and clearly needs modifications.

In any case, the coaching staff and players are obligated to go for results in upcoming games. And management is making plans for the future.

“We have four games left and everyone associated with the team is competitive, so no matter where we currently sit in the standings we always want to win,’’ Revolution vice president of player personnel Michael Burns said. “We are not going to approach these games any differently. But we also are not doing our job if we are not looking to the offseason and next year.

“Five wins in 30 games means the season hasn’t gone well and that’s the reality of it. Bottom line, five wins isn’t enough. Even if we win out, nine wins would equal last year and that wasn’t good enough to make the playoffs.’’

Newcastle rolling Only three English Premier League teams are unbeaten in all competitions: Manchester City and Manchester United, tied for first place, plus Newcastle United.

Newcastle is emerging as a possible contender for a Champions League berth after a 3-1 win over Blackburn Rovers vaulted the Magpies into fourth place with a 3-0-3 (12 points) record.

Newcastle will take an 11-match unbeaten streak into Saturday’s visit to Wolverhampton. The Magpies also have two League Cup victories this year and went 1-0-2 in the final three matches last season.

United’s offseason acquisitions have made a strong impact. Senegalese striker Demba Ba, who arrived on a free transfer after West Ham United was relegated, scored all the team’s goals against Blackburn.

Alan Pardew has managed the team well, making what appears to have been a crucial decision to unload Joey Barton soon after an opening-game clash with Arsenal’s Gervinho. Pardew got himself into trouble with the league’s disciplinary committee after singling out Barton, who has had major problems on and off the field, for special treatment from referees. Barton went to Queen’s Park Rangers on a free transfer.

The Newcastle staff also includes assistant manager John Carver, who coached Toronto FC in its first season in 2008, plus reserve team coach Peter Beardsley (Vancouver) and development coach Willie Donachie (Portland Timbers), who played in the North American Soccer League.

Frank Dell’Apa can be reached at f_dellapa@globe.com.

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