Welcome (Back) to the Fold
(Courtesy of New England Soccer Today)
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Flanked by the men who hired him, newly-appointed head coach Jay Heaps spoke confidently about the immediate changes that need to take place in order to return the New England Revolution back to respectability.
“Fundamentally, a few things have to change right off the bat,” said Heaps as President Brian Bilello and General Manager Michael Burns looked on. “One thing is game preparation. What we do as a team throughout the week – we’re going to look at ourselves – (and) we’re going to see what we’ve done wrong through the past week and how we can change that, then implement a game plan and see what advantages we can take from video and impose our will on other teams.”
It’s been awhile since the Revolution regularly imposed their will on the competition. Since the club’s last postseason berth – back in 2009 – the team has only claimed 14 victories in their last 64 games. To say that a change was due would be an understatement.
Recognizing that, the organization parted ways with longtime manager Steve Nicol and the search for a head coach that would act as a catalyst for change commenced. But even though the team spoke to a variety of candidates, Heaps shined as a leading candidate right from the start.
“We liked what he had to say in terms of what changes he felt were needed to make our team better,” said Burns. “He also has a very keen understanding of MLS, in terms of the players that are out there. When you factor all that in, he ended up being our first choice.”
Despite his lack of MLS coaching experience, Heaps’ understanding of the league was certainly to his benefit in the interviewing process. In the past, Nicol relied on the college drafts and the international waters to bolster his roster – with mixed success in recent years.
With proven talent available within MLS, Heaps hopes to utilize his knowledge of the league to enhance – via trades, free agency, and the re-entry draft – the core group of players already in place and steer the Revolution back to the postseason.
“I’m a big believer that you have to build upon a nucleus of players,” said Heaps. “We need more from that core (already in place), but we’re going to add to this core and we’re going to go forward and bring in players that strengthen that core.”
In addition to strengthening that core, Heaps also hopes to utilize some resources that his predecessor may not have invested in. Some of those resources include video analysis, advance scouting, as well as a new approach toward strength and conditioning.
“I want to make sure,” said Heaps. “That we will not be outworked and we will not be outsmarted.”
Another area he’d like to see the team improve upon is its propensity to attack – something the team seemed to shy away from at times last season, especially when holding a lead.
“I don’t want (us) to sit back and play too conservative,” said Heaps. “I want to make sure that we have the mindset that we’re going to go forward and we’re going to attack.”
Instituting these changes would be a challenge for anyone, let alone a first year head coach. But no man is an island. During Wednesday’s press conference, Heaps reflected on the coaches that have helped mold his coaching ideologies.
“One thing that I’ve been very blessed with, was that I could learn from people,” said Heaps, citing Duke men’s basketball coach Mike Krzyzewski, who brought Heaps into his championship-caliber program as a walk-on in 1995, as one of many influences. “I had unbelievable coaches. No question where I am today, (it’s because) I have taken a lot from what I’ve learned.”
The lessons learned from the likes of Krzyzewski, former Miami Fusion manager Ray Hudson, and Nicol will certainly guide Heaps as he endeavors into coaching. And while there will certainly be instances when Heaps will have no choice but to learn on the job, Burns is certain that his newest hire will rise to the challenge.
“I don’t feel Jay knows any way other than to be successful,” said Burns. “I have no doubt that he’ll be a successful coach.”