FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The dreary autumn sky draped over the Revolution practice pitch on Wednesday was a fitting metaphor for the sentiment shared by Steve Nicol’s
Less than 48 hours after the amiable manager and the organization parted ways, some of the team’s longest-tenured members -- all of whom were essentially hand-picked by Nicol himself -- expressed dismay over Monday’s development.
“I think we’re all sad to see Stevie go, myself included,” said midfielder Pat Phelan, who was acquired by the Revolution via a 2008 trade with Toronto. “[He’s] a great guy on and off the field, he was fun to be around, and he knew his stuff.”
One thing Nicol certainly knew how to do was recruit franchise players. During his 10 seasons in New England, the gaffer had a sharp eye for talent, bringing in talents like Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis, Clint Dempsey and Michael Parkhurst, all of whom went on to become some of the best players the organization’s ever produced.
But Nicol also knew how to spot a diamond in the rough. In 2008, Nicol selected Wellesley, Mass., native Chris Tierney in the Supplemental Draft. Although the former University of Virginia midfielder came out of college as an unheralded prospect, Nicol showed faith in him from the start -- something that Tierney hasn’t forgotten.
“I’m very grateful for the opportunities that he gave me,” said Tierney, who eventually became a regular starting XI selection in his second season. “He taught me a lot in terms of being a professional and how to play this game right, so I was very disappointed to see him go.”
Of course, Tierney also understood that after the team slid into last place in 2011, the writing was on the wall. Something had to give.
“Yeah, it was definitely time for a change,” Tierney said. “But what that change was going to be was unclear. I think there [were] a lot of things that haven’t gone our way in these last two years.”
While the lack of success in the past two years -- in which the Revolution failed to reach the postseason -- may have ultimately led to Nicol and the organization parting ways, Phelan said that some of the blame falls on the shoulders of the players.
“I think everyone shares the responsibility for [Nicol’s departure],” Phelan said. “I think it’s a reminder that no one’s job is really safe, especially when you don’t get results. That’s what it’s all about in the end. It’s about winning.”
And that was the message that came across loud and clear when the news of Nicol’s departure was announced on Monday. After the Revolution suffered through one of the worst seasons in team history, there was little doubt that something had to be done. And whether it’s fair or not, the first casualty of an underperforming club is often its manager -- something that Phelan was well aware of as the losses piled up.
“We wanted go out there and play for him,” Phelan said. “[To] prove that he was doing the right thing and that we were good players and that we were a good team. So, it’s frustrating from that standpoint.”
Nevertheless, with assistant coach Steve Myles and goalkeeper coach Remi Roy overseeing the team for the interim, the players know they must overcome lingering guilt that they failed their former manager and press on.
“It’s an unfortunate situation,” Tierney said. “I think there’s a feeling around the team that we let him down and it’s tough for us to deal with. But it is what it is and as a professional, you just have to move on with the job.”
Brian O'Connell is covering the Revolution for ESPNBoston.com. He is the co-founder of New England Soccer Today (www.nesoccertoday.com), which covers professional soccer within New England. He can be reached at BOConnell21@aol.com.