New England Revolution: Jay Heaps
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Charlie Davies wasn't going to lie: The first leg of the Eastern Conference final was not his best game. To him, it was a lot of running and not much else. So naturally, he wasn't about to let it happen again in Saturday's second leg.
After watching the game film from his Leg 1 performance, Davies discovered how he could improve, which is exactly what he did Saturday by scoring both of the New England Revolution's goals in their 2-2 draw against the New York Red Bulls. The Revolution beat the Red Bulls 4-3 on aggregate to advance to the MLS Cup final.
"I found that, most of the time on set pieces, they left me unmarked," Davies said, "and on crosses, I could find myself unmarked as well. The space in the corners -- they weren't great at tracking, so today, I tried to exploit that."
There's no doubt Davies exploited those defensive deficiencies in the biggest game at Gillette Stadium in seven years, thanks in part to that research and film review. And it's fair to say the Revolution's chances of reaching their first MLS Cup final since 2007 would have been diminished without Davies' due diligence.
After the Red Bulls leveled the aggregate score in the 26th minute from a Tim Cahill goal, the Revolution were suddenly challenged to punch back against a squad that looked primed to score more than once on Saturday.
With halftime approaching and the guests looking for more, Davies came to the rescue in the 41st minute. Following a short corner sequence in which Chris Tierney received the return pass from Lee Nguyen, the Revolution winger sent it into the heart of the area, where Davies shed his mark and nodded it through to ease some of the anxiety felt by much of the 32,698 in attendance.
"I liked that we were able to get a set-piece goal. It was something that we worked on all week on that exact play," Revolution coach Jay Heaps said. "It was actually a very similar play we ran in New York, [and] we missed that chance, so we knew there was going to be some space in that area, and we were able to hit on it."
To Heaps, Davies' first goal didn't just reclaim the Revolution's aggregate goal advantage. It did something more.
"When you get into moments in the game where you need to find a goal, knowing that you've worked on certain set plays and certain things that you know are going to work," Heaps said. "That gave our guys a little bit of energy."
But Davies' job, as impressive as it was during the first half alone, was far from done going into the locker room for halftime.
In the second half, the Red Bulls found a response when Peguy Luyindula slipped a shot through in the 52nd minute to not only put his squad back on level terms on aggregate, but also void the Revolution's ownership of the road-goal tiebreaker.
With the conference final series suddenly up for grabs with more than a half-hour remaining, the hosts needed someone to step up and take command. It didn't matter whom, or how, for that matter. The Revolution needed at least one more goal, lest their surging postseason form suddenly hit a brick wall on home turf.
So, in the 70th minute, Davies took it upon himself to play the role of hero once again. On a cross from Tierney out on the left, the Revolution striker found himself with even more space this time around to nod it through.
"Today, from the opening whistle, the number of times he got behind their back line early -- and then the two chances -- you know Charlie Davies can score," Heaps said. "And I think that when he gets into those areas, he's going to put them away."
The fact he was able not once, but twice, was more than just a testament to his work ethic or motor. Rather, it was his ability to make adjustments ahead of the match that allowed him to seize the moment.
"Yeah, it was a battle with [Jamison] Olave out there," Davies said in reference to the Red Bulls' imposing center back. "But I felt like I was more into the game and had more touches, and the team was able to find me more."
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- It didn't come easy, but the New England Revolution are headed to their first MLS Cup final in seven years by defeating the New York Red Bulls 4-3 on aggregate with Saturday's 2-2 draw in the second leg of the Eastern Conference final at Gillette Stadium.
Tim Cahill opened the scoring for the visiting Red Bulls in the 26th minute on a Thierry Henry ball, while Charlie Davies brought it back to level terms in the 41st minute. Peguy Luyindula put the series up for grabs when he scored in the 52nd minute, but Davies struck again in the 70th minute to send the Revolution on their way to the championship match.
The Revolution will face the winner of Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference final between the Seattle Sounders and the Los Angeles Galaxy at either club's home pitch on Dec. 7. The Galaxy currently hold a 1-0 aggregate goal advantage going into the contest.
What it means: The Revolution earned their first trip to the MLS Cup final since 2007, as well as the chance to finally shake off their historic championship final failures. After coming up short in 2002, 2005, 2006 and 2007, the Revolution will get a fifth crack at a championship next weekend out on the West Coast. That opportunity will have special meaning for Revolution coach Jay Heaps, who suffered through each of the Revolution's MLS Cup final setbacks as a player.
Stat of the match: Cahill's 26th-minute strike was the first time the Revolution had faced a deficit during the 2014 postseason run.
Henry is a go: For the first time in his MLS career, Henry suited up for a match at Gillette Stadium, starting on the left side of the Red Bulls' midfield. Henry bypassed previous trips to Gillette Stadium, as well as other MLS venues with artificial turf, due to an ongoing Achilles issue. Henry went the full 90 and assisted on Cahill's opening strike.
Wright-Phillips banned: Bradley Wright-Phillips, the 2014 MLS Golden Boot winner, was unavailable for the Red Bulls due to an automatic, one-game suspension he received for caution accumulation. The English striker was cautioned in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals as well as the first leg of the conference final.
Conference championship success: With Saturday's result, the Revolution have now advanced to the MLS Cup final in five of seven tries, with setbacks coming in 2003 and 2004.
