CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – One objective trumps all others for the New England Revolution when the club faces its first external test of the 2012 preseason on Saturday night against Premier Development League side FC Tucson.
“I want to make sure that we compete, first and foremost,” said head coach Jay Heaps, who gained a reputation as a battler during his playing days. “Anywhere you go, at any level, at any time, that’s one thing that [our coaching staff] has instilled: you have to compete. That’s whether you’re playing a 5-v-2 game (in training) or an opponent. So as a baseline, we want to compete on every level.”
Heaps has used the first week of the Revolution’s 11-day training stint at Grande Sports World to assess the current roster, begin forging a group identity and implement the foundation for a new attack-minded style of play. The players have typically been run through two training sessions each day and had a pair of opportunities – on both Tuesday and Thursday night – to play full-field intra-squad scrimmages.
Now Saturday night affords Heaps his first chance to see the fruits of his labor as the Revs look to carry over what they’ve practiced on the training ground into a game situation against FC Tucson.
“How are we defending as a group? Are we doing things that we can control?” Heaps said when asked what he’d be looking for from the Revs on Saturday. “You can’t always dictate the pace of the game. You can’t always dictate if you score a bunch of goals. But the fundamentals of defending as a group, those have to translate from practice into the game.”
While defensive shape will be a key focus against the PDL newcomers, so, too, will be the Revolution’s ability to maintain possession, an area in which the club struggled throughout the 2011 campaign. Special attention has been paid to addressing that aspect of the game in the early stages of preseason.
“Possession and a more attacking style of play is something Jay’s preached this offseason and thus far in camp,” said Chris Tierney. “If we can continue to progress and get better at passing, moving and keeping the ball, I think that’ll be a good step towards getting us where we want to be.”
The Revs didn’t play their first preseason match against outside competition until February 18 last season, just one month before taking on the LA Galaxy in the 2011 season opener. This year New England will get a head start as the club prepares to face the San Jose Earthquakes on March 10 at Buck Shaw Stadium.
According to Heaps, the timing is right.
“Tomorrow’s a good first external test to play against different people,” he said. “You get to line up and compete against somebody else. Whether that means challenging or out-jumping, you’re not doing it with the same guys, you’re going against a different opponent. The guys need that at this point.”