MLS Closeup: Heaps' firing opens up inquiry of Revs' future

For the first time in nearly six years, the Revs are looking for a head coach.

Before we get to the overarching questions of where this team is and where it might be headed next, a quick rundown of possible replacements is in order.

Possible replacements. Though they jettisoned one of their long-serving stalwarts, former defender Jay Heaps, several ex-Revs are currently coaching and will be in the mix. Matt Reis and Pat Noonan are assisting Bruce Arena with the U.S. national team, and Quakes assistant coach Steve Ralston is possibly on a short leash, now that the man who worked with him in Houston and as well as San Jose, Dominic Kinnear, has been dismissed and recently latched on with the Galaxy.

Club icon Shalrie Joseph is working locally as head coach of the PDL Boston Bolts FC and is getting his share of recommendations. Perhaps the most enticing name is that of a man not normally associated with the team but who did wear the jersey for 55 games from 1999 to 2001: former U.S. midfielder John Harkes, who unlike the other candidates mentioned, has pro experience as a head coach last season in the USL with FC Cincinnati, which it must be said is drawing attendances that the Revs, and many other MLS teams, can only dream of.

And therein lies the deeper issue: Is there any true ambition at all for the team’s ownership, headed by Robert Kraft and his son Jonathan Kraft, to knock heads with conference rivals that with each round of expansion drive the bar higher?

Spending gap. Every Eastern team added in the past decade -- Toronto FC, Philadelphia, Montreal, New York City FC, Orlando City, and Atlanta United -- has bolted past the Revs in resources as well as spending, the Red Bulls are no slouches in those departments, and the current resurgence of Chicago makes for a dogfight conference.

D.C. United moves into its new stadium next year and Crew SC owner Anthony Precourt is researching alternatives to MAPFRE Stadium, which is a functional facility -- well, except that time the scoreboard caught fire -- lacking most of amenities common to entertainment venues throughout the country. United management has already promised to use much of the revenue its own facility will provide to shore up the roster.

Only New York City FC does not play in its own stadium but has only been in the market for three years. The Revs are up to 22 seasons in football facilities and looking more and more like their counterparts in Kansas City: originated by an NFL family and mired in nowhere on the stadium front until it was sold.

To its credit, the Kraft organization has sharpened up its treatment of Revs fans at Gillette Stadium, and team is 15th in average attendance with 18,160 fans per game. Yet the slide in the team’s performances since it reached the 2014 MLS Cup has soured the fan base, many members of which lost patience with Heaps a while ago and are glad to see him out the door.

Heaps -- a resident of Longmeadow, Mass., who played at Duke and started his pro career in MLS with the defunct Miami Fusion -- jumped into the coaching fray after the 2011 season with no experience for a desperate organization not sure what to do when it fired Steve Nicol, who had guided the Revs to four MLS Cup finals (all losses) in 10 years.

Heaps notched playoff appearances in each of his first three seasons, but a steady exodus of important players not adequately replaced and a puzzling inability to generate consistent scoring with a rich array of talented attackers has dragged New England into the dregs of the Eastern Conference.

Burns under scrutiny. As general manager Mike Burns conducts the coaching search, he too is under scrutiny. The 2014 team featured such major presences as defenders A.J. Soares and Jose Goncalves, and midfielder Jermaine Jones, but many of the top performers from that season are still around and not yet at the point where age is a major concern.

Heaps did have trouble with some important decisions:

-- Is Andrew Farrell better at right back or centerback?
-- What is it about Lee Nguyen, Kelyn Rowe, Juan Agudelo, and Diego Fagundez – collectively and individually – that defied every effort by Heaps to find the right mix game after game?
-- Did the controversial trade for forward Kei Kamara in May of last year cost too much in terms of draft picks and allocation money that could have been used to strengthen the squad in other ways?
-- Was the acquisition of midfielder Xavier Kouassi, who missed all of his first season in 2016 with an injury, an example of bad luck or bad scouting?

Assistant coach Tom Soehn, formerly head coach of D.C. United and interim head coach as well as technical director of Vancouver Whitecaps, will handle the team for its final five games of the season. Burns oversaw the process six years ago when Nicol departed; he notes a dramatic change in the landscape.

“Over the last few hours, the number of e-mails, texts, phone calls and resumes that I’ve received, both domestically and internationally, has changed a little bit from six years ago,” Burns told “There’s a lot more interest and intrigue internationally than there was even six years ago, from a coaching standpoint and from a player standpoint.”

'There’s a lot more interest and intrigue internationally.' From a standpoint, just as important as the new man is the support he’ll be getting from an organization that aside from forking out $3 million in salary for Jones -- and losing him with an offered 80 percent pay cut -- has done little to rebut its reputation as paying as little as possible for coaches as well as players, or not spending wisely when it does pony up.

During the regime of Nicol it lost important veterans such as Jeff Larentowicz and Michael Parkhurst largely because of money and banished club legend Joseph to Chivas USA.  More recently, the signing of centerbacks Antonio Delamea and Benjamin Angoua using Targeted Allocation Money last winter has not forged solidity in the back line.

So the naming of a new head coach is just one element of braking an organization skidding in the wrong direction.

“I think it would be important for the next head coach to be able to get in here as soon as possible to be involved in player personnel decisions, roster construction and all the things that go into drafts and protected lists for expansion,” Burns added. “There are a lot of things that go into it. We’re not going to make any rash decisions, but we want to begin the process now in searching for that candidate. There’s no timetable that we’ve set on hiring a candidate. We want to make sure that we do our due diligence and make a smart hire.”

3 comments about "MLS Closeup: Heaps' firing opens up inquiry of Revs' future".
  1. Nicholas Adams, September 21, 2017 at 8:38 a.m.

    The major problem is that the Krafts just aren't interested in real Football, the Revs are just a tax write off to them. They're too in love with that tosser brady and that ridiculous american game, (I won't call it football - 'cos it isn't), there is no ambition there with the Revs, I'm really glad they sacked Heaps because he was never a good coach, it was a cheap option and it was like putting a parent in charge of a U8 team "Because no one else will do it".
    Don't expect any major names coming forward, they'll cost too much and won't be given a budget to bring in any real quality. I suspect, like the stadium plans, the final decision will be totally underwhelming and drag on with again, no real ambition being shown.
    Kraft should sell the franchise to someone who is a real football/soccer fan and who will treat the fan base better - At least that would cover part of brady's wages for another year!

  2. Tom Schroder, September 21, 2017 at 9:51 a.m.

    Excellent analysis, great article. I wish the Krafts would pay as much attention to the Revs as they do to the Patriots. They did spend 1 million $$$ for a Stadium study in South Boston, with architectural drawings etc, only to be shut down by the City and BU. We all know that the Krafts don't overpay for players but this time around the time has come to loosen the purse strings. Either that or sell the team! The Boston fans deserve better. We have 4 great teams in town, I wish the Revs would become the 5th.

  3. beautiful game, September 21, 2017 at 6:41 p.m.

    Sorry ownership fleecing their fans.

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