Revs lineup changes: Heaps made one change to his lineup from the first leg, with Kevin Alston starting at left back and Chris Tierney moving up to the midfield. The move forced midfielder Kelyn Rowe, who started on the wing in the first leg, to the bench on Saturday. Rowe eventually came on in the 84th minute for Davies.
Postseason attendance record set … again: With a record 32,698 fans on hand for Saturday's match, the Revolution shattered the postseason attendance mark set only two weeks ago in the second leg of the Eastern Conference semifinal against Columbus. That match attracted 20,184.
Next up: The Revolution will head either to StubHub Center in Carson, California, or CenturyLink Field in Seattle for the MLS Cup final on Dec. 7, depending on the outcome of Sunday's second leg of the Western Conference final between the Sounders and Galaxy. The Revolution last played at The StubHub Center on July 16, when they suffered a 5-1 loss, while their last trip to CenturyLink Field came on April 13, 2013, a game that ended in a 0-0 draw.
Looking to tighten up the proverbial screws before the postseason arrived, Heaps wanted to see his team clamp down defensively, which is precisely what the Revolution did in their 1-0 win over Toronto FC .
"It's always good to get the result," Heaps said. "But we were really happy with the way we defended, giving up very few shots, and not giving up a goal was exactly our game plan."
Saturday's shutout couldn't have come at a better time, to be sure. As good as the Revolution had been down the stretch (9-1-2 in their final 12), one area of concern was in the rear, where goals leaked through far too regularly for Heaps' liking.
That commitment to defense was nearly foiled early, though. In the 8th minute, Dominic Oduro played a cross inside the box for Gilberto, who came within inches of putting the Revolution in a deficit when he volleyed it off the crossbar.
But Gilberto's shot would be the closest the Revolution would come to conceding the lead. The defense stabilized shortly thereafter, and would go on to spring the attack on a number of occasions in the first half.
With the back four and holding midfielder Scott Caldwell keeping Toronto in check, the Revolution pounced on an opportunity in the 35th minute. But it was not without controversy.
Jose Goncalves played it ahead to Chris Tierney, who appeared to be in an offside position when the Revolution center back made the pass. A trio of Toronto defenders checked up believing that the play would be ruled offside. But referee Ricardo Salazar never blew his whistle, and Tierney proceeded to play it inside for Lee Nguyen, who slipped it through with ease.
"I did not know what was going on before the goal," Nguyen said of the confusion in front of him during the play. "Although people were yelling offsides, I decided to keep playing because I did not hear a whistle. The defenders were still going, so I decided to finish it off and get a goal."
The goal put the Revolution in command going into the break, but with another 45 minutes to go against a club that felt it was hard done by the goal, team defense would be the name of the game in order to see the result out.
To their credit, the guests found an opportunity in the 50th minute when Dominic Oduro played it ahead to Michael Bradley, who had an open shot to work with. But his finishing abilities let him down, as the shot fell right into the waiting arms of Bobby Shuttleworth.
Content with the way his team was playing, Heaps started to take off some of the players who are crucial to the team's postseason success. In the 62nd minute, Nguyen came off for Daigo Kobayashi, while Jermaine Jones exited five minutes later for Andy Dorman. It was all a part of the plan for Heaps.
"We did a nice job of getting sharp," Heaps said. "But then at 60 (minutes), we made the right subs to get players out so that they didn't extend themselves."
The Reds gave it one more try in the 75th minute. Luke Moore tried to steer a Mark Bloom cross into the back of the net with a snap header, but Shuttleworth reacted quickly to the threat by tipping it over the bar.
All in all, Saturday's match wasn't the prettiest, nor was it the Revolution's best. But in their coach's mind, a number of objective were met before the first leg of the conference semifinals next week.
"We would've liked to have scored more goals in the end, I thought it was a good exercise of defending, even the last corner kick," Heaps said. "I thought there were a lot of learning lessons in this game, and it played out the right way. We got the three points to keep our rhythm going, and we're excited about finding out who we're going to play tomorrow."
But putting that belief into action proved to be tougher than it seemed. Once the first whistle chirped at Stade Saputo, the Impact immediately put the Revolution on their heels by winning second balls, scoring early, pressing the issue, then scoring again to snap their guests’ seven-game unbeaten streak (6-0-1) with a surprising 2-0 win.
While the Revolution certainly didn’t put together a world-class performance on Saturday, coach Jay Heaps dismissed the notion that his squad may have underestimated the Impact.
"Absolutely not,” Heaps told the media in a post-match teleconference. “There was no underestimation; but in the same vein, I thought they were hard to truly prepare for because they play a variety of different systems.”
In a sense, plotting against the Impact can be a difficult task for any opposing coaching staff. Through the team's first 12 games in league play, coach Frank Klopas has already employed three different formations. And with injuries and Canadian Championship clashes conspiring against the Impact in league play, lineup tweaks have been a recurring theme this season.
Of course, that’s to speak nothing of the talent that Klopas has at his disposal, despite what his club’s record may read. Marco Di Vaio is coming off a sensational 2013 campaign that saw him collect a team-high 20 goals, while recent acquisition Jack McInerney has made it a habit of scoring clutch goals against the Revolution in recent years.
