In 2012, the New England Revolution are pressing the reset button.
Not that the franchise necessarily needed a new beginning. Attendance has been relatively strong at Gillette Stadium/Foxboro Stadium since the program got off the ground in 1996 and the team has seen its fair share of success on the field, having appeared in four MLS Cup finals (2002, ’05, ’06, ’07).
But management felt the need to tweak, as former head coach Steve Nicol, who had led the Revolution for a decade, was let go after the team finished last in the MLS’s Eastern Conference.
Brought in for the fresh start at head coach was former Revolution star defender and New England native Jay Heaps. To some onlookers, the hire was a curious move as the 35-year-old Heaps has little head coaching experience.
“He’s a really dynamic guy and that’s what we were looking for,” said another fresh face in Brian Bilello, who was promoted to team president last November. “In our league, the rules change constantly. It’s not like the NFL where we’re drafting guys out of one geographical region each year.
There’s a lot of changing that goes on year to year and (Heaps) isn’t afraid to change the way he thinks about things.”
Heaps’ résumé is quite impressive despite the lack of head coaching experience. He was most recently working at Morgan Stanley’s private wealth division and has also been a color commentator for Revolution broadcasts since retiring from the game in 2009.
Heaps played soccer at Duke University before being selected No. 2 overall in the 1999 MLS Draft and was a pupil of legendary Blue Devils coach Mike Krzyzewski as he admittedly “rode the pine” on the basketball team during the late ’90s. But Heaps learned a great deal from the Hall of Fame coach every day and plans to practice many of his lessons.
“I want to emulate a lot of the things Coach K does,” Heaps told Metro. “His passion is the main thing and it’s contagious. I also love how blatantly honest he is. He doesn’t lie, he doesn’t BS you. He gives it to you straight and brings it every day, every night.”
Heaps has surrounded himself with an experienced coaching staff in hopes of returning the franchise to glory.
“There’s a realism to this fresh start,” Heaps said. “When things get a little stale, you bring in new faces and sometimes it calls for a rebirth. We need to find our own identity.”
3 players to watch this season for the New England Revolution
The Revolution had a season to forget last year, finishing with the fewest wins in the league (5) and tied for the fewest points (28). They had the third overall pick in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft, and used it on UCLA midfielder Kelyn Rowe. The 20-year-old Rowe looks to make an immediate impact on a Revs team that could use help across the board. A U.S. Under-23 National Team player, Rowe has been a huge reason the Revolution is 5-0-0 in preseason play. He has four goals and four assists to date, including both goals in the Rev’s recent 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls. This kid is the real deal.
If Rowe has a solid season for the Revs, he’ll be the second straight rookie to do so – with last season’s No. 6 overall pick, A.J. Soares, being the other. Soares, a defender, started 28 games for the Revs last season, logging a whopping 2464 minutes (high for a rookie). Standing at 6-feet, Soares isn’t a huge player, but will still use his body to win balls and isn’t afraid to get physical (two yellow cards, two red cards last season). After having minor surgery on his ankle that ended his season a few games early, Soares looks to be ready to go heading into the season.
Feilhaber is now the face of the Revolution, and for good reason. He was acquired through the MLS Allocation Process last season after he signed on to join MLS in April and was quickly snatched up by the Revs after two teams in front of them passed for reasons having to do with dollar figures. He has made 38 appearances with the U.S. National Team and was a member of the U.S.’ 2010 FIFA World Cup and 2008 U.S. Olympic team. Feilhaber, a midfielder, started 23 games last season for the Revs, scoring four goals and leading the team with seven assists. Those numbers will increase this season.