FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Jay Heaps couldn’t wait to get his players together for the first practice of 2012.
On the first day MLS allows its clubs to convene for preseasons training, the new Revolution head coach was busy overseeing and instructing his squad at the Dana Farber Fieldhouse Monday afternoon.
But Heaps wasn’t the only one excited and anxious to get the preseason underway.
“You can see the eagerness in their eyes,” Heaps said about his players following the conclusion of Monday’s practice. “There’s some excitement, which is exactly what we were going for (today).”
And with good reason. With last year’s disastrous campaign officially behind them, the players no longer have to carry the failures and disappointments of the previous season on their shoulders. Monday was a new day, and with it, came a renewed sense of optimism.
“Everybody’s eager to get started,” Revolution right back Kevin Alston said. “We’re eager to see what they have in store for us. We’re just ready to work.”
Work – and more work – is will be the name of the game for both the players and the coaching staff in Heaps’ first preseason. During his introductory press conference last November, Heaps stated that his club “will not be outworked” in 2012.
One clear sign that Heaps has not wavered from that approach was evident on Monday. Instead of the usual jogging and agility drills for the first day of practice, the players were active moving the ball around and working on their touches – something completely foreign to some of the veterans.
“I think we touched the ball on the first day (of training) for the first time in my ten years here,” captain Shalrie Joseph said with a smirk. “We just worked on jogging and fitness for the first week (under Steve Nicol). It’s different, but you can tell Jay’s excited and everyone’s excited about the changes.”
Some of those changes were long overdue. For a club that suffered through gut-wrenching draws and late-game collapses, Heaps’ new approach to training – with a focus on technique – is a welcome antidote to a team that was lacking in technical ability.
Another cornerstone of the Jay Heaps Way is responsibility – to one’s self and to the coaching staff.
“To a man, they know that their responsibilities are high this season,” Heaps said. “To get to where they need to go they need to have a lot more asked of them. We need to ask more of them.”
The change in philosophy is something that has already rejuvenated the Revolution, who all to often found themselves buried in doubt and disappointment in recent years.
“We’re definitely looking forward to new ideas and bringing in new strategies,” Joseph said. “We’re all on board to find out what’s going to work for this team.”
One thing that some players may have to get used to is playing for a coach that played beside them not long ago. Joseph, a teammate of Heaps from 2003-2009, admits that the typical player-coach dynamic is different with Heaps at the helm.
“It’s a little weird,” said Joseph. “But Jay’s a good guy. From Day 1, we had a great relationship as a player and now it’s going to continue with him as a head coach.”
That relationship is something that Heaps is hoping will strengthen the resolve of his team. After two successive seasons of bitter disappointment, the Revolution need to find any avenue or vein that will allow them to establish an identity.
It won’t be easy, but it’s a challenge that Alston and others are ready to undertake. After enduring the worst season i franchise history in 2011, he and his teammates are ready to prove the their critics wrong in 2012.
“We’re going to be playing with a chip on our shoulder,” Alston said. “We’re trying to get it right this year and putting in the work. We don’t want to go through anything like we did during the last couple of seasons.”
PRESEASON NOTES: Benny Feilhaber and first-round pick Kelyn Rowe were not present for Monday’s training as both are in camp with the U.S. Men’s National Team and U.S. U-23s, respectively…Colombians Fernando Cardenas and John Lozano were not present either, but Heaps expects them to arrive during the team’s trip to Casa Grande, Ariz., which is scheduled to run from Jan. 21-30…According to Heaps, the Revs will be targeting “a couple of forwards that we want to look at in action” for Tuesday’s Supplemental Draft…In addition to his new Designated Player contract, another thing Joseph is excited about is the new Revolution locker room, which was renovated during the offseason…