FOXBOROUGH, Mass. - While the rest of MLS gets set to kick off the regular season this weekend, the New England Revolution quietly wrapped up its preseason camp behind closed doors on Saturday.
Given a first week bye, head coach Jay Heaps organized a closed-door, intra-squad scrimmage – which lasted 60 minutes – to keep his team’s fitness sharp.
Additionally, he wanted to use the scrimmage to provide one last chance to those battling for spots inside the gameday 18 before the regular season.
“I always wanted the players to play out that competition rather than having it being decided a little too early,” Heaps said after the scrimmage. “You saw it happening today where guys were fighting.”
They had every reason to. Saturday’s scrimmage was no hastily-assembled affair. Heaps meant business, and proved it by bringing in a full referee crew to officiate.
Once the opening whistle sounded, Heaps and his fellow coaches looked hard at their players. They made mental notes. And the players, for their part, rose to the challenge.
“You could see that guys wanted it,” center back A.J. Soares said. “Guys were getting in each other’s faces and it was like a real game. It’s just getting us a little bit more on our toes getting ready for (next week).”
Although the coaching staff is set to settle back into its regular season weekly routine come Monday, Heaps wanted to make sure that the intensity level to wouldn’t fall into a lull before the end of the bye week.
“I wanted to get the guys fired up for something,” Heaps said. “It’s a great challenge to have as a coach, but you have to manage it. We’ll work toward the exact lineup for Chicago on Monday, but right now, we’re just finishing up our preseason.”
THE KIDS ARE OK
Depending upon how you view it, the Revolution’s current crop of rookies has either made Heaps’ job easier or harder this winter.
On one hand, Andrew Farrell, Luis Soffner, Donnie Smith and Gabe Latigue have made strong impressions with the coaching staff. For that, Heaps isn’t about to complain.
“They’ve come in ready, and that’s something we’re really happy about,” Heaps said. ”Those guys have fought hard for everything and what I like most is that nothing was given to those guys. They’ve battled since day 1.”
On the other hand, the four freshman have made the coaches’ jobs a little more difficult this winter. Instead of simply sticking around to provide depth, each draft pick strengthened his case for a spot on the roster as the preseason progressed.
While that certainly made for some interesting positional battles, Soares gushed about this year’s rookie class following Saturday’s scrimmage.
“No joke, they all look awesome,” Soares said. “I’m thrilled with how they’ve done, thrilled with how they’ve reacted and their mentality (on the field). The coaches did a great job scouting those guys this year. You can tell they did their homework on picking these guys.”
READY TO BREAK OUT OF THE GATE
Both Heaps and Soares downplayed the potential for any hiccups a first week bye could present.
In fact, the third-year center back called it a “blessing,” then employed an interesting metaphor to describe the team’s collective mindset.
“We’re like that horse waiting to get out of the gate,” Soares said. “It’s just keeping us more excited for that first game.”