New England Soccer Today

What Dreams May Come

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

What a story it could have been: A former Revolution player, born and raised right here in New England, taking over the team he played nine seasons with, gunning for the possibility of winning the club’s first league championship. That was the narrative Jay Heaps inherited when he was hired to replace Steve Nicol as head coach in November 2011.

During his playing days, Heaps rode with the Revolution through sweet victories and bitter defeats alike. He was an MLS all-star and a key component of the team’s success in the 2000s when they reached four MLS Cup finals. Of course, the defeat that lingered the most was the 2006 Cup final, a match that ended on a penalty missed by Heaps.

Shortly after announcing his retirement in 2009, Heaps made clear his disappointment in not bringing a championship to New England: “The one thing that might wake me up one night a month from now, a year from now, is that I got to touch the MLS Cup but never got to hold it up.”

Following two years as a color commentator, Heaps returned to the team as a head coach, hopeful to bring a championship to New England. It had all the makings of a story of redemption: unable to lift the MLS Cup trophy as a player, he was getting another crack at it from the technical area.

Initially, few thought it possible. Heaps had zero head coaching experience, and it was unknown how he’d adapt to the role. He was also taking the reins at the lowest point in franchise history, after New England stumbled to a franchise-worst 5-16-13 record under longtime gaffer Steve Nicol.

There was little hope for the future as well. Stalwarts such as Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, Jeff Larentowicz, and Heaps himself had all played their final games in New England while the end proved near for Shalrie Joseph and Matt Reis. It had seemed like an eternity since their last MLS Cup run in 2007, though many hoped Heaps could rekindle the magic those superlative squads conjured.

In the first three years at the helm, Heaps’ potential as a head coach seemed limitless. After a modest 9-17-8 record in 2012, Heaps brought the Revolution back to the postseason in 2013, behind a new crop of players that included Juan Agudelo, Diego Fagundez, Kelyn Rowe, and Lee Nguyen, all of whom helped the team clinch a remarkable third-place finish.

The following season, the Revolution acquired what looked to be the missing piece in Jermaine Jones, and the team caught fire down the home stretch, going 10-1-1 in their final 12 games and reaching the MLS final against the L.A. Galaxy. New England couldn’t overcome the Galaxy’s supremely talented squad, and suffered their fifth MLS Cup loss in franchise history. Despite the loss, there were plenty of reasons to be optimistic about New England’s future.

But dark clouds appeared on the horizon. Jones battled injuries and the team endured a soul-crushing summertime slump. They eked into the postseason via the wild-card, but were disposed of by DC United. The Revolution dropped in the standings from 2nd place in 2014 to 5th place in 2015, and to 7th place in 2016, missing the playoffs since the first year in Heaps’ tenure as coach. Ultimately, Heaps was fired with his squad stuck in eighth place without a road win, and a near-impossible chance at the playoffs.

Similar to the twilight of his playing days, Heaps’ coaching career ends without realizing the dream of raising the MLS Cup. In a note posted to Twitter, Heaps re-stated his regret of not winning a championship to the Krafts: “There has not been a single day that I have not thought of how to help this team win. My greatest regret is not getting you and your family what you deserve, an MLS Championship.”

No, Jay Heaps didn’t bring a championship to New England, and some fans are all too happy to see him go, ready for a new leader at the helm during a rebuild of the franchise. Heaps leaves the team in a similar state to one he inherited the team: near the bottom of the standings, in need of another rebuild, and with trophy case still barren of MLS hardware. Regardless, Heaps ends his Revolution tenure as a legend, helping mold and shape the team’s collective identity since his arrival in 2001.

Over the past fifteen years, what Jay Heaps accomplished with the team is nothing short of incredible: 243 appearances as a player, 199 games as head coach, five MLS Cup appearances, and three U.S Open Cup appearances, including the team’s only championship trophy in 2007. No one embodies the Revolution more than Heaps, and it’s not even a contest.

Some will criticize the substitutions, the formations, and the management skills, but you cannot question the heart and passion Jay Heaps poured into his job as a member of the Revolution.

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