New England Soccer Today

Locker Room Unity Key to Success w/o Jones

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

Photo credit: Kari Heistad/

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Friday’s report date for Revolution preseason camp meant it was back to the grind for players and coaches alike. And that grind? Well, it’s not going to be any less forgiving now that the best player in club history is no longer around.

While an outside chance exists that star midfielder Jermaine Jones could return to New England as he remains out of contract, Revolution coach Jay Heaps made it a point during his first team talk of 2016 to touch upon how important it will be for his players to stick together this year.

“Our strength has always been our locker room,” Heaps said following Saturday’s first training session of the year. “Right now, there’s been a change or two here and there that is big. We need to make sure that our locker room remains tight, and (that) the fabric and fibers of our group continue to get closer and tighter.”

Heaps’ message about team unity probably resonated with the group before him. The Revolution are returning 19 players from 2015, including 10 of 11 starters and several key players. In fact, the vast majority of the names on the current team sheet were also seen on the one issued to the media at the 2014 MLS Cup final.

That said, Heaps isn’t going gloss over the loss of Jones. Although the 34-year-old midfielder missed 13 games due to injury last year, and was a shadow of himself when he was in the lineup, his impact on the team’s collective confidence is impossible to overstate.

So it wasn’t surprising to hear Revolution forward Charlie Davies – who used the phrase “like a brother” when talking about Jones – express hope that, perhaps, the former designated player will find his way back to Foxboro.

“It’s a tough one,” Davies said. “I’m still not sold that he won’t be back here because everything’s still up in the air. We’ll see. As of now, we move forward with the guys that are here.”

And the guys that are in camp? Well, they’ll be asked to shoulder the burden of Jones’ absence, even though Revolution president Brian Bilello confirmed the club will be introducing a new designated player in the coming weeks.

“I think it’s important that we continue to get better,” Heaps said. “We were a very good team before Jermaine came, and obviously it was better (with him). But now we need to make sure that the young guys we’re building our core around are continuing to progress.”

That group includes midfielders Kelyn Rowe, Teal Bunbury, Diego Fagundez, Lee Nguyen, and Scott Caldwell, all of whom were specifically named by Heaps has players he wants to see even more from in 2016. And just how they’ll each improve boils down to the primary tenant of Heaps’ coaching philosophy.

“I don’t think there’s any substitute for hard work,” Heaps said. “That’s something that we pride ourselves on, and I think we do that every year, and we (have to) continue along that basis.”

Getting back to the MLS Cup final – or bouncing back from last year’s disappointing fifth-place finish, for that matter- won’t be easy for this group in a talent-stacked Eastern Conference. But in Heaps’ view, the nucleus he’s assembled over the last four years has reached a level of maturity that will make them a tough match up on a week-to-week basis.

“We have to continue to get better tactically,” Heaps said. “Now, I feel like we’re at a point where we know who we are as a group. Now, can we add little nuances to our setups that really can change what the opposing team’s expecting from us.”

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