Though Di Vaio and McInerney operated for much of the match without the likes of Justin Mapp and Patrice Bernier, both of whom were left out of the lineup by Klopas, the forward duo still found ways to make their presence felt.
“They're both quality players,” Heaps said. “I thought they did a nice job creating space for (Issey) Nakajima-Farran and Andres Romero, so really it was a difficult match.”
What made it even more difficult was the roaming room the Revolution inadvertently afforded their hosts in the final third. In the hopes of catching Di Vaio offside, the Revolution used a high line, a tactic that backfired when the Italian striker and his cohorts stayed disciplined on their breaks.
While the Revolution’s performance improved in the second half, it was hard to ignore the evidence that in the first 45, the Impact were the hungrier team. With eight shots on target before the break, and a third goal nearly coming to pass before A.J. Soares’ last-ditch tackle on Di Vaio inside the box during first-half stoppage time, it was hard to tell which team resided at the top of the eastern table.
Heaps believes that the real culprit in Saturday’s loss was an opponent that had the talent and ability to make the most of their opportunities, rather than an overconfident approach from his squad.
“I don't think that anyone underestimated them because the message all week was that this team is very dangerous,” Heaps said. “If you give them anything, they'll take advantage of it, and that's what they did."
Heaps, who was ejected in the 90th minute of last week’s match against D.C. United, will be serving a one-game suspension this week. And, to no one’s surprise, the fiery head coach is not happy about it.
"It's not going to be good,” Heaps said. “Taking your medicine is never a good thing, and I think it's one of those situations where it is what it is, and I felt like there was a statement to be made.”
While Heaps wasn’t specific about what kind of statement he was referring to, he admitted that he got the league's message “loud and clear." With Heaps suspended, assistant Tom Soehn will serve as head coach on Saturday.
Revolution forward Teal Bunbury isn’t expecting any major issues come game day.
“I don't think it'll be too different,” Bunbury said. “Our assistants are going to do a great job and it's just up to us on the field to be able to execute the plan that we're putting into work all week during training.”
Hello, Neumann: Though the Revolution may have suffered a 2-0 loss and saw its coach ejected during last Saturday’s game at RFK Stadium, one bright spot was the MLS debut of first-round pick Steve Neumann. The 22-year-old midfielder/forward came on in the 84th minute to spell Daigo Kobayashi, and while he may not have looked the part of a wild-eyed, energetic rookie, the moment was certainly not lost on him.
“It's always been my goal in life to play professional soccer,” Neumann said, “and to finally get that first appearance in the regular season was beyond a dream for me.”
Making the occasion even more poignant was the fact that he attended Georgetown University, less than 10 miles away from the scene of his debut, from 2010 to 2013. With friends, family and former college teammates in attendance, Neumann’s late-game cameo was greeted with plenty of applause from the stands.
“They were all ecstatic that I got into the game,” Neumann said. “I definitely heard a loud cheer when I entered the game, which put a smile on my face. Now I just want to keep building off that and put that behind me and continue on with the season."
Patience, patience, patience: After watching film of last week’s game in D.C., Bunbury knows that he and his teammates have to develop a more patient approach going forward -- especially if they find themselves down a goal early again.
But even though he acknowledged that going direct right out of the gate wasn’t the best decision, the Revolution striker still can’t put his finger on what prompted him and his teammates to press so soon.
"I don't know exactly what it was,” Bunbury said. “We were down a goal, and we all thought 'let's go after it.' I think we kind of played right into their hands doing that, but it's just something that we have to work through.”
Jay Heaps was handed a monumental task when he was named Revolution coach two autumns ago. A task that many might have run from at first sight.
Following the worst season in club history in 2011, Heaps came into the job with no head coaching experience, and his playing career still visible in the rearview. But it was more than just a new title for the former defender -- it was a calling, one which the former Revolution couldn’t turn down.
Now, with the Revolution readying themselves for their first postseason appearance since 2009 -- incidentally, Heaps’ final season as a player -- there’s no doubt that reaching the playoffs is an accomplishment that’s especially poignant for the 37-year-old coach who grew up in Longmeadow, Mass.
To grasp just how much Heaps has done to reverse the club’s fortunes, you have to go back to November 2011. Almost immediately after Heaps was introduced to the media as the Revolution’s new coach, he went to work. He poured through game film, took a hard look at the roster, and began sketching out his rescue plan.
From there, he started the steps necessary for creating a new identity for this club that had missed the postseason during the previous two seasons, and finished among the worst teams in MLS.
To do so, he needed to create a new culture, one in which everyone from the top to the bottom of the roster, as well as the coaching staff, was held accountable. Gone were the days in which players called the shots and coaching decisions relied so heavily on habit. There was a new boss in charge, and the excuses used in previous years were cast into the wastebasket.
“Those are things that right away, you want to instill in the players,” Heaps said. “But then you have to get talented players that can adapt to the system you want to play in the style in which you want to play.”
But as Heaps began selecting the players who embraced his philosophy, and fit into the system he envisioned, he learned some hard lessons along the way. Lessons that proved both enlightening and humbling at the same time.
For all the attention to detail he gave to roster decisions, game day preparation, and even the placards inside the locker containing motivational sayings, he’d encounter the harsh reality that he couldn’t control everything. Whether it was unfavorable referee decisions, schedule congestion or injuries, Heaps often let misfortune turn into frustration, which only served to distract the rookie coach.
