SAN JOSE, Calif. – Saturday night will be an evening of firsts for the New England Revolution.
It’ll be the first game of the 2012 season as the Revs take on the San Jose Earthquakes at Buck Shaw Stadium. It’ll be the head coaching debut of Jay Heaps, the former defender who took the reins from longtime gaffer Steve Nicol back in November. And it’ll be the first official showcase of the new possession-oriented, attack-minded approach Heaps has been implementing for the past two months.
Glimpses of a more fluid playing style were evident throughout preseason, particularly in the Desert Diamond Cup as the Revs scored seven goals in a trio of wins over the LA Galaxy, New York Red Bulls and Real Salt Lake. But despite obvious steps in the right direction, the prevailing sentiment among players and coaches is that the method remains a work in progress.
“Some days you would love to watch us play and some days it’s like pulling your hair out, but we look forward to trying it out on Saturday and hopefully getting that win,” said Shalrie Joseph, one of the primary conduits through central midfield. “It’s going to take a little bit of time to work on, but it’s been very encouraging, very positive and everybody’s just looking forward to Saturday.”
“At times, it’s been very positive,” Heaps said of the new style. “We’ve shown that we have players on the field who, when they have the ball at their feet, can change the game and that’s what we really want to create. We also have good, strong, athletic players who can also get in behind. So we want to have kind of a one-two punch where we keep possession and we wear teams down, but then have the ability to get behind them.”
Both Benny Feilhaber and Kelyn Rowe have proven their ability as game-changers while playing primarily as wide midfielders with a propensity for pinching inside this preseason, while Joseph and central midfield partner Clyde Simms have controlled the middle of the field. A playing style which emphasizes keeping the ball on the ground tends to highlight strength in midfield, where the Revs have bulked up with several key additions.
But a possession-based approach starts in the back, where the defenders are encouraged to find the feet of their teammates in midfield as opposed to consistently searching for the long ball.
“It starts with the backline,” said central defender A.J. Soares. “We’re going to rely a lot on our center backs, our holding midfielder and our goalie to play possession, start it there and just build it up the field. We have good guys in the middle; Shalrie, Benny. I mean, those are the best right there that you can have in the midfield. So if we can do our job in the back with starting the possession, we know that we’re going to do a good job maintaining it.”
From back to front, the Revs have spent the past two months working tirelessly to forge a new identity and implement a fresh approach. On Saturday night, they’ll have their first chance to showcase the results of their hard work.
“We’re so excited and so looking forward to Saturday night,” said Joseph. “Even though it’s on the road, it feels good just getting our season started. Everybody’s just ready to get that first kick in and get a win on the road.”