CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – The oft-labeled “Jay Heaps Era” took another significant step forward on Saturday night at Grande Sports World as the New England Revolution played its first official preseason match under the guidance of its new head coach, claiming a 2-1 win over Premier Development League side FC Tucson.
Sainey Nyassi and Kenny Mansally were the goal scorers for New England in the extended match, which featured a pair of 35-minute periods followed by a 45-minute period. The Revolution’s lineup remained largely the same for the first two periods, while an entirely new group of players took the field for the closing stanza.
“We had been working the intra-squad scrimmages about 60 minutes and we wanted to push a little bit further; we wanted to get 70 minutes for some guys,” said Heaps. “We broke (the first two periods into) 35 and 35 so it felt like a small little mini game within the bigger game and it worked out well because that was something we were trying to drive for.”
POSTGAME: Heaps, Nyassi & Feilhaber
Prior to the game, Heaps had established the Revolution’s compete level and the club’s ability to defend as a unit as two of the primary objectives against FC Tucson. Although the Revs were largely untroubled along the backline throughout the first 70 minutes, Heaps admits there’s plenty of work to be done before the season opener in San Jose on March 10.
“Good and bad,” he said when asked about the defensive performance. “I think there were times where we did it well and then we’d break down. It’s still a matter of our transition game right now. When we’re keeping it and keeping it, if we lose it, are we in a good enough position to make up for losing possession? Right now, the only time we get hurt is when we give the ball away.”
At the attacking end of the field, the catalyst was often third overall SuperDraft pick Kelyn Rowe, who started on the left wing and provided the assist on Nyassi’s opening goal. Rowe looked comfortable and composed just three days after arriving in camp following a stint with the U.S. Under-23 (Olympic) National Team.
Nyassi was active in a variety of roles, starting the first period in an unfamiliar forward position before switching back to his more natural role at right midfield for the second 35 minutes. Regardless of his spot on the field, Nyassi knows he’s expected to use his pace to stretch defenses and lengthen the field.
“All [coach Heaps] wanted me to do is run into spaces and get behind the defenders,” said Nyassi. “Since [forward] is a new role, I’ll just keep listening to the coaches and keep doing what they ask me to do.”
While the match provided a chance for some players to explore different roles – central midfielder Stephen McCarthy featured in central defense for the final 45 minutes – the most important takeaway was simply the experience of playing an outside opponent as the Revs took another step in their preseason preparation.
“There are still things we need to work on,” said Benny Feilhaber, who played 70 minutes two days after arriving in Casa Grande following his participation in the U.S. National Team’s January camp. “We’re happy with what we’ve been able to do in the first week or so and looking forward to continuing the process.”