After the 2012 season, Heaps took stock of how he handled his first year at the helm. He realized he had to let go of the distractions. It was a noticeable shift in attitude, one which veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis, who once played with Heaps from 2003-09, observed as the 2013 season progressed.
“I think that this year, he’s mellowed out quite a bit,” Reis said. “He’s not really allowed the things that we can’t control affect us. I think it’s tough coming in without any head coaching experience, and the change from year one to year two has been great.”
Even though Reis conceded that the degree of difficulty for Heaps may have been steep during the past two seasons, there was never any concern that his former teammate could do the job.
“Being a former player in this league, (he) knows what it’s about,” Reis said. “(He) knows the grind of the season and knows what it takes to get into the playoffs and to go far. He’s got knowledge -- he’s not (just) guessing on a lot of things.”
Indeed, Heaps’ insight into what it takes to get the most from his players has been a revelation this season. He made a number of lineup changes throughout the season, unafraid of bruised egos or hurt feelings. A poor match could send a player to the bench the following week. Conversely, a strong week of practice could open the door for a well-deserved opportunity.
Heaps’ commitment to sharpening the Revolution’s form wasn’t just limited to the lineup. After the traditional 4-4-2 formation failed to produce points earlier this season, Heaps scrapped it in favor of an unorthodox 4-1-4-1, a style more attuned to the personnel at his disposal. It was a bold move that could’ve easily sent the season down the drain. Instead, it lifted the Revolution from the depths of the conference and sent them to a third-place finish.
“We had played a lot of little different systems, but we really wanted to find the one that worked for us,” Heaps said. “It was a commitment to the younger players and building on those players, and taking that faith in our younger players (and) putting them in a position to succeed and not just go out and survive.”
Thanks to that success, Heaps and his team are getting set for Saturday’s first leg of the Eastern Conference semifinals against Sporting Kansas City. For the first time in four years, Gillette Stadium will host postseason soccer.
While the Revolution may be considered underdogs in the home-away series, Heaps knows that regardless of how far into the postseason his team reaches, there’ll still be plenty of work to attend to. But if it wasn’t for the long days, the countless mornings and evenings spent watching film and the tireless efforts of their coach, it’s fair to say the Revolution would probably have their sights set on next season instead of this weekend.
“It’s been a process, and it’s not easy,” Heaps admitted. “A lot of hours were put into it. So when you get to the playoffs, and you work for that goal, you’re excited to get there. But now, you’re even more excited that you have an opportunity to play in the playoffs.”
"Can I do more?"
For Heaps, who 16 months ago was handed the task of returning the Revolution to its former glory, it's more than just a question. It’s a challenge.
“Whether it’s my first year or my 10th year,” Heaps said, “I want to be someone who self-analyzes and can adapt.”
It should come as no surprise that the Longmeadow, Mass., native looked within and adapted as his first season at the helm unfolded. After all, adapting and analyzing have always been trademarks of Jay Heaps -- whether as a player, a broadcaster or in his current role as head coach.
So it wasn’t all that surprising that Heaps went into his first season as a coach anxious to learn and make adjustments on the fly, and doing whatever it took to shorten the learning curve.
But one thing he quickly learned is that there simply is no substitute for actual experience. His first year on the bench was an education. And to his credit, Heaps embraced the lessons and amended his coaching style accordingly.
“One of things I certainly want to get better at and make sure of is to give (the players) a little more trust,” Heaps said. “I think (during) my first year, I really wanted to control a lot of what was happening on the field at all times.”
Letting go of some control isn't easy for Heaps, who’s never tried to hide his classic take-charge personality. During his playing days, the fiery defender grabbed any opportunity to put his team in the driver’s seat, often with one of his trademark forward runs down the flank.
An example of his attempt to concede some control came during the second half of the 2012 season. In the first half, Heaps made it a habit of yelling at the referee or assistants whenever a call went against his club.
“I think I was hoarse the whole first half of the year,” Heaps quipped.
Eventually, he learned that the hostile approach probably wasn’t helping his cause with the league’s officiating. So he took a step back and made adjustments. He realized that he had to manage his emotions better -- and it didn’t end with his interactions with the referees.
Shortly after his mother, Jane, passed away last May, Heaps could see that his team wanted to rally for him. While he appreciated the sentiment, Heaps stepped back and saw it for what it was: a teaching moment.
“There’s a time when you need to use that emotion,” Heaps said. “I think at that time it was so heavy, it may have hurt them a little bit.”
Although Heaps has used the lessons from last season to tweak and refine his coaching style as he enters his second season at the helm, one thing he won’t change is his fundamental belief in the principle of preparation. With the first game of the 2013 season set for Saturday against the Chicago Fire, Heaps is focused on having his team ready.
“I want to release all of the (collective) anxiety of our team on Friday at 5 p.m. so they know our game plan, they know who we’re playing, they know how we’re going to play, so they can go to bed that night and know that they have to step on the field and deliver,” said Heaps. “And hey, if we get beat here or there, that's fine. But we’re not going to get beat for not knowing the other team.”
Can Jay Heaps do any more than what he’s doing now? That’s hard to say. But one thing’s for sure: He isn’t about to take it easy any time soon.
