FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution defender Henry Kessler says he could not be happier to have committed his immediate future to the club.
The center back, selected by the Revs in the first round of the 2020 MLS SuperDraft, has put pen to paper on a two-year extension through 2025 with the option of adding a further year.
Celebrating a memorable few days, which also saw the 25-year-old make a welcome return to action following a lengthy injury layoff, Kessler expressed his delight to have extended his stay at Gillette Stadium, and spoke of his excitement to compete in the team’s 2023 Audi MLS Cup Playoffs charge.
“It feels really good,” he smiled. “I’m really happy to be here for more years, and I’m very excited. It’s a great feeling.
“I’ve loved it here, and I’m glad to be here for longer. I’ve been here for four years now, and I feel like that was yesterday, really. I’ve grown a lot in maturity on and off the field. There have been a lot of things I’ve learned – whether that’s from coaches or teammates – and I feel I’ve developed a lot.
“I’ll still have a [University of] Virginia coach [in Clint Peay] – the apple doesn’t fall too far from the tree – but it’s the organization. It’s not just the coaching staff, not just the Virginia connections – it’s everything that goes into it: this beautiful training complex, it’s all of it.
“Right now, this is the right step for me.”
The Revs’ top pick in the 2020 SuperDraft (6th overall), Kessler has gone on to become a fan favorite at the club, tallying 72 starts in 79 league appearances, scoring four goals. The center back had started every game of the 2023 campaign, earning deserved recognition with two MLS Team of the Matchday inclusions, before unfortunately suffering a hamstring injury in April’s visit of CF Montréal.
Now back in contention, having been introduced from the bench at halftime of Saturday’s trip to Orlando City SC, the defender is ready to kickstart his fourth season in Foxborough, eager to make an impact in the Revs’ playoff push.
“I’m really glad to be back,” he added. “It’s been a long five-and-a-half months. It’s been tough mentally and tough physically, and it’s the first long-term injury I’ve had.
“Generally, soccer is my outlet, so when you take that away, it’s frustrating. It’s frustrating for my entire life – it’s not just my job; it’s a big portion of my life. You're in a different position – you watch the games from the stands, and it's not the same as being in the locker room – so it's a different feeling.
“Just traveling against Orlando, I didn't know how much I was going to play, but just being back in the locker room, back with the guys, it was great.
“It's been a learning process and hopefully, I'll get better from this, but I try not to feel sorry for myself because there are guys dealing with worse injuries ... My injury, relative to that, was still serious, but not as bad. Maybe it's a blessing in disguise – it's not easy to see now but maybe in the future, changing certain regimens that I'm using, stretching could benefit me in the long run.
“It was difficult, but it feels really good to be back out there, even if I’m still shaking off some rust. It feels great.
“It's really exciting. It's an important time for the team, an important time for myself. I feel like the timing is good – if it was just one week later, it’s like: ‘Only two games left, does he get in before the playoffs?’
“That Orlando game was crucial for me, and hopefully, I’ll get into a rhythm before the playoffs start.”
Revs interim head coach Peay highlighted the significance of the center back’s return as a major boost to the squad’s postseason hopes. With two regular season matches left and a game in hand over their top six rivals, New England are still chasing a top-four finish in the Eastern Conference, in a bid to claim homefield advantage in the playoffs.
Also a former University of Virginia defender, Peay noted Kessler’s best qualities, declaring the 25-year-old one of the club’s most important signings in recent years.
“It’s tremendous. It means a lot [to have him back],” he remarked. “He leads by example, he’s a positive guy around the locker room, and I think the team is always better when he’s on the field.
“First and foremost, he’s a competitor. He reads the game well, he’s a lockdown defender one-v-one; he’s strong in the air and the box.
“He’s quite young still, so you’ve got some good years ahead of you with him – you can build the foundation of the defense around a guy like that, so he was a critical signing for the club.”
Midfielder Mark-Anthony Kaye lined up alongside Kessler for the first time in competitive action in Orlando.
Having joined the club in July from Toronto FC, the Canada international has not had much time to work closely with his new teammate, but Kaye has been impressed with what he has seen so far from his defensive counterpart.
“It’s good,” Kaye stated of Kessler’s return. “He gives a sense of composure in the back, he’s comfortable on the ball, he’s got a big presence, so that’s an added boost.
“The more guys you can get healthy and fit in time for the playoffs, the better for the team.
“We’re excited to have him back, and I’m glad he’s worked so hard to get back on the field.”
Though much has changed on and off the pitch during Kessler’s absence, New England’s end-of-season target has remained the same: to mount a strong challenge in the playoffs.
Though the defender has been forced to watch from the sidelines in the midst of a testing period for the team, the 25-year-old believes the squad have what it takes to rekindle the form that had initially ignited the talk of MLS Cup glory.
“It’s been a long time, so a lot has changed since I last played,” Kessler continued. “It’s always hectic towards the end of the year with teams fighting for points, whereas earlier in the season, teams are trying to figure it out.
“Earlier in the season, we were in really good form, and even in the middle, we had a good run. We need to get back to that, and then the sky’s the limit.
“We’ve got a great roster – obviously we have some injuries, which hurts us, and some guys on international duty this week, but that shows our quality that this group has, and so I think we’ve got a lot of potential.
“It’s going to be an adjustment but I’m up for it. I’m so glad to be here. Thank you for having me back. I love all of the fans, and I’ve missed them while I was gone. I’m glad to be back playing in front of them.”