There’s no denying that it hasn’t been easy regular season for the New England Revolution. Not easy by any stretch of the imagination.
Whether it was the slow start (2-4-4), the injuries to Juan Agudelo and Saer Sene, the disappointing draws to cellar dwellers D.C. (Jun. 2) and Chivas USA (Jun. 29), or the set of humbling losses to Toronto (Aug. 4) and Sporting Kansas City (Aug. 10), the Revolution endured plenty of adversity throughout the 2013 regular season.
But shortly after booking their first trip to the postseason in four years with Sunday’s 1-0 win over the Crew, Revolution coach Jay Heaps could only look at the silver lining.
“I think that we had our ups and downs this season,” Heaps told the media after the game. “But I really think that we are coming together as a group. We are getting our young guys big minutes, big games, and they are winning games.”
That maturation process, whether it was due to necessity or strategy, certainly helped one the youngest teams (average age: 23.5 years old) in MLS navigate their way through a 34-game regular season. And the transformation was remarkable.
At the start of the season, the baby-faced bunch was desperate to find an identity. While the defense succeeded in getting results early, the likes of Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe and Scott Caldwell struggled to make an impact as the offense could only muster a single goal its first six games.
But it wasn’t long before the pieces started to fall into place. Fagundez emerged as a force out wide, Caldwell became a consistent presence at defensive midfielder and Rowe grew into his role as an attacking midfielder. And when general manager Mike Burns pulled the trigger on a trade for Agudelo in May, there was no looking back.
Once Agudelo made his debut on May 18, the Revolution went 12-7-5, and put themselves above the red line for much of the summer. But even after they fell into a three-game winless slide in September, they picked themselves back up shortly thereafter, and rode into the postseason on the heels of a six-game (4-0-2) unbeaten run.
Call it getting hot at the right time, or rising to the occasion. According to Agudelo, the reasons for the Revolution’s recent success can be traced back to its sense of camaraderie on the field.
“In these last few games, we’ve had to keep the lead,” Agudelo told the media after the game. “And when I see my teammate make a sprint back, I feel like I have to make a sprint back for him. We’re like a team together. Every time I see somebody work hard it makes me work hard.”
That all-for-one and one-for-all mentality has become a trademark of this youthful team. Whether it’s the elaborate handshakes, the creative goal celebrations, or even a reassuring arm around the shoulder following a tough loss, the Revolution haven’t just won and celebrated as a group. They’ve endured the losses and frustrations as a unit, which only served to bring the group closer together.
But after Sunday’s win pushed them into the postseason -- and as the third seed, thanks to a set of stunning, late-season results inside the conference -- it was clear that there was plenty to be happy about inside the bowels of Crew Stadium.
“You see the guys in the locker room now, they’re very upbeat,” Rowe told the media after the game. “Everyone’s pretty happy, but we also know that we have another game coming (on) Saturday.”
Heaps, for his part, isn’t shocked by what his young charges have accomplished. Sure, it hasn’t been smooth sailing throughout. Yet, even though few predicted the Revolution would reach the postseason in 2013, the coach couldn’t help but applaud the way his group reacted to the pressure and persevered.
“They are finding results,” Heaps said. “I think that is really important for the development of players. You can talk about developing players, and putting them in tough situations and I think when you put them in tough situations, they do well that learning curve is expedited.”