FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – You could consider the New England Revolution one of the teenagers of MLS; youthful, energetic, occasionally unpredictable and full of optimism for the future. The next generation, you could say.
And like a teenager, the club has spent much of the past two seasons under head coach Jay Heaps forming a distinctive personality, identifying the characteristics which make the Revolution wholly unique. To use a customary teenage cliché, the Revs have been finding themselves.
Two years after he was hired, Heaps believes that picture is coming into focus.
“It was a lot about developing the players that we had, developing a culture, developing a style of play and how we got there is important,” Heaps said. “We’re just now finding our identity.”
The Revs have been dubbed by national media as one of the most entertaining teams in MLS, showcasing a free-flowing attacking style which encourages fluid movement amongst a wave of dynamic midfielders and forwards. Wingers and central midfielders interchange freely to unsettle opposing defenses and create gaps in the line.
Defensively the Revs have used a collective approach to establish themselves as one of the stingiest sides in the league. Recent additions like captain Jose Goncalves and top overall SuperDraft pick Andrew Farrell helped shore up the backline, but every player on the field has bought into the mantra of team defending.
It’s the type of identity Heaps wanted to establish all along, but he knew it required a process, not an edict.
“The coach can’t stamp and say, ‘This is our identity’,” Heaps said. “I really believe the best identities come organically from within. So as a coach, you try to bring out the right identity, but it’s the players and how they play every day, how they act, the character that they have within that really establishes and cements the identity.”
A big step in the process was settling on a system to nurture a specific style of play. After tinkering with variations of the standard 4-4-2 and 4-5-1 throughout 2012 and early in 2013, Heaps ultimately developed a hybrid 4-3-3 setup, which plays more like a 4-1-4-1 when the Revs are in a defensive posture.
Identifying a system has allowed the entire roster to establish a defined role within the team’s structure.
“We have a way in which we want to play,” said Heaps. “It changes, of course, here and there. But the players that have established themselves in our locker room have really good character and really good commitment to this team. I think that’s vital.”
Reaching the MLS Cup Playoffs this past season was the most tangible sign of the Revolution’s maturation and perhaps an indication that the club is growing out of its teenage years and into its prime.