At this time a year ago, the Revolution were licking their wounds from a season that saw them claim a franchise-low five wins as well as a spot in the conference cellar. As a result, longtime head coach Steve Nicol was out, and a new coach would be needed to nurse the club back to health.
Now, fresh off his first year as head coach, Heaps looks back at the 2012 season -- one that saw the club’s win total (9), points (35), goals scored (39) and goals allowed (44) stats improve -- and believes his team is headed in the right direction.
But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.
“We made some (progress),” Heaps said. “But our away record still wasn’t good enough. So when you add (everything) together, yeah, we took some steps forward, but maybe we stepped back in some areas.”
Granted, the road record (2-12-3) wasn’t sparkling by any means. And yes, there were times in which the attack struggled mightily (12 attacking shutouts). Yet, it wasn’t a lost season, by any means.
One area in which Heaps was pleased this season was the emergence of newcomers Saer Sene (11 goals, 3 assists), Lee Nguyen (5 goals, 2 assists) and Kelyn Rowe (3 goals, 5 assists), all of whom were signed under varying circumstances.
The Revolution signed Sene after an extended preseason trial, while Rowe was drafted with the third overall pick in January’s SuperDraft. Then there was Nguyen, who was plucked from the scrap heap after the Whitecaps waived him prior to Week 1.
“I think we brought in some really good players,” Heaps said. “If you look at those three players, they’re our top three leading scorers right there.”
While the 2012 Revolution may have been more talented than their predecessors, one ongoing problem that spilled over from 2011 was giving up the dreaded late-game goal.
“We put ourselves in a decent position in a lot of games,” Revolution defender/midfielder Chris Tierney said. “But we didn’t have the wherewithal to see out the game and take out a point, if not three.”
Although there was certainly room for improvement in late-game situations, the Revolution made noticeable strides in other areas.
For starters, they focused on reclaiming their form at home. In 2011, the Revolution went 4-7-6 at Gillette Stadium. This year, they reversed that record, going 7-4-6 in front of the Foxborough faithful.
Another area of improvement: team defense. After giving up a whopping 58 goals last season, the Revolution defense worked on closing the passing lanes. The midfielders regularly dropped back to bolster the defense, and as a result the team cut its goals-allowed total by nearly a quarter (24 percent) in 2012.
Tierney believes the club’s resurgence in the rear is largely attributable to the experience that center backs A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy gained during their sophomore seasons.
“The more you play in this league, the more you figure out what it takes to win,” Tierney said. “I think a bunch of our young guys got a lot of minutes. So the more experience we get at playing in this level, the better we’ll be going forward.”
Even though a franchise-worst 10-game winless streak that stretched from mid-July through early-September bounced the Revolution from postseason contention, Heaps still believes that his club deserved better than its ninth-place finish.
“I think we’re a little disappointed in how we finished,” Heaps said. “We should’ve been higher up, maybe in the middle of the table, fighting for a playoff spot. So I think I was a little disappointed and surprised that we weren’t in the fight for the last five games of the season."
But Heaps won’t have time to dwell on that thought for long. With another two weeks of offseason training on the agenda, and a busy winter filled with scouting and player signings ahead, the Revolution head coach knows there’s still plenty to do before he can bring the club back to playoff glory.
“We have miles to go,” Heaps said. “But we’ve made up a lot of ground from where we were last year at this point.”
With only two games left on the schedule and the playoffs out of the picture, many coaches might be tempted to ease off the gas. Loosen the reins. Incorporate a lighter approach training, perhaps.
But taking it easy is a concept completely foreign to Heaps. So naturally, his standard approach and preparation routines won’t deviate much this week, even with time running out on the regular season.
“Right now, we’re working hard, pushing guys,” Heaps said after training on Wednesday. “Even though we know the season’s only got two games left for us, we have a lot left to train for and play for because we have to start the process of building a team.”
A team for 2013, that is. Although the calendar may still read “2012,” next year is already here for Heaps.
“This (week) is like another preseason for us because we can push players and see what players are going to be able to do,” Heaps said. “So this is also an evaluation time as well. “
THE GO-TO GUY
One of the reasons why Heaps is using the bye week for evaluations may be out of necessity.
With a host of players on the mend, Heaps has been forced to plug players into different positions, both on the training pitch and the playing field.
One player who’s been moved around is midfielder Ryan Guy, who split time between right back and center back during last week’s 1-0 loss at Philadelphia.
While some players may grumble at the constant shifting, the veteran midfielder embraces the opportunity to play wherever Heaps asks him to.
“Playing around the field has really given a chance to see different aspects of the game,” Guy said after training on Wednesday. “I get a better grasp of where we need adjustments and so when I do go back to my ‘normal’ position, I have a better idea of what we need and what’s going to be expected of me to get positive results.”
That insight, of course, is something that Guy is often asked to relay to Heaps in order to make in-game tactical adjustments.
Of course, Guy may not be the most experienced at playing in the back. Nonetheless, he believes that the rotating assignment is a vote confidence by the coaching staff -- something that takes off some of the edge when featuring in an unfamiliar role.
“When you have the coaches trusting you and respecting you, it definitely makes it a lot easier,” Guy said. “So when (Heaps) asks me to play another position, I have no qualms about it because I know he’s thought about it. He’s talked to the other assistants about it and he has confidence (in me). So if he has confidence, why shouldn’t I?”
