New England Soccer Today

Technically Speaking: Should Heaps be Sacked?

Photo credit: Chris Aduama/

Welcome back to a special edition of “Technically Speaking,” where our in-house coach and former pro Rick Sewall typically dissects the Revolution’s latest performance. However, with the team’s recent struggles at the forefront, Rick talks about whether a coaching change is needed.

Have a question for Rick? Fire away in the comments section!


“Should he stay or should he go?” This third-person rendering of a once-popular song lyric has got to be under active consideration by the Revolution brass in relation to coach Jay Heaps, given the team’s recent play. There are pro’s and cons each way.

Full disclosure: All my opinions are formed from an arm’s length position, and no direct knowledge of the relationships among the various factions in the organization, Heaps and management, or Coach Heaps and his players. So all I can do here is point out how I see some of the considerations that should go into a decision of this magnitude.

Why Heaps should stay:

First, from what I’ve seen on film, pre-game warm ups, and the games themselves, Jay Heaps strikes me as a well-organized, hard-working, dedicated coach. Second, at least from a distance, he seems to have a good relationship with his players, and the players seem receptive to the workload and effort he requires.

A third argument in favor (of sorts) of Heaps is that many of the main impediments to team performance arise from factors he has little or no control over. Perhaps the main reason the Revs are not winning as much as they might is that they simply don’t have the overall team talent that higher-echelon teams have. Why? Because they rank 18 out of 22 among MLS teams for overall player compensation. The sad fact is, you generally get what you pay for.

To get the players you want, you need both an attractive franchise and an aggressive franchise. To my mind, the Revs fall short on both these scores.

One of the best recruiting grounds for the MLS is among over-the-hill, but still very effective, European league players. Indeed, the sorest need for the Revs at this moment, as I’ve written often in this column, is a field-general type of player to replace Jermaine Jones. But this ilk player is often be reluctant to consider the Revs because of the artificial turf at Gillette Stadium. Older players and their agents are all acutely aware that they have older knees and older ankles.

When looking to play in America, they very naturally make playing on natural grass a priority because it is less likely than artificial turf to cause injury. Concern for their own health and salability thus guides them away from New England (and still will, even with their new, improved artificial turf). Imports like Thierry Henry and Didier Drogba were notorious for avoiding away games at Foxboro, which may have played into the Revolution’s hands on game day, but should have sent a larger message about the mindset of the elite European player when confronted with the prospect of playing on the team’s plastic pitch.

In sum, if the Revs want to prioritize getting the quality players they would need to make the playoffs on a consistent basis, it would definitely behoove them to build a soccer-specific, natural-grass stadium. I assume there are a lot of cost factors that are currently outweighing that priority in ownership’s minds. Failing to get the land in Dorchester was a undoubtedly a setback on many fronts, including this one.

As for aggressive recruiting: when you go out to get players, you first need the personnel to discover top-quality prospects and persuade them that it is worth it to consider the Revs (in other words, a highly-qualified scouting staff, large enough to do the job). Then you need to be willing to spend the money needed to land the players. I get the impression (though I may be wrong) that other teams are far superior to the Revs in this regard.

In sum, there are ownership issues beyond Heaps’ control that suggest that a significant part of the Revs’ present doldrums cannot and should not be pinned on the head coach.

Why Heaps should go:

On the other side, the two main arguments (by my book) against keeping Heaps lie in his incessant quarreling with the refs, which seems to be communicating itself to his players, and his failure over the years to fully develop his young talent.

As a coach, I always emphasize to my players, from elementary school to college, that they should view referees as game conditions – just as out of their control as rain, wind, the narrowness of a field, or the tree branch that overhangs the field and foils their long-ball passes (this last-named condition clearly doesn’t pertain to a pro game). Conversely, I stress to them, arguing with a ref is just as useless and counter-productive as shaking your fist at a rain cloud or complaining at a tree. No matter how right you are, or how wrong a referee call, venting will get you precisely nowhere and is, in fact, likeliest to shatter your concentration. If you don’t like a call, forget the ref, and take advantage of the adrenaline jolt your anger elicits to slam the ball between the posts.

The number one result of arguing with the ref during a game is to turn him or her against you and your team. The number one result of belly-aching about the ref in a post-game interview is to make yourself (and your team) persona non grata to the referee community. If a coach has a true specific beef with a ref, his recourse should be to write a letter to the appropriate league authorities stating his concerns. Obviously this tactic should be invoked only sparingly.

Heaps’ chronic and incorrigible griping at refs not only smacks of bad-sport excuse-making, but also undermines his ability to prepare his team psychologically. How can a coach insist on his players maintaining laser-like focus on a game when he himself is running up and down the sideline in a semi-apoplectic state? This behavior invites players to respond to referee calls in similar fashion. This contagion became evident when Toni Delamea, seemingly a pretty level-headed guy, was yellow-carded for dissent against New York earlier this month. Yellow card accumulation in this fashion can do nothing but hurt a team, as five result in a one-game suspension.

My second major criticism of Heaps’s coaching is that, over the past five years or so, he and his staff have not done enough to develop their young talent technically. Kelyn Rowe, Diego Fagundez, Juan Agudelo, Scott Caldwell, and especially Andrew Farrell all have the talent to be forces in this league, but we haven’t seen it on a consistent basis. This deficiency is evident when one looks at the decreasing seasonal goal totals over the past five years.

Bad shooting technique is the biggest problem, with Farrell (nary a goal in four-plus seasons) the biggest culprit. Indeed, I have never seen a professional player with less confidence in his shooting. But there are other technical weaknesses aplenty on the field, affecting ball control, passing, kicking of all varieties. When the players you bring in are not proven super-stars, it’s your responsibility to develop them to their max capacity.

One last consideration is the staleness factor. At what point does change for change’s sake become desirable? At what point do you decide that you need a new coach not because Heaps in and of himself is deficient, but because the team needs the kind of shake-up a fresh professional eye can bring? One thing is for sure: a new coach would be better positioned to demand the additional resources that will make it more likely for the team to win games and make the playoffs consistently.

When ownership makes the decision to cut a veteran coach loose, it is in their best interest to maximize his replacement’s chances for success, if only to prove the sagacity of their controversial decision. If that’s what it would take to get the Revs the financial support it needs to keep up with the most competitive teams, especially those new ones like Atlanta, then maybe it is time for Heaps to go.


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