A fresh start for a familiar face

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the March 26 game against D.C. United

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – When the New England Revolution takes the field for the 2011 home opener on Saturday, March 26, even the club’s most loyal fans may want to have a current roster handy.

An active offseason has seen a healthy amount of turnover in Foxborough, where the Revs are searching for a return to form after a disappointing 2010 campaign ended without a postseason berth for the first time in nine years. No fewer than 11 players have been added to the Revolution’s roster since the club last played a regular-season game in October, while eight have departed.

Rookies Ryan Kinne, Stephen McCarthy and A.J. Soares all saw significant minutes this preseason and could play prominent roles from the outset. International signings Michael Augustine, Franco Coria, Ousmane Dabo, and Didier Domi were brought in to provide a mix of youth and veteran leadership. Central defender Ryan Cochrane was selected in the Re-Entry Process, adding a championship pedigree to the backline.

It’ll take time to put names to faces with the Revolution’s raft of new players, but a few familiar returnees will also represent the Revs this season, not the least of which will be standing right between the pipes.

That’s right. Matt Reis is back.

Much like the Revolution, Reis had a 2010 season to forget. A fixture in the starting lineup from 2004-09, Reis – who turns 36 on Monday, March 28 – finally succumbed to major injury for the first time in his 13-year career, missing a total of 16 games as a result of three separate surgeries on his ankle, knee and shoulder.

“It was something that I’d never done before, missing that many games,” said Reis. “It was something new having to actually go into the training room, get treatment and do rehab. It was – and still is – a learning experience. As I get older, the body tends to break down a little bit easier, so I really need to maintain it, stay on top of it and make sure I’m doing all the right things.”

With seven weeks of preseason training under his belt, Reis certainly appears to be taking the necessary steps to stay healthy. The veteran goalkeeper looked sharp in four preseason appearances, including a pair of 90-minute performances against FC Dallas and the Columbus Crew.

Reis missed the final preseason game against the Houston Dynamo with tightness in his back, but his absence was merely a precaution, as evidenced by his return to full training two days later.

With his body holding up throughout a rigorous training camp, Reis is already thinking long term.

“Ideally, I’d like to play five more years and play until I’m 40,” he said. “As long as I’m helping the team and as long as I can stay healthy, I’d like to play as long as I can.”

Although he’s optimistic about his future, Reis isn’t getting ahead of himself. With a new season underway, his primary focus is on the here and now.

“My major goal for 2011 is to be healthy,” Reis said. “That’s going to be the overriding factor in everything that I do. I want to be out here every day like I have been in the past, contributing the way I’ve done in the past.

“One of the biggest things for a goalkeeper is (rhythm),” he continued. “If you get into a good rhythm and you feel comfortable, that’s when you’re playing your best. That usually comes from being in there all the time.”

The Revs would be well served to have Reis on the field for the entirety of the 34-game schedule, with history showing a clear correlation between Reis’ performance and the Revolution’s success.

While former players like Clint Dempsey, Jay Heaps, Pat Noonan, Michael Parkhurst, Steve Ralston and Taylor Twellman received much of the plaudits during the Revolution’s run to three straight MLS Cups from 2005-07, no one was more ever-present during that span than Reis. He was a finalist for Goalkeeper of the Year four straight times from 2005-08 while setting club records in every career goalkeeping category.

As such, it’s likely no coincidence the Revs suffered in 2010 without their reliable backstop. Reis played fewer than 2,000 minutes for the first time since taking over as the starting goalkeeper in 2004; the Revolution conceded a league-high 50 goals and missed the playoffs for the first time since 2001.

“The fact that he’s 100 percent is great,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “It just means you know that part of the team is going to be there the whole season. If he’s at his best – which I’m sure he will be – then I can tell you we’re not going to let as many goals in.”

Reis hopes 2011 brings a return to the form which helped him lead the Revs to three straight MLS Cup appearances, but he understands that the current crop of players need to form their own identity and escape the inevitable comparisons to Revolution teams of years past.

“Every year it’s a new team,” Reis said. “That’s the beauty of sports – every year is a new year.”

While 2011 begins with a clean slate and renewed optimism, Reis cautioned against forgetting the lessons learned last year. Although a large portion of the roster consists of new players who weren’t around for that frustrating campaign, Reis – who reached the playoffs in each of his first 12 professional seasons – hopes the sting of watching the postseason from home lingers as motivation for those returning.

“It should serve as a wakeup call for everybody here,” he said. “We have to push that much harder and we have to focus that much more, because it’s not good enough to miss the playoffs.

“It’s a long regular season, but the playoffs are what it’s all about,” Reis continued. “That’s where you win all the glory.”

The road to MLS Cup 2011 began on the last day of January, when the Revolution reported for the first day of preseason training camp. For the past two months, the Revs have worked tirelessly to integrate their new signings, form a cohesive unit and develop a suitable style of play.

Preseason results proved to be a mixed bag. The Revs opened with four consecutive wins and didn’t allow a goal until stoppage time of their fourth match, but closed their exhibition schedule with a pair of 3-1 losses.

Reis believes the staunch defensive approach the Revs displayed at the start of preseason is the key to success in 2011.

“There’s always going to be a lot of things that we need to work on because we have so many new people,” he said. “But as long as we’re all on the same page defensively and we make defending our top priority, we can always work on the other side of the ball. I’m a firm believer that defense wins championships and if you have a solid defense, anything can happen.”

That’s why training camp was particularly important for the Revolution’s revamped backline, which includes newcomers Cochrane, Coria, Domi and Soares. The new quartet complements the returning group of Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes and Seth Sinovic, along with the versatile duo of Zak Boggs and Chris Tierney.

“As a whole, as a team, we’re aware that we can’t give up cheap goals,” said Reis. “I think we did a lot of that last year with losing possession in bad spots and just giving teams opportunities to beat us. More times than not last year, we ended up beating ourselves and not really forcing teams to beat us.

“It’s really difficult to always play from behind and always chase the game,” he continued. “Hopefully we’ll be tighter this year and if a team comes in and beats us, then they beat us. But we’re not going to beat ourselves.”

Reis admits the young Revs are still a work in progress as they continue to improve even as the regular season kicks off, noting patience will be key in the early stages of a long season.

“It’s going to take a while,” he said. “It’s not going to be beautiful from the start, but hopefully we can get some results and make it a little bit easier on ourselves.

“It’s all new [players], so we have to forget about what’s happened in the past,” Reis concluded. “Hopefully people start talking about how from 2011 [onwards], the Revs were a very good team.”