Changing of the guard

The following story was published in the Revolution’s “Match Day” program for the March 24 game against the Portland Timbers

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – “Change” was a buzzword which became synonymous with the New England Revolution this past offseason.

In essence, the organization was overhauled from top to bottom. There were changes in the front office, where Brian Bilello and Michael Burns took on new roles as the club’s President and General Manager, respectively. There were changes to the coaching staff, where legendary defender Jay Heaps replaced longtime gaffer Steve Nicol as head coach and subsequently added Jay Miller (assistant) and Nick Downing (strength and conditioning) to his staff. There were extensive changes to the roster, as well, with more than a dozen new players brought on since the end of the 2011 campaign.

Even the locker room wasn’t safe from the alterations; upgraded facilities – including brand new spaces for weight training and video analysis – were installed to aid the club’s preparations. And although it was more a product of the league’s natural two-year cycle for new uniforms, it seems fitting that the Revs will take the field for the home opener against the Portland Timbers wearing completely remodeled jerseys.

“When you only win five games, you have to be open to anything,” said veteran goalkeeper Matt Reis. “Obviously what we were doing towards the end (of Nicol’s tenure) wasn’t working for us and it was time for a change.”

Reis is perhaps the antithesis of the Revolution’s offseason overhaul. The 36-year-old shot stopper enters his 10th season in New England as the club’s all-time leader in every goalkeeping category and is one of the most recognizable personalities in the entire league. He’s been a fan favorite at Gillette Stadium for almost a decade and is one of the last remaining links to the Revolution side which appeared in three straight MLS Cups from 2005-07.

But to quote Bob Dylan, the times they are a-changin’ in Foxborough. Of the 14 players who took the field for New England in the season opener against San Jose, only Reis, captain Shalrie Joseph and defender Kevin Alston were with the Revs prior to the 2011 season, and Alston was drafted in 2009. Half of those 14 players made their Revolution debuts against the Earthquakes.

Although it’s unquestionably a different atmosphere for Reis – who was coached by Nicol for each of his first nine seasons with the Revolution – the changes have been welcomed with open arms.

“It’s unfortunate, but it was something that had to happen,” said Reis. “With only winning five games last year it kind of gave everybody a wakeup call that we have to start doing things a little bit differently. Thank goodness the front office and ownership group decided to make some drastic changes and I think that they’re going to work out in the long run.”

While long-term success and an eventual return to championship caliber is the ultimate goal, Reis has already noticed results in the first few months of 2012. Although the group around him – including goalkeeper coach Remi Roy and fellow goalkeepers Bobby Shuttleworth and Tim Murray – has remained intact, Reis notes an increased focus on fitness and video analysis as critical changes moving forward.

“One big key is the addition of Nick Downing as a strength and conditioning coach, giving us that aspect of the game, covering that and making sure that we’re fit,” said Reis. “It’s not only just running us, but sometimes some players need to take a little break and that’s something they can analyze with that data and see those kinds of things.

“The other thing is the use of video,” he added. “We didn’t really do that at all with Stevie. Jay’s very much into a lot of that analysis … I think a lot of good things can come of that, not only [analyzing] our opponents, but (also) looking at ourselves. And not only looking at the bad, but (also) looking at the times that we do good stuff.”

The Revs are a youthful team with 20 players on their roster aged 26 years old or younger. But Reis – the oldest player on the roster by more than three years – rejects the notion that this is a team built for the future. Instead, he’s prepared to win in the here and now.

“The way this league’s set up with the parity and all the extras that you get when you don’t make the playoffs and you have been struggling, you do get allocation money and you do get top draft picks,” Reis pointed out. “So it really is set up that you can turn around and come right back.

“If you look at the last couple years, there’s been a lot of teams which have been out of the playoffs and come back to win MLS Cup,” he added. “We didn’t have to make complete and total revamp changes and we’ve done a good job bringing in new blood.”