FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – With another U.S. Open Cup campaign set to begin next Wednesday night, the New England Revolution are looking to last year’s early exit for a bit of motivation.
The Revs were eliminated at this stage – the Fourth Round – last June, falling 1-0 to the Charlotte Independence (USL) in front of their home fans at Harvard’s Soldiers Field Soccer Stadium. It’s a memory that head coach Jay Heaps said will feel fresh next week when the Revs visit the Carolina RailHawks.
“It should (serve as motivation); with all of us it does,” Heaps said. “We as a staff were really disappointed. The longer you go in the Open Cup, the better it is for guys to blend out the roster and have something to compete for every week.”
For MLS sides dealing with fixture congestion the early rounds of the Open Cup have typically featured mixed lineups of everyday starters and reserves, and that will likely be the case when the Revs visit the RailHawks next week, just three days before a regular-season visit to the Vancouver Whitecaps.
Many of the players who get an opportunity to take the field at WakeMed Soccer Park will have an individual point to prove, and the platform to prove it. And a solid performance in the Open Cup could potentially lead to more regular-season minutes, and a more regular place in the lineup.
Heaps pointed to the example of former Revolution midfielder Jeff Larentowicz, who cut his teeth in the Open Cup before becoming a mainstay in New England’s midfield for four seasons.
“I always look at these games as something that’s really important for players that are on the cusp, players that are dying for minutes and players that maybe are playing in first-team games who are being shuffled in and out of the lineup,” Heaps said. “This is the opportunity and you want them to take it.”
That doesn’t mean, however, that the Revs will put out a lineup devoid of regular starters. Although the Revs return to league action next Saturday in Vancouver, their 18-day break from games between May 28 and June 15 should mean players are fresh enough to feature in both matches.
“We’re excited about the opportunity to play in Carolina,” said Heaps, who faced the RailHawks in the Open Cup during his playing days and spent preseasons at WakeMed Soccer Park. “We’re going to go in there with a really competitive team.
“Obviously we’re mindful of what we have on the weekend, but at the same time, we feel that we have guys who are fit and can play minutes on Wednesday, and resume minutes on Saturday, as well.”
Helpful for the Revs in that regard was the schedule change that moved their meeting with D.C. United from June 22 to June 25. Now, instead of having three road games in an eight-day stretch, they’ll have a full week to recover between their trips to Vancouver and Washington, D.C.
And that could mean a stronger lineup on Wednesday night in North Carolina.
“We can push the guys a little bit harder for both games,” said Heaps. “The reality is we’re not going directly from Vancouver to D.C. – now we have that little bit of a break, so we can get guys back in. If we have to extend guys minutes on Wednesday so they can also extend minutes on Saturday, we’re going to look into doing that.
“There are some young players that we want to get an opportunity. Right now we feel that we’re as deep as we’ve been in a little while, and we have a good group that can go and try to get the game on Wednesday in Carolina.”