[MLS SPOTLIGHT] No MLS team won fewer games than the meager five produced last year by New England, and a major roster revamp under new Coach Jay
Heaps will take time to develop. Two games into his new career as a head coach, Heaps knows a lot more about himself than he does his team.
After a tough loss in San Jose to open the season, he hoped to learn more Saturday against Sporting Kansas City, but an early red card to defender Steven McCarthy left the Revs shorthanded and in a deep hole against last year’s Eastern Conference champion.
The powerful and majestic Shalrie Joseph dropped back from midfield to plug the gap, but SKC efficiently and skillfully took the Revs apart in a 3-0 win. Heaps did a get a glimpse at some of the players he acquired to renovate a team that won just five games last year and finished 23 points behind SKC, yet playing 75 minutes a man down to a juggernaut in its home opener almost has to be wiped off the slate.
“It’s really disappointing,” said Heaps to revolutionsoccer.net. He played nine seasons (2001-09) in New England and took over from his former coach, Steve Nicol, last November. “We had a good game plan going into the game and we had good chances in the beginning. We weren’t giving anything away, we were tight, we had a nice compact form and we thought we had a plan. Then there was the red card and they scored early on. It’s tough playing a man down.”
McCarthy is one of Heaps’ personal projects. Drafted out of North Carolina a year ago, he played 21 games (18 starts) as the tallest (6-foot-5) midfielder in the league, rookie or otherwise. As an analyst on the Revs’ television broadcasts as an analyst, Heaps had wondered how he might fare in the back. When named to replace Nicol, he sounded out McCarthy regarding a positional change.
“He said he played there a little bit there when he was younger before he got pushed into midfield because of his feet,” said Heaps in an interview prior to the opener against San Jose. “I told him that it’s a similar role in that everything’s in front of you even though there’s a little bit more urgency in the back line.
“When I was in booth last year, I was playing around with where I thought some players might be better. He always came across to me as a centerback even though he played so much defensive midfield. He’s got good feet but he’s 6-foot-5 and can win just about every aerial challenge.”
In the 14th minute against SKC, McCarthy challenged C.J. Sapong and about 35 yards from goal grabbed him to prevent a breakaway. If he commits that foul at the midfield line, maybe McCarthy gets away with a caution, but in this case referee Silviu Petrescu ruled he had denied a clear goalscoring opportunity, and out came the red card.
Thus Heaps lost an opportunity to assess how his team is adapting to the possession-oriented game he hopes to implement. McCarthy’s ability to bring the ball out of the back, as he did a few times in the second half against San Jose, is a facet of that change, as is incorporating skillful acquisitions like attacker Lee Nguyen, forwards Fernando Cardenas and Saër Sène, and rookie Kelyn Rowe along with returnees such as U.S. international Benny Feilhaber and Shalrie Joseph.
“In a tactical sense, he wants us to play a pass-and-move game, and not so much the direct game Stevie used to ask of us,” says Feilhaber, whose subtle skills didn’t mesh fluidly in a very direct style preferred by Nicol. “That falls in perfectly for me and Kelyn and Shaz, and a lot of those guys in the midfield who want to get the ball at their feet and play it. I think that will help us this year.”
Heaps also recognizes the need for size and speed up front. The Revs picked up former D.C. United striker Blake Brettschneider, who started the San Jose game, and are awaiting the debut of Colombian frontman Jose Moreno, whose loan deal with Once Caldas hit a snag a few weeks ago that Heaps says has been resolved. Speedster Jeremiah White, yet another offseason signing, made his first MLS appearance against SKC as a 61st-minute sub.
“He has that very important ability to stretch the field,” says Heaps of White, a third-round 2004 SuperDraft pick out of Wake Forest who played in Europe and Saudi Arabia prior to signing with MLS. “We saw during preseason he has the ability to get behind defenses. That’s going to help the way we possess, because he’s that threat with his speed and teams have to respect that he can open up moves in the middle.”
Of Moreno (6-foot, 180 pounds), Heaps says, “He’s that big, strong forward. He holds the ball, he’s athletic. We have guys who can pick you out –- Kelyn and Benny can put the ball anywhere you want -– so it’s a matter of having a guy who can hold the ball so we can get up the field.”
Another former D.C. player, holding mid Clyde Simms, has been paired with Joseph to give the Revs a blend of steel and skill in midfield. “The more time we get together the better we’re going to be together, and with Clyde he’s so good on the ball you’ve just got to get into position and move off him and he’s going to find your feet,” says Joseph, who along with keeper Matt Reis and a few others know Heaps well from his days as their hard-nosed right back.
Feilhaber never played with Heaps yet knows he’s brought a change in mentality along with overhauls of personnel and tactics. “He brings a lot of intensity,” says Feilhaber. “That’s how he was as a player, a really intense player, intense coach, intense person in general. That’s something I think we were lacking a little bit last year, so it’s definitely good to see that instilled in the guys.”