TUCSON, Ariz. – Nine players have started both of the New England Revolution’s first two matches in the Desert Diamond Cup – a pair of wins over LA and New York – but head coach Jay Heaps is expected to run out an entirely different lineup when the Revs close out group play on Wednesday night against Real Salt Lake.
Heaps has repeatedly stated his desire to get the bulk of his starting group on a Saturday-centric schedule by carefully managing minutes as the Revolution heads toward the season opener next weekend in San Jose. Those players who played the full 90 minutes this past Saturday night against New York – a group which includes Benny Feilhaber, Shalrie Joseph, Matt Reis and Kelyn Rowe – are not expected to take the field against RSL. Instead, they’ll focus on preparing for this upcoming Saturday’s championship or consolation match.
Two potential starters could see game action on Wednesday, however, as both Kevin Alston (R calf) and A.J. Soares (R knee) are expected to make their Desert Diamond Cup debuts after being held out of the first two matches for precautionary reasons. Ryan Guy (R calf) will also return for his first preseason action after missing more than a month through injury.
That trio will be joined by many of the players who haven’t seen significant minutes this preseason and a group of unsigned training camp participants as Heaps continues to assess his roster. At the present time, the Revolution still has multiple roster spots available.
“It’s an important identification process time right now,” said Heaps. “Some guys are fighting for spots, some guys are fighting for contracts, guys are trying to get in the starting lineup or getting back from injury. So tomorrow night there are lots of different kinds of themes going on for the players who are playing.
“Then obviously we don’t want to push the guys who got a lot of minutes (against New York),” he added. “It would be too many minutes playing on Wednesday night, so we have to give the right rest.”
While Heaps continues to analyze the current crop of unsigned training camp participants – including recent additions Austin da Luz and Bobby Devyne – he admits his staff, along with General Manager Michael Burns, is in the final stages of shaping out the roster.
“We’re down to the final one or two spots, but those are big spots,” Heaps said. “I’ve said from the beginning that I want our group to get better (from roster spots) one through 28, so whether it’s 28 or one, you want to make sure you give it its due time, make sure you spend some quality time and process making sure they fit in for the right reasons.
“Is it going to be a done roster for the year? No,” Heaps added. “But we’re getting close to the opener, so the players who’ve been on trial, the players who’ve been around, we want to make the right decisions on those guys.”
Although Wednesday night’s match will be used primarily to get minutes for those returning from injury and assess those players who haven’t seen significant action thus far this preseason, Heaps is aware the result of the game directly affects whether his side will play in the championship or consolation match of the Desert Diamond Cup on Saturday night.
A win or draw against RSL would ensure the Revs a spot in the championship match, and while it’s far from Heaps’ top priority during preseason preparation, it’s an objective his competitive nature won’t allow him to completely ignore.
“As a coach, you have to learn how to kind of temper those expectations a little bit,” Heaps said. “But always as a player, no matter what it was, whether it was kick the can or ping pong, you wanted to win no matter what. Doesn’t matter if it’s a preseason game; you’re going to give everything you have.”