FEILHABER ADMITS FAULT FOR SUSPENSION
With a recent rash of injuries creating constant lineup shuffling for the Revolution, Heaps’ job won’t get much easier come the club’s next game on Oct. 20 against the Fire.
The central midfielder was cautioned twice for a pair of fouls on Union forward Antoine Hoppenot in the 86th and 88th minute, with the second leading to the subsequent red card ejection.
Although Feilhaber believes that referee Jorge Gonzalez was swayed by a pair of Union players’ appeals on the first caution, he fully admits that the second caution was a “stupid” play on his part.
“This one’s on me,” Feilhaber said after training on Wednesday. “It’s not a coaching decision. It’s one that I basically took myself out of the game by getting that red card. It’s disappointing, but you have to live in the present.”
Although midfielder Ryan Guy admitted that there’s “less to play for” now that the Revolution won’t be making postseason plans, he’s quick to point out that there’s still plenty at stake between now and the Oct. 27 season finale.
“We’re still fighting for our jobs and we’re still fighting for our positions,” Guy said after training on Wednesday. “Now, we’re looking to next year. Guys are going to be competing for spots and we’ve got new guys coming in all the time.”
With trialists entering the picture, and a number of players under the microscope, these final weeks of the season are going to be anything but easy. And that’s just fine by Guy.
Even though each of their final five games won’t carry as much weight as they did earlier in the summer, the fact is that no one’s ready to throw in the towel.
“At the end of the day, we’re all competitors,” Guy said. “We all love the thrill and hate the feeling of defeat.”
Picking their spots
With the high-charged Red Bulls in town on Saturday, Revolution head coach Jay Heaps knows his squad can’t throw caution to the wind.
While some clubs may look at New York’s gaping goals allowed average (1.69) and become wildly ambitious, expect the Revolution to take a disciplined approach instead.
“We have to find the right times to defend,” Heaps said after Wednesday’s training. “And when we do break, we have to find their pressure points.”
To do that, Heaps may rip a page from last week’s game against D.C. Although his club may have fallen short in the 2-1 loss, they hit a number of pressure points after collecting a club-record 28 shots on Saturday.
“I thought we did a nice job of that on Saturday (in D.C.),” Heaps said. “We dictated (much) of the flow of that game. But we have to finish our chances. Right now, it’s a matter of us getting a lot of quality chances, but just not taking them.”
Guy to Guam
Following Saturday’s game, Guy will be flying out to the Philippines for his first international match for Guam, which is playing in next week’s Paulino Alcantara Peace Cup at Rizal Memorial Stadium in Manila.
Guy, who hails from San Diego, Calif., is eligible to play for the island nation because his father, Jesse, was born there. And while the midfielder admits that he isn’t entirely familiar with his international teammates, he’s certainly looking forward to the experience.
“I’m excited,” Guy said. “I’ve really been a part of their culture since I’ve been going there basically every year of my life in some way to go visit my dad.”
Guy and his Guam teammates are slated to play three games next week: Tuesday, Sept. 25 vs. Philippines; Thursday, Sept. 27 vs. Taiwan; and Saturday, Sept. 29 vs. Macau.
While Guy doesn’t harbor any World Cup hopes for the squad, he is intrigued by the prospect of building the program from the ground up.
“As a new FIFA soccer nation, I think we’ve got a ton of potential,” Guy said. “We have a lot of young players. Hopefully, I can come in and (assume) a leadership role and really help them rise to the international rankings.”
In the first 17 games of the season, he’s watched his team not only employ the attacking style promised during his introductory press conference, but translate that style into results.
But even though the Revolution (6-7-4, 22 points) are a much improved squad this season, Heaps was hesitant to give a mid-season grade after Wednesday’s training hesitant.
“It’s hard to say where you are,” Heaps said. “We feel we’ve made progress but I think we want to be a better team than we’ve shown, at least better in the standings.”
The reason why the Revolution aren’t better in the standings? Simply put: team defense.
Earlier this season, the Revolution allowed late-game goals to Dallas (Apr. 5), D.C. (Apr. 14) and Houston (May 19) -- thus depriving the side of a potential four point climb. That, combined with poor first half performances in Toronto (Jun. 23) and against Seattle (Jun. 30), have kept the Revolution on the outside of the playoff picture.
Even so, Heaps is encouraged by the way the attack has sharpened. He is encouraged that the mistakes are starting to get cleaned up. In short, Jay Heaps sees the potential. The potential of team that, he believes, will be better in the second half.
“We’ve shown well,” Heaps said. “But we feel we can be higher in the standings. That’s a good feeling to have. We know we’re leaving points on the field and if we can correct those (mistakes), we should be in a better position.”
With Bobby Shuttleworth’s 2-0 shutout against New York on Sunday still fresh in the minds of many, Heaps was non-committal about the second-string keeper’s short-term future in the first XI.
On Sunday, Heaps said he wanted to give his regular keeper Matt Reis -- who played every minute between the sticks prior to Sunday -- a rest. Thus the door opened for Shuttleworth to get the nod.
But Heaps also mentioned that the timing of the surprise start wasn’t unrelated to Reis’ struggles against Toronto and Seattle.
“The mistakes we were making in the back were due to air balls,” Heaps said. “That happens to be one of Bobby’s strengths.”
