New England Soccer Today

A Mix & Match Approach

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Generally speaking, coaches don’t enjoy changing their lineup. Consistency, it is said, is the key to success. But with a wealth of talent at his disposal, Jay Heaps is anxious to cast aside that axiom this year.

For the first time during his coaching tenure, the Heaps finds himself with a variety of formidable options in the midfield and up top – and he isn’t about to let any of them go to waste.

“We’re further along than just having the 11 players that are going to play,” Heaps said in a teleconference with the media on Friday. “We look at our team now and we like the advantages we can gain on a per-game basis.”

The most notable example of the Revolution’s riches is up top, where Juan Agudelo and Charlie Davies have both excelled as lone strikers in the preferred 4-3-3. While the issue of who’ll start up top has been the center of debate for much of the preseason, Heaps doesn’t see it as a positional battle.

Instead, Heaps believes that whoever gets the nod will be based upon what each player brings to each individual matchup. Both players can play on the right, as can Teal Bunbury, who made a smooth transition from striker to winger last year. Add newcomer Sean Okoli to the mix, and there’s yet another option Heaps can use up top if the occasion calls for it.

“It’ll depend upon what striker might be best against a certain defense,” Heaps said, “and what player’s much better in a certain environment or a certain matchup.”

Although Heaps has stuck with the 4-3-3 for the better part of the past two seasons, he didn’t rule out the possibility of fielding a two-forward tandem that features both Agudelo and Davies.

“It’s going to be game-by-game,” Heaps said. “Whatever’s best for the team, and whatever we think is going to be our best advantage is how we’re going to play.”

Up top isn’t the only area where Heaps has a surplus of options, of course. With a midfield that includes three players who’ve suited up for the U.S., a pair of grizzled veterans, and a slew of talented youngsters, it’s easy to see why he isn’t about to etch his preferred XI in stone.

One of the players who stands to benefit from that mindset is Diego Fagundez, whose minutes waned down the stretch due to his defensive form. But with Jermaine Jones and Lee Nguyen both nursing injuries, the 20-year-old winger is getting an extended look as a central attacking midfielder this winter.

“I think when Diego has that freedom and he’s playing with someone that he can play off of, he’s really good at any of those positions,” Heaps said.

While the backline may boast a greater degree of certainty given the number of veterans at the ready, Heaps was quick to point out that, aside from the central pairing of Andrew Farrell and Jose Goncalves, there’s plenty of competition at right fullback.

“There are a lot of opportunities at the outside back position,” Heaps said. “Darrius (Barnes) is versatile enough to play both sides and Jeremy Hall has done well in his time at that position as well.”

It’s important to note that with eight open roster spots, that competition is only going to intensify across the pitch. And given the view Heaps has adopted in interchanging positions and players, that’ll suit the coaching staff just fine.

“I think there’s going to be some fluidity in terms of how we approach teams,” Heaps said. “It’s going to be based upon where we think we can gain an advantage, and where we think we’re at our best.”

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