New England Soccer Today

Five Questions: #NEvNYC

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Photo credit: New England Revolution

Are we approaching the crossroads of Jay Heaps’ coaching career?

After a slew of disappointing results – the third summertime slide in his four seasons at the helm – it’s fair to say that the task ahead of Heaps is greater, and more pronounced, than any other he’s encountered since taking the reins back in November 2011.

Over the last three weeks, the Revolution have somehow managed to play progressively worse in each successive match. To do that after previously falling short of the win column in eight of their previous nine is a level of futility that only a Chivas USA could appreciate.

To his credit, Heaps has shouldered the blame for it. But accepting responsibility is only part of the solution.

Heaps must figure out a way to get his players motivated and focused because it is clear neither term comes to mind when thinking about the way this team – one of the most talented groups seen in recent years – has played since mid-May. Say what you will about professional athletes shouldering some of the blame, but ultimately, it is on the head coach to right the ship. And Heaps has essentially said the same since last week’s 4-1 drubbing at Red Bull Arena.

It’s fair to say that Heaps’ coaching chops are being tested unlike they have been before. He has a talented attack that isn’t scoring, and a slew of individually talented defenders who aren’t playing like they’re on the same team. Oh, and his best player is on the shelf with a lengthy injury for the second time this season.

Heaps often talks about the need to outsmart, outwork and outfight the opponent. Well, if the Revolution are going to clamp down and put the brakes on their latest summertime skid, then Heaps must take it a step further. He must figure out a way to outcoach the Jay Heaps who’s overseen one of the most disappointing runs in recent memory. He must take the next step in his evolution as the man in charge, because what has worked in the past is no longer working now.

We’ll find out plenty about whether Heaps can do just that on Saturday. But before the opening whistle sounds, let’s dive into some of other questions that surround the Revolution ahead of their matchup against New York City FC.

1. Can a backline minus Jose Goncalves contain David Villa & Co.? There’s no doubt that this is the most pressing concern for the Revolution going into Saturday’s match. With Goncalves serving his one-game red card ban, Jay Heaps will likely slide London Woodberry centrally and station reserve defender Jeremy Hall at right back. Clearly, this will not be the most impressive backline Heaps will field this year. In fact, it’s not unrealistic to expect a number nervy moments especially against a David Villa-led offense. But all hope is not lost for the locals. As good as NYC FC has looked as of late, the backline should get a huge assist from an unsung hero this season: Gillette Stadium’s artificial carpet, which has done well to thwart many Barcelona-wannabes (see: New York City FC).

2. Will Juan Agudelo return to the XI? If last week’s performance was any indication, the best Agudelo can hope for is that he did enough in training to at least warrant consideration. In a match that served as a homecoming for the New Jersey-raised striker, Agudelo was essentially a non-entity, and did little to bolster his stock in his first start since late-June. Even so, we all know recent form is only part of the equation when Heaps puts together his XI. Ultimately, it’s all about the matchup. Although Agudelo didn’t have the worst of games against New York City during the Revolution’s first encounter back in March, it appears that another player – Diego Fagundez – might be better suited to start on the wing.

3. Can the Revolution avoid another slow start? After getting manhandled during the opening minutes of each of their last two matches, it’ll be up to Heaps and his staff to avoid another poor opening. In order to get his team ready, Heaps’ job is two-fold: he must put together a sound gameplan in which every player – from top to bottom – knows their defensive duties, first and foremost. You can’t come out strong with gaping holes in the rear. Secondly, he must re-instill the confidence that’s surely been worn thin over the last few weeks. He must accentuate the positive, and remind his players that they’re better than their recent form. He must get his team to believe that they’re capable of winning on Saturday. After all, the team says they can, and the team that says they can’t, are both right.

4. In addition to the likely inclusion of Jeremy Hall, what other changes are possible? After a pair of poor performances, many coaches would give into the temptation of making wholesale changes to the XI – especially in the midst of a lengthy slump. But Heaps isn’t one to shake things up on a wide-range scale. He didn’t do it during last year’s summertime slide, so there’s little to suggest he’ll change course this year. Even so, alterations are certainly possible. With the offense struggling, Agudelo may be asked to reclaim the striker’s role. To take advantage of New York City’s lack of familiarity with the turf, the inclusion of technically-sound Daigo Kobayashi isn’t outside the realm. Lastly, with the Revolution short in the rear, it’s also possible that Donnie Smith could see the field later in the match.

5. What will Saturday’s match tell us about the Revolution? If you want to get a good bead on if the Revolution are truly built for a postseason run, the 90 minutes ahead of them should tell us plenty.  The locals enter this match with their backs against the wall given the state of their backline, which looks ripe for the picking against a surging opponent. That said, if the Revolution can get a win, it may be the first step in turning the corner on their struggles. But if they lose, then what we’ve witnessed over the last two months might be more dire than just another summertime slide.  It might be an outright collapse that has yet to reach its conclusion.

What other questions surround the Revolution heading into Saturday’s match? Tell us in the comments section!

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