New England Soccer Today

A Different Winter

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Photo credit: New England Revolution

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s been a different kind of winter for Revolution coach Jay Heaps, to say the least.

Yes, the expectations surrounding the club are higher than they’ve ever been during his tenure. And yes, he’s never had a roster as strong as the one currently at his disposal, even though there are still eight spots to fill.

But to Heaps, the real difference this winter has more to do with how far along his group is at the unofficial midway point of the preseason.

“It’s a little bit of a different phase than in preseasons past, and what we did here last year, as well,” Heaps told “It’s a little bit more functional in terms of starting to break down exactly what we want positionally from each player.”

During previous winters, Heaps and his coaching staff would spend the first portion of the preseason trying to figure out who fit where at certain positions.

Two years ago, it was trying to find the best spot for Andrew Farrell, while trying to find out if Jerry Bengtson was the best fit up top. Last year, it was testing Charlie Davies on the wing, as well as settling the goalkeeping battle between Brad Knighton and Bobby Shuttleworth.

This year, though, there is a lot less experimentation, and a lot more certainty. Two of the biggest question marks entering the preseason were parked up top at and in the center of the defense.

But within the first 22 days of camp, those concerns have been alleviated for the most part. The signing of Juan Agudelo immediately erased fears about forward depth, while the transitioning of Andrew Farrell from right back to center back has eased some of anxiety about the state of the defense.

Then, of course, is the right back’s spot. Though Heaps has a pair of quality veterans (Kevin Alston and Darrius Barnes) at the ready to take over Farrell’s former spot, newcomer Jeremy Hall has been granted every opportunity to win the job this winter.

If there has been one bump in the road, it’s the recent development that Jermaine Jones will be out for 4-6 weeks due to sports hernia surgery, which was performed on Tuesday. However, Heaps isn’t terribly upset given that the injury had been bothering the U.S. international for quite some time.

“It’s something he’d been dealing with since the World Cup, and Jermaine’s as tough as they come so he’s certainly gritted through a lot,” Heaps said. “It’s something with Jermaine where we want him to be 100 percent going into the year, and if we take care of it now, he’ll have a better shot of having a fully healthy season.”

With Jones likely out until mid- to late-March, the Revolution do have a pair of veterans who could fill the void. Andy Dorman showed himself quite capable last year before an MCL injury cut him down during the summer, while Daigo Kobayashi was about as consistent as they come in 2014.

If the first half of the preseason has been any indication, it appears that Dorman may have the slight edge given his inclusion in the first-team lineups Heaps has used during the first two preseason scrimmages.

But rest assured, Kobayashi and others – including some who haven’t yet donned a Revolution jersey – will get the opportunity to make the lineup decisions difficult for the coaching staff.

“We kept a lot of guys, I think we were looking for one or two pieces and in signing Juan, we definitely took a big piece that we were looking for,” Heaps said. “We’re more specific in our needs, and obviously always adding depth, but also looking for players to come in and bump players that may be starting, and push those guys that way, as well.”

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