FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- The thermometer may beg to differ, but to the Revolution players, coaches and staff on hand for the start of preseason camp, Saturday felt a lot like spring.
With 28 players in camp passing the ball around, taking part in agility drills and sharing jokes both old and new, the mood inside the Dana Farber Fieldhouse -- where the temperature was much warmer than the chilly 33 degrees that awaited outside -- was equal parts serious and jovial.
“It feels good,” veteran left back Chris Tierney said. “It’s great to see all the boys back. I think we’re all excited to be here and looking forward to getting started.”
Now, back on the field for the first time since the heartbreaking loss, a young but experienced group traded good-natured jabs and casually moved the ball along the carpet.
While the players may have taken Saturday’s session lightly, the coaching staff was all business. Coach Jay Heaps kept a watchful eye on the scene inside the fieldhouse, knowing that each drill and exercise had been carefully plotted by the coaching staff weeks in advance.
“Your preseason’s really important,” Heaps said. “It’s (an) important period during the season -- getting set up and making sure that you not only get in the right work in tactically, but you’re getting the right fitness levels and managing the body.”
It’s a difficult balance to strike. In one sense, Heaps doesn’t want to push his players too soon and heighten the risk of injury. At the same time, keeping the foot off the accelerator for too long could put his club in a vulnerable position come the start of the season. And with one fewer week to work with this year, Heaps and his staff mapped out a training schedule, session by session, in order to ensure the players get the most out of this year’s preseason.
“We have a pretty good plan of what we want to do,” Heaps said. “But six weeks is shorter time, and you just have to ramp things up when you can. It’s not just so much about that -- it’s adding the right sessions to make sure you make up for some lost time.”
One player who’s participated in his fair share of preseason sessions is Tierney, who enters the 2014 season as the club’s longest-tenured player. Tierney, who was drafted by the Revolution in 2008, admitted to feeling “a little bit” old -- even at 28 -- but said the team isn’t as inexperienced as it looks on paper.
“There’s a good group of senior guys,” Tierney said. “Actually, I think this is one of the more experienced groups we’ve had in a while, even though it might not be age-wise. A lot of good leaders are coming back, and we’re all excited to get going.”
It won’t be long before they do. On Monday, the club will head to Bradenton, Fla., for a trio of preseason games against MLS and international competition between Jan. 31 and Feb. 6. After a brief return to Foxborough, the club then heads to Tucson, Ariz., for the Desert Diamond Cup preseason tournament, which runs from Feb. 19 through March 1. A week later, the Revolution will kick off the regular season in Houston.
But before the winter melts into spring, Heaps knows there’s plenty of work ahead for him and general manager Michael Burns. In the wake of Juan Agudelo’s departure, the club is looking outside of Foxborough to fill the void up top.
“Right now, attacking-wise, we have two or three guys that we’re pursuing pretty actively,” Heaps said. “We continue to want to build our roster certainly in that area of the field because when you lose a guy like Juan Agudelo, he’s not easy to replace. We have good players in place, but we always want to have competition there.”
Although there’s no shortage of work for players, coaches and staff alike, Heaps is happy to be back in the groove, and getting his club ready for what he hopes will be another season that sees his club back in the postseason.
“I think we’re excited for 2014,” Heaps said. “We’ve got a good base of players that we feel really good about and, moving forward, we want to take this time seriously and get ready for the season.”