FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Finishing games was a problem for the New England Revolution last season.
The Revs conceded 16 goals in the 75th minute or later, including eight game-winning or game-tying goals in the final 15 minutes. In one brutal three-game stretch between late August and early September the Revs saw second-half leads of 1-0, 2-0 and 4-1 slip away en route to a trio of demoralizing draws as they dropped crucial points late in the season.
Jay Heaps aims to reverse that trend in 2012 by turning his side into one of the fittest in the league, and the Revolution’s new head coach took a significant step in that process on Thursday afternoon by naming Nick Downing as the club’s first-ever strength and conditioning coach.
Downing, a former teammate of Heaps who made 17 appearances for the Revs from 2001-02, retired from professional soccer in 2004 and began a new career in the realm of physical fitness, earning his certification as a personal trainer in 2005. It’s that combination of experience as a professional soccer player and as a strength and conditioning expert which Heaps believes makes Downing the ideal candidate to whip the Revs into shape.
“He understands the soccer body,” said Heaps, who quipped that Downing was the only player to ever beat him in fitness drills. “He understands what it takes, the physical demands that a soccer player needs to play at the highest levels.”
Since his hiring, Heaps has emphasized his devotion to increased strength and conditioning, evidenced recently by the construction of a new Revolution-specific workout facility adjacent to the club’s locker room, complete with weights and cardio equipment. In a sense, the facility will serve as Downing’s office.
Along with Downing, Heaps wants to develop a regimen which prepares his players for all the rigors of a 90-minute soccer game, not one which simply provides the lung capacity to run in a straight line for two hours.
“We’re not just trying to get players into shape by blindly having them run [all] day,” said Heaps. “It’s going to be a more strategic approach to it. That’s where Nick and I have really started to work together on building how we’re going to train. What do the players need to be able to perform not only in game one, but game 34 and then going into the playoffs?”
It’s that long-term approach which necessitates an expert like Downing on staff in a full-time capacity.
“We’re not looking at it as can we get these players in shape by the end of preseason,” Heaps said. “We want to [ask] how do we get these players fit and how are we going to monitor them throughout the year so we’re hitting peak fitness at the right time?”