The New England Revolution will finally get their first real preseason test on Wednesday in Tucson, Ariz., when they kick-off the FC Tucson Desert Diamond Cup against the defending MLS Cup Champions Los Angeles Galaxy.
While new head coach Jay Heaps is hoping for positive results from his team, the most important aspect of the preseason tournament is getting his squad ready for the start of the MLS season on March 10th.
“It’s important for us to get MLS ready,” said Heaps. “We’ve been in some identification mode, we’re still a little bit in there, but at the same time now we turn it up a notch in terms of how long guys are going to play, the intensity of the matches and the overall outcome of the matches. We want to make sure that we put our best foot forward.”
The tournament aspect of the matches doesn’t really come into play for Heaps. While winning the tournament would be a bonus, it isn’t the goal of participation.
“It’s about how we’re going go in and progress,” Heaps said. “We want to make sure we’re getting minutes to the right guys, but at the same time we’re still in identification mode, so we’re still going to be looking at some players and some formations. We’re not 100% set exactly what we want to do. We know we have an idea of what we want to do, but that can change with injuries and personnel. At this point, it’s really an important two weeks.”
Tierney excited for increased competition
If Heaps is looking forward to using the tournament to get his players ready for the season, some of his players are just as excited about the opportunity to test themselves against some of the league’s best. Midfielder/defender Chris Tierney, who has been with the team since 2008, believes it’s the best preseason competition the team has faced in the five preseasons he’s taken part in.
“We’re excited about it,” said Tierney. “I think it’s the highest level tournament that we’ve played in preseason since I’ve been a part of this team, so it’s exciting to go test ourselves against the top notch MLS sides. It’ll be a good test for us to see where we’re at.”
The team currently holds a 3-0-0 record in the 2012 preseason, but those victories have come in two games against Boston College and a game against FC Tucson, a USL Premier Development League (America’s unofficial fourth division) expansion team. Clearly playing the likes of the MLS Champions Galaxy, 2010-11 CONCACAF Champions League Runner-up Real Salt Lake and the New York Red Bulls, a play-off team last season, in the Desert Diamond Cup is a huge step up in opposition.
Though Tierney’s looking forward to the opportunity to see where the team’s at and compete against quality competition, he, like Heaps, recognizes the real focus has to be preparing for the season opener, not winning the tournament.
“You just go play and focus on yourself and what you’re doing to try and get ready for the season,” said Tierney. “You know you always want to win games and get results, but at the same it is preseason so we have to take care of ourselves and focus on the things that are going to make us better come March 10th.”
Style and preparation change under Heaps
Fans should get a first glimpse the team’s squad and style under coach Heaps during the tournament, which will be broadcast live on MLSSoccer.com.
Tierney believes the squad is already deeper than it has been in the past and that Heaps’ new style of play should be more enjoyable from a fan’s perspective.
“I think Jay [Heaps] is implementing a new style of play which is going to be more exciting to watch,” said Tierney. “I think we’ll score more goals, be more positive than we probably have played in the past. It’s a welcome change for us and I think we’re all excited about it.”
And a new style isn’t the only thing Heaps has brought to the team, according to Tierney. The former Revolution defender turned head coach has changed how the team practices and prepares for games and the season.
“I think Jay’s brought in a new level of professionalism that might not have been there before,” said Tierney. “Stevie [Nicol] definitely had his own style which worked for him for many years, but I think Jay is a little more up-to-date in terms of taking care of the physical side of things and really doing the homework and taking care of the details in terms of going over video and talking to guys individually and making sure we’re in top shape physically. That’s definitely a welcome change for us as players.”
With all those changes, Tierney’s ready to put the past behind him and move forward with an overhauled team and coaching staff. The past two seasons were huge disappointments for the club, and unsurprisingly Tierney’s tired of hearing about it and looking forward to moving on.
“I think we’re sick of talking about last season, the last two years,” Tierney said. “This is a new team: new players, new coach. We’re not looking at it as revenge for last year or anything like that. We’re just excited about the group of players we have here now and the changes that the club has made to help us do better this year.”
The Revs open the Desert Diamond Cup against the Galaxy on Wednesday with kick-off set for 8 PM EST.