FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The New England Revolution officially opened preseason training camp on Monday morning at the Dana-Farber Field House, bringing an end to the longest offseason in recent memory.
It’s been more than three months since the Revs closed out their 2010 schedule with a 2-0 loss to the New York Red Bulls on October 21, representing a disappointing end to a frustrating season in which the club missed out on the playoffs for the first time since 2001. The Revolution finished sixth in the Eastern Conference, registering a club record low for goals scored (32) and conceding a league-high (50) at the other end of the field.
While the new campaign calls for a fresh beginning – the Revs have already signed five new players and more additions are in the pipeline – the memories of last season’s letdown remain entrenched in the minds of the Revolution’s returning players, who plan to use those unpleasant memories as motivation for 2011.
“You always have something to prove when you don’t live up to your expectations,” said defender Darrius Barnes, now essentially one of the Revolution’s veteran players entering his third year in New England. “I believe this team has huge expectations. This club’s about getting to the playoffs and winning championships, and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
Prior to their early exit last season, the Revs had reached the playoffs for eight consecutive years – every year since head coach Steve Nicol took over in 2002 – including four MLS Cup appearances in a six-year stretch from 2002-07. Although the Revolution fell short of an MLS Cup title on all four occasions, the club developed a winning culture and was widely considered one of Major League Soccer’s model organizations.
That reputation took a hit when the Revolution was ousted in the first round of the playoffs in 2008 and 2009 before missing out on the postseason completely in 2010. Now the Revs are committed to restoring that image and returning to the lofty heights of years past in 2011.
“Last season was uncharacteristic of this club,” said Pat Phelan, an Enfield, Conn., product who grew up following the Revolution. “It’s just not acceptable from an organization standpoint and from a player standpoint. It’s a long preseason and we’ve got a long way to go, but I think the attitude’s definitely going to be there this year.”
Another of the club’s local products, Wellesley, Mass., native Chris Tierney, echoed Phelan’s thoughts on the mentality entering the new campaign.
“Collectively we’re going to have a little bit of a chip on our shoulder because last year is just not what this organization is about,” he said. “We’re about making the playoffs and going deep into the playoffs. I think we have the players and the setup here to do so, so it’s up to us to put it right.”
A redemption-fueled mindset is to be expected from those players who lived through the frustration of last season, but the Revolution’s newest players – including one in particular – have already adopted a similar approach.
Rookie defender A.J. Soares reached the NCAA Tournament in each of his first two seasons at the University of California, but the Golden Bears disappointed during his junior year and missed out on the postseason following a 9-8-1 record. Due in large part to Soares’ leadership, Cal rebounded with a strong showing the following year, advancing all the way to the NCAA quarterfinals before falling to eventual national champion Akron in penalty kicks.
“I know the mentality of the team is going to be to fight and get back to that (winning) place,” said Soares the day he was drafted sixth overall at the 2011 MLS SuperDraft. “When you’re a winning team and you drop off – I had that exact experience at Cal … so I know the feeling and I’ll have that same feeling that the (returning) players have. I know that I’ll fit right into the team to get back to winning ways.”
Much of the Revolution’s potential progression this season will be forged in the upcoming weeks, when the club heads to Orlando, Fla., and Kennesaw, Ga., for a pair of 11-day training trips. The Revs will simultaneously continue to shape their roster, which will be infused with a surplus of fresh faces by the time the season kicks off on March 20 in Los Angeles.
While it remains to be seen what will happen between the start of the camp and the season opener against the Galaxy, those returning players aiming to prove themselves are confident 2011 will be different.
“We have a young team and a lot of new faces in here,” Barnes admitted. “But I think it’s going to be great to turn over a new leaf, get things started and get things back right.”