Jan 24, 2013, 12:30 PM EDT
No one will begrudge Jay Heaps a learning curve. Being a first-year head coach is challenging enough – and doing so last year at rebuilding New England was always going to be a tough climb.
But it’s fair to ask for progress this year following a deflated 2012 campaign, one where playoff aspirations were drifting from view by August.
The attacking elements are all there. But Heaps, a former defender, and his staff have some ground to make up in that wobbly defense if they want to avoid missing the playoffs a fourth consecutive season.
Considering that this time last year Heaps (right, with Saer Sene) was running his first professional practices – Ever! – he’s presumably better equipped to answer the burning questions heading into preseason camp in 2013:
- Where is the defensive leadership?
A lot of that depends on an important sub-set of that question: who is in goal?
Matt Reis remains the longtime incumbent, and he seemed to kick the game up a notch after a mid-season benching in 2012. On the other hand, Bobby Shuttleworth has always been a bright understudy, so the position may not be exactly “up for grabs,” but it’s no lead pipe lock for Reis, either.
Some of the Revs’ defensive frailty in 2012 could be pinned on lack of communication and leadership in the back. No. 1 overall draft pick Andrew Farrell has the physical tools to be a central defensive force at Gillette Stadium, but is he ready mentally?
Darrius Barnes and Kevin Alston (and perhaps even third-year man A.J. Soares) are getting to places in their careers where they can’t just be “players,” where they need to reliably be voices, instructors on the field.
Someone has to take command back there.
- Where do all the fascinating midfield parts fit it?
Andy Dorman is back for his second Revolution “go round,” and there are lots of ways Heaps can use the midfield veteran, coming off a moderately productive five-year stay in Scotland and England.
What of Lee Nguyen, who was so effective after being claimed on the cheap 11 months ago from Vancouver that U.S. international Benny Feilhaber was deemed surplus at Gillette? (Yes, it was surely more complicated than that with Feilhaber, but same difference as it relates to Nguyen and the bigger personnel puzzle going into 2013.)
And then there’s lefty specialist Juan Toja, one of the truly intriguing figures in MLS going into this 18th season. We know the guy can play. The questions with Toja have always been along the lines of “Where’s his head at?”
Dorman and Nguyen are fairly versatile, willing and able to play centrally or out wide. Toja tends to drift inside, even when stationed ostensibly on the left, so perhaps a little less so on his end. With all that, there are talented, younger men to factor in, too.
Of course, it’s not all about attacking. Somebody’s got to screen and support that iffy back line – and Clyde Simms or Stephen McCarthy can’t do it all themselves.
- What does the forward depth chart look like?
If you can’t find a quality forward around the Revs’ ongoing training camp in Casa Grande, Ariz., you aren’t looking very hard. It’s on Heaps and staff to make some order within the stack-up of striking ability.
Saer Sene is coming off knee surgery, but team officials say it’s “so far, so good” on his rehab. The club’s first double-digit goal scorer since Taylor Twellman (Sene had 11 last year) probably won’t be at top speed by the club’s March 9 opener, but he seems on pace to be there soon after.
He and Honduran international Jerry Bengtson, who had his moments after last year’s late-summer signing, seem like options Nos. 1 and 2.
But Diego Fagundez is a bright young prospect, and Dimitry Imbongo might be as well. Plus, the team’s first two draft picks, Donnie Smith and Luke Spencer, may have something to say about it.
And let’s not forget that Heaps could use Dorman, Nguyen or Toja somewhere along a front line, depending on the formation.
MORE in ProSoccerTalk’s preseason camp series:
- Chicago Fire
- Chivas USA
- Colorado Rapids
- Columbus Crew
- FC Dallas
- Houston Dynamo
- LA Galaxy
- Montreal Impact
Up Next: New York Red Bulls
Sep 22, 2014, 4:36 PM EDT
According to a pair of former players, the old Fulham manager told Brede Hangeland to rub his knee with cheese to reduce inflammation.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:56 PM EDT
What are Leicester City, Burnley and Queens Park Rangers all about? Our analysts break it down.
Sep 22, 2014, 3:22 PM EDT
Who was crowned the best player of the week in the PL?
Sep 22, 2014, 2:48 PM EDT
Which five goals were the best? Pick your best from two chips, a scissor kick, a belter and a curler.
Sep 22, 2014, 2:15 PM EDT
Gunners and Saints clash, as the third round of the League Cup takes place this week.
Sep 22, 2014, 1:38 PM EDT
Zwanziger: “Medics say they cannot accept responsibility with a World Cup taking place under these conditions.”
Sep 22, 2014, 1:10 PM EDT
Joining the NBC Sports crew from the crap part of SoHo, the MiB break down van Gaal’s topsy-turvy day.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:30 PM EDT
A report documenting FIFA’s internal investigation into alleged World Cup bidding corruption will not be published.
Sep 22, 2014, 11:28 AM EDT
Gunners defensive woes compounded as Debuchy will be out for over three months.
Sep 22, 2014, 10:30 AM EDT
PST’s Lead Writer and Editor takes an in-depth look at the incredible storylines from the PL during Week 5.
Sep 22, 2014, 9:40 AM EDT
Rog and Davo welcomed guest after guest for a very special pod.
Sep 22, 2014, 9:05 AM EDT
Pellegrini on City’s 1-1 draw with Chelsea: “I think we played 90 minutes against a small team trying to defend.”
Sep 22, 2014, 8:32 AM EDT
German midfielder would be exactly what Arsenal need. Will he arrive in January?
Sep 22, 2014, 7:53 AM EDT
Will Defoe be heading back to England at the end of the 2014 MLS season? Reports suggest its likely.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:37 AM EDT
Toronto FC vs. Chivas USA was the only MLS match to occur on Sunday.
Sep 22, 2014, 12:10 AM EDT
Roundup of Serie A and La Liga matches from the weekend.
Sep 21, 2014, 10:09 PM EDT
Manchester City defender Pablo Zabaleta thinks the referee let Diego Costa off without a red card during their encounter that spurred a red card for the Argentine.
Sep 21, 2014, 9:07 PM EDT
Barcelona beat Levante 5-0 on Sunday to continue their winning streak in all competitions.
Sep 21, 2014, 8:27 PM EDT
Short written and video recap of Sunday’s games.
Sep 21, 2014, 7:02 PM EDT
Manchester City goalie Joe Hart confirmed that he hadn’t discussed a new contract with the club, and Liverpool is a prime candidate for his services, according to the Metro.
- Premier League Download: Tale of the newly-promoted teams 0
- FIFA Executive: “The 2022 World Cup in Qatar will not happen” 4
- Premier League Playback: Legendary Lampard strikes, United’s shambolic implosion 0
- Men in Blazers podcast: A Night of 1,000 Stars 0
- Report: Sami Khedira to seal $20 million Arsenal move in January 1
- Emotional Lampard just as shocked after pegging back ex-club Chelsea (VIDEO) 0