In the interim, Heaps said that Shuttleworth’s performance will likely warrant some tough decisions on the goalkeeper front in the coming weeks.
“Bobby got in the game and did a very good job,” Heaps said. “Now, I think as we approach game day, we’ll start making those hard decisions on who starts in goal.”
A FAMILIAR FOE
For the second time in four weeks, the Revolution will play conference bottom-feeders Toronto FC on Saturday.
Although Toronto conceded two late goals in their 2-2 draw to the Revolution on Jun. 23 at BMO Field, they’ve been unbeaten in four of their last five (2-1-2) and are playing some of their best soccer of the season as of late.
In light of that, Revolution center back A.J. Soares assured the media on Wednesday that he and his teammates won’t be sleeping on their conference foe come Saturday.
“Their team is growing,” Soares said. “They’re becoming better every day. They’re not a team to take lightly, by any means.”
BUILDING HOME FORM
Since Day 1 of his tenure, Heaps has preached the importance of being strong at home. And it seems like that’s a lesson the Revolution are taking to heart.
With Sunday’s 2-0 win, the Revolution’s home mark went to 5-1-3 -- a record which left back Chris Tierney believes is affecting their opponents’ mentality even before stepping onto the Gillette Stadium field.
“We know that a lot of teams don’t want to come here, which is a good thing,” Tierney said after Wednesday’s training. “That’s the atmosphere we’re trying to create: making it a miserable place for opposing teams to come in and play and I think we’ve done that so far.”
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Following his first career coaching victory, it was evident that first-year head coach Jay Heaps invested a significant amount of emotion and energy during Saturday’s 1-0 win over Portland.
“I’m a little bit hoarse,” Heaps said following his first MLS coaching victory. “Because I think I played the game a little bit on the sideline.”
That statement shouldn’t come as a complete shock to those who followed Heaps during his playing days. Over his 11-year MLS career, Heaps’ fiery personality became his personal trademark. Whether it was jarring a ball loose near the net or pushing up to spark the attack, the speedy wingback left it all on the field after 90 minutes.
And while he might have traded his game jersey for a suit and tie, it was still the same Jay Heaps whom Revolution fans had come to known over the years. Passionate and intense as ever, especially after Saer Sene slotted home the decider only 28 seconds into the proceedings.
Normally, an early goal can allow a false sense of security to creep in. But Heaps wasn’t about to relax or take it easy with the advantage. He couldn’t. In less than a minute, his team went from hunter to the hunted against one of the toughest attacks in the league.
“When you get a goal like that, it releases stress,” Heaps said. “But then the game becomes hard because then they’re coming after you.”
And that’s exactly what Portland did. Facing the Revolution’s makeshift back four, the Timbers quickly put the opening goal behind them and began plotting the equalizer.
Kris Boyd exploited the space inside the defense and found a pair of tantalizing looks on frame. But his finishing was off all night, as the Timbers were often left to tread back up field empty handed.
Although the Revolution averted danger in the first half thanks to near-misses from Portland striker Kris Boyd, the Revolution knew that their opponent would continue to claw in the second frame.
“We knew they were going to throw everything they had at us,” Revolution left back Chris Tierney said. “(But) there’s times where you just have to be scrappy and bunker in and just try to hold on.”
Even though New England may have put the focus on the stopping Portland cold in its tracks, the Timbers found their fair share of chances in the second frame.
Second-half substitute Franck Songo'o injected new life into the attack and nearly grabbed the equalizer when his 85th-minute strike from distance scorched the gloves of Matt Reis.
It was the closest the Timbers came to leveling it. Even though the Revolution may not have played stout defense or created a bevy of attacking chances to widen the gap, the Revolution did just enough to preserve the victory and send the crowd home happy.
But the 12,925 fans that attended the game weren’t the only ones with smiles on their faces. After the game, Tierney was even happier to get the win for Heaps, his former teammate.
“We wanted to get this first win for Jay, that’s for sure,” Tierney said. “He’s brought in such a refreshing attitude in this locker room. This one is definitely for him. We’re behind him as a team and we really like the changes that he’s made so it’s great for him to get his first win.”
Even with his first coaching win on the resume, Heaps didn’t dwell on his own accomplishments. Rather, he gave his players all the credit for never quitting, even though they may have been outmatched for much of the match.
“Personally, it is gratifying,” Heaps said. “But it’s more (gratifying) seeing the looks on the guys’ faces. I think we’ve worked hard to get here. And tonight, I think it showed.”
As he exited the press room, it was clear that the first-year head coach had left it all out on the bench.
On Saturday, Jay Heaps coached the way he played: with every ounce of energy he had.
The Jay Heaps Era officially begins on Saturday when the Revolution step onto the field at Buck Shaw Stadium against the Earthquakes for the season opener.
Heaps, who was appointed head coach in November shortly after Steve Nicol parted ways with the organization, will be making his MLS coaching debut against a squad that beat the Revolution twice last year.
Even so, the Revolution will enter the game riding the momentum of a positive preseason under their new coach. The team went 6-0-1, and racked up wins against Real Salt Lake, Los Angeles and New York. Although Heaps admits that he doesn’t put too much weight into preseason results, there’s no denying that the victories served to bolster the squad’s confidence -- especially after last year’s dismal finish. And with 11 new faces on the squad this year, the re-tooled Revolution is anxious to put the 2011 season behind them.
