When the New England Revolution travel back to Boston from Arizona on Tuesday they’ll already have over two weeks of preseason training and their first preseason friendly under their belt. Five new players and numerous trialists have gotten their first participation with the team, while the entire squad is experiencing preseason under new head coach Jay Heaps for the first time.
With 41 days until the Revs kick off the regular season, there is still plenty of preparation to come with a couple players (Kelyn Rowe and Benny Feilhaber) just arriving last week, but Heaps is cautiously optimistic about what he’s seen so far.
“The training is going well,” Heaps said on Sunday. “I think we’re starting to get everyone here.… Camp is starting to fill in so training has been going well. In terms of the game [Saturday], there was a lot of good mixed in with some not-so-good. It’s where we expect to be, but obviously with some improvement to make.”
Having been involved with the team as the color commentator last season, Heaps has seen plenty of the returning players, but got his first chance to see how some of the newcomers fit with the team in a match-setting on Saturday against PDL expansion side FC Tucson at Grande Sports World in Casa Grande, Ariz. Heaps used a modified format with two 35 minute periods and a 45 minute period to help gain fitness for some players and give everyone a chance to shine.
Several additions to the squad impressed.
“We wanted to work on some fitness [on Sunday], but we also opened it up where we played everybody to see certain players a little bit more,” said Heaps. “In terms of the guys we’ve drafted, we’ve been pleasantly surprised with a number of them. Right off the bat Kelyn [Rowe] and Tyler [Polak] have done well and then Michael Roach, Alec Purdie, and Rick Smith have all done a nice job. Kevin Garcia, which was a surprise for us, has also worked his way in defensively. So on just those guys, the guys we’ve drafted, we’ve had a good look.
“Then, the list of players as trialists we’ve had in to camp, there’s been some good and some players we won’t sign, but some guys we’re certainly having dialogue with,” Heaps added.
The rookies in camp should benefit from the presence of experienced veterans such as goalkeeper Matt Reis and midfielders Shalrie Joseph, Chris Tierney and Benny Feilhaber. Feilhaber also brings the added experience of having played with the national.
“I think all of the veterans players on the team – and I think now I’ve found myself the fifth-oldest guy on the team – there’s definitely some experience there and some responsibility to pass that down on through the younger guys,” said Feilhaber. “I definitely feel the responsibility to do that and I think I have the experience and some things to offer to the younger guys, so I definitely look forward to helping out the younger guys in that sense.”
While Feilhaber, having joined the team midseason last year, never experienced preseason camps under head coach Steve Nicol, other veterans are noting the difference with Heaps in charge. Tierney is just happy to look forward and forget a disastrous past two seasons.
“I think the first thing we all noticed as guys that were returning is it’s a new level of professionalism that we have around here that we sort of needed,” said Tierney. “For the last two seasons obviously it hasn’t gone our way, but at the same we’re sick of looking in the past and needed to take steps going forward so everything from bringing in Nick Downing as a strength and conditioning guy through a redone locker room has given us a fresh outlook for this year and we’re excited at the prospect of starting something new with new players and a new team.”
For Heaps, it’s a new experience as well. The new coach has plenty of practice as a player in preseason, but now gets his first chance as a coach and he’s surprised by how much he’s enjoyed the experience.
“I certainly didn’t realize how much I was going to enjoy it to be honest with you,” said Heaps. “I’ve been having a lot of fun with it. That’s been great.”
But the rookie head coach realizes there is a lot of work still to be done.
“Organizationally, it’s gone pretty much according to how we drew it up a couple of weeks ago when we were planning on preseason, in terms of how much we were going to play, how much we wanted to get done this week,” he said. “We have a lot left, we feel like we’re starting to take bites of that elephant one day at a time.”