FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Last season served as a transition period for the New England Revolution.
After 10 years under the guidance of Steve Nicol, first-year head coach Jay Heaps took the reins in 2012 and immediately set out to change the culture within the organization. The players changed. The playing style changed. Even the locker room changed.
Slowly but surely, the results changed a bit, too. The Revs raised their point total from 28 (2011) to 35 (2012), while they almost doubled their win total from five (2011) to nine (2012). Progress was modest, but evident.
“On day one last year we wanted to create a culture where we outwork, outthink and out-prepare (our opponents); that will lead us to outplay,” said Heaps. “That’s our motto as a team.
“This year, as we continue to add pieces to it, we want to continue to reiterate that culture of coming to work every day and giving everything you have, but with thoughtful process behind it by making sure that we prepare and by making sure that we’re ready for every game.”
With Heaps now entering his second season, 2013 is less about transition and more about results. And after missing out on the postseason for three straight years, a return to the MLS Cup Playoffs is step number one.
According to veteran utility man Chris Tierney, it’s a realistic goal for a side which suffered 15 one-goal losses and played to eight draws last season.
“I don’t think we’re making any mistake about it; our goal this year is to make the playoffs,” he said. “We definitely improved last year, but I still felt that there were a lot of points that we left out there on the table. If we take that next step – start taking three (points) when we took one, or taking one when we took zero – those things add up.”
One area in which the Revs are markedly improved in 2013 is depth. Not only will New England always have players ready to step up when teammates fall prey to injury – guaranteed during the course of a 34-game season – but the club has constant competition for every spot on the field. Every day is a battle for playing time and every player knows there’s somebody else hungry to take their minutes, which pushes everyone to peak performance.
The Revs are hoping those factors push them over the hump and back into the postseason, where they had a remarkable run of eight straight appearances from 2002-09. But while long-term goals have been established, short-term accomplishments are the only way to reach them. As such, the journey back to the playoffs begins on Saturday night when the Revs open their 2013 season against the Chicago Fire.
“Of course we want to make the playoffs; that’s the goal every single year,” said A.J. Soares. “But it’s one game at a time. Our focus right now is Chicago. You can’t jump any steps. Especially in this league where everyone’s competitive, you have to look at every single game like it’s the most important game on your schedule.”