Much like their adversary, the Earthquakes fell on hard times last year. Amid a season brimming with promise following a playoff in 2010, the Quakes stumbled right out of the gate and never fully recovered. Although striker Chris Wondolowski put together another All-Star caliber season (16 goals, 3 assists), the rest of the team was plagued by inconsistency. And after a 3-1-4 preseason record, it appears that the ‘Quakes may still have some kinks -- especially in the rear -- that may need untangling before they can return to their 2010 form.
Saturday marks the dawn of a new day, for both teams. With the records reset at 0-0-0, San Jose and New England are looking at the opener as the first opportunity to distance themselves from last season. So what will the Revolution have to do come out on top?
1. Set the tempo. With a successful preseason under their belts, there’s no excuse to come out tentative. The midfield needs to set the tone right after the opening whistle. Shalrie Joseph and Clyde Simms will need to assert themselves in the middle of the park and set up the outside wingers and forwards with accurate passes.
2. Close the gaps. If there’s one thing the Revolution has to continue to work on is shutting down passing lanes in front of its own net. But the onus shouldn’t fall on the defense alone. The midfielders will have to do their part to help out the back four when tracking back. After all, the best way to limit your opponent is to limit their options.
3. Play to the whistle. Last year, the Revolution was often guilty of easing up not only from the run of play, but in the waning minutes as well -- and their record (5-16-13, 28 points) reflected that. To avoid the same pitfalls, each of the 11 has to put forth their best from start to finish. Under Heaps, who preaches hard work and tenacity, anything less than full effort is unacceptable.
With a new coach introducing a fresh philosophy, Saturday’s opener will be the first of many tests. A test to find out where the team is after last season’s struggles. A test for the newcomers. A test for the rebuilt striking corps. A test for the Joseph-Simms central midfield.
Although the season may not be decided during the first week of the season, you can bet the Revolution are inclined to kick off the Jay Heaps Era on a positive note.
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.
After a dismal 2011 that saw them finish with a franchise-low five wins and a spot at the bottom of the Eastern Conference table, everyone from the players, management and fans was anxious to put the season behind them and look toward the future.
But before the organization could set its sights on the following season, it realized changes would have to be made.
The first -- and most dramatic -- was the decision to part ways with long-time manager Steve Nicol. Although the affable coach led the team to eight consecutive playoff appearances from 2002-2009, back-to-back losing seasons spelled the end of the Nicol Era in Foxboro less than three days after the season finale.
Following Nicol’s exit, the Revolution restructured its front office by tapping former COO Brian Bilello to succeed Sunil Gulati as President and naming former VP of Player Personnel Michael Burns to the general manager’s post. Though neither is a stranger to the organization, the appointments were designed to give the front office greater transparency.
The first order of business for the duo? Finding a new head coach. After weeks of interviews, the team went with another familiar face, former Revolution defender Jay Heaps. And while Heaps may not have been the most experienced candidate, his work ethic and modern approach to game preparation were enough for the organization to hand him the head coaching reins.
With only eight weeks to revamp the roster prior to the start of the preseason, Heaps hit the ground running. Veterans Pat Phelan, Ryan Cochrane and Kheli Dube had their options declined, while international signings Rajko Lekic, Milton Caraglio and Monsef Zerka were allowed to take their services elsewhere.
Meanwhile, Heaps and the front office made sure they locked up perennial All-Star Shalrie Joseph and the reliable Matt Reis for the 2012 season. With two proven veterans on board, the team began to build around them.
It started with the addition of midfielder Clyde Simms in Stage 2 of the Re-Entry Process. From there, the team added center back John Lozano and midfielder/forward Fernando Cardenas, both from Colombia. Then came the SuperDraft, which opened the door for the team to select the technically-sound Kelyn Rowe with the third overall pick.
But the moves didn’t end on draft day. To sharpen the attack up top, the team recruited another Colombian -- Jose Moreno -- and former Bayern Munich reserve striker Saer Sene. Although doubts were cast about Moreno after reports in Colombia surfaced that he wanted to remain in his native country, the Revolution insist that he will join the team shortly.
The moves worked wonders in the preseason as witnessed by the Revolution winning six of seven contests. And while the squad still has room to improve -- particularly on defense, where rookie Tyler Polak hasn’t taken over the left back spot as quickly as anticipated -- the team has claimed something it was desperate to find last year, confidence.
It may be too early to tell how the changes made in the winter will impact the Revolution in the spring and summer. But the returns thus far have been promising.
During the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup, a four-team preseason tournament, Rowe has shown the skills to be a game-changer. Lozano became a strong and steadying presence in the back. Simms has proven a capable partner alongside Joseph in the center. Sene has shown flashes of potential by getting into good positions. That, along with solid performances from Joseph, Reis and 17-year-old Homegrown sensation Diego Fagundez have brought a renewed sense of optimism to Foxboro in the aftermath of last season’s failures.
It’s taken a particularly active offseason to rebuild the Revolution -- so much so that Burns often quipped that there was no offseason for him and Heaps. But the parts that the pair has assembled -- including recently-signed midfielder/forward Lee Nguyen -- during the winter has put the squad in a position to extend their season come autumn.
The 2012 season is right around the corner. And for everyone involved, it’s about time.
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.