FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – One year ago in February, a New England Revolution defender was tipped for the MLS Golden Boot.
Sliding home a dramatic, 89th-minute winner in the 2023 season opener at Charlotte FC, center back Henry Kessler had kicked off the Revs’ new campaign with a dream start – and with a scoring tally of one goal in one game, earned playful predictions that he would finish the term as the league’s (record-breaking) top scorer, should he continue his perfect streak.
In the buildup to the game, the 25-year-old had set himself an aim of five goals for the year – but joining in the post-match fun, decided to raise his target to seven. Sadly, however, he would not find the net again in 2023, suffering a hamstring injury in April that sidelined the 2020 SuperDraft pick until October.
Returning just in time for the playoffs, Kessler clocked his first 90 minutes in seven months in the final postseason fixture against the Philadelphia Union. Though his comeback was frustratingly cut short, New England’s No. 4 vowed to work through the offseason to ensure he would enter 2024 in the best possible shape.
Now ready to hit the ground running – and with ‘targets’ the talk of the training center – the defender has renewed his New Year’s Resolution: to score more goals, with the help of new head coach Caleb Porter.
“It feels good to be back,” Kessler beamed. “It’s a little different – this is my first coaching change that isn’t interim professionally, so things are going to be a little different, and they already are. I’m getting used to that, but glad to be back.
“Literally the day after Caleb was hired, he called me. He was on top of it from the beginning. I had a good conversation with him. He said he wants to help me individually, and us collectively. We talked about my role – I’m hoping to have a bigger impact this year. First and foremost, stay healthy. Then, concede less obviously – that’s always the goal: as many clean sheets as possible – and then from there, increase my goal output.
“That was something I said to Caleb. He asked: ‘Is there anything I can help you with?’ and I said: ‘Yeah, I want to score more.’ So, he said: ‘Alright, I’ll try my best to help you with that.’ So, that’s one thing I want to improve on.
“For the first three weeks or so of offseason, I stayed here [at the training center], kept a rhythm. My first 90 minutes [after injury] was the second leg against the Union in the playoffs, so it was not ideal timing-wise, but I was glad to be fully healthy again, to able to play 90 minutes.
“So, I stayed around, did some work – some other guys were also around doing some fitness – then I went home for a little bit, and came back the day after Christmas to have a couple of weeks leading up to the start of preseason.
“It’s not the easiest thing [working during the offseason], but at the same time, during my surgeries when I was at home, guys were working. I think I spaced it out well – it wasn’t easy, but I did have some time away. I took a trip to London for a week, so I was able to get a vacation too, which was needed – maybe more mentally than physically.”
Kessler’s new chapter coincides with the new era unfolding at the Revolution with Porter having now taken the reins. The defender asserts the impact has been immediate, with positive changes in every department, as the new head coach looks to transform the club into a title-winning outfit, equipping the players with the best possible tools, expertise, and environment to enhance their performance.
“It’s been a good first couple of days,” the center back continued. “My first impressions are very good. I’m trying to think of the right word to describe it – ‘organized’ is one that comes to mind, ‘structured’ is another. There’s going to be a lot of that, and he’s expressed that he wants this to be the best training environment – everything off the field, he wants to be the best to help us to be the best on the field.
“It’s different. There are small differences, but they do feel like something different, so they add up. It’s not only Caleb – he’s not the only change: we have ‘Fede’ [Federico Pizzuto] in the gym. Caleb has raved about him – said he’s the best sports performance in the league. We have many staff members coming back, but it is a different feel.
“I’ve been impressed with the sessions so far – there’s a purpose to everything. It’s: ‘here, we’re doing this small drill so we can work on this big idea,’ or: ‘we’re competing in this space, so we can translate it onto a big pitch.’ Everything has a purpose, that’s number one. Then, to the plan – the preseason plan is written out, and we have probably two months written out for one periodization of our load (how much we’re running and stuff).
“Every day has a designed load – how much we’re supposed to run – and then tactically: ‘Today, we’re working on offensive organization in the back third,’ or building out; then the next day, it’s defensively. It’s very organized, structured, and built out for several weeks in advance.
“Tactically, it’s very organized. He said he has an identity of how he wants to play, he said he didn’t want to change too much. He definitely has his own style, and a formation idea, but depending on certain games, that will change.
“We went over a few phases of play so far, and then we did some competing stuff. Build out, we’re going to have an identity in the back third, middle third and attacking third. Defensively, we will have an identity as well – how we want to press – and that can change. Game-to-game, he said it won’t be exactly the same, but the principles for the most part will be. I think it will be a good preseason, and a good season.”
When it comes to the question of collective targets, Kessler’s response is emphatic: ‘the MLS Cup.’
Reflecting on last year’s conclusion, the defender admitted he felt the team had ‘left something on the table’ – but with much of the roster unchanged, and now bolstered by the signings of Jonathan Mensah, Nick Lima and Henrich Ravas, the 25-year-old believes the new campaign could prove to be the most memorable yet.
“We want to win as much as we can," he added. "We’re competing for everything.
“It’s a fairly similar roster [to last year] with some good additions as well. We’ve added Jonah, who is a great addition, as well as Nick Lima. Ema just re-signed, we’re excited to have the new ‘keeper Ravas. It’s super important to have guys like that.
“All the guys are contributing. It’s been good to have young faces around training. They’re doing really well. The Academy has done well to get guys to Revs II who have then progressed to the first team, so it’s been good to see. I had Peyton Miller on my small-sided team, and we won every game. I thought he did well there.
“The roster is very good. Caleb said that was part of the reason why he decided to come here – that he believed in us already, and he thought he could make us better, so the expectations are high.”