Photo by ISIphotos.com
By KEVIN KOCZWARA
The last time the New England Revolution were in the playoffs Jay Heaps was marauding up and down the right flank.The former right back was in his final season with the Revs and it looked like he still had plenty left in the tank. But that was it for Heaps. He decided to call his playing days quits.
Now, four years later, Heaps is leading a new crop of Revolution players to the playoffs for the first time. This time, though, he’s not trying to stop opposition wingers or overlapping on the outside. No, this time he’s coaching a young crop of players who are looking to create their own legacy in New England, like the one Heaps had during his playing days, which included four MLS Cup appearances.
This Saturday, the MLS playoffs return to Gillette Stadium when the Revs take on Sporting Kansas City. And Kansas City has a familiar face in their ranks that the Revolution fans will know all to well, Benny Feilhaber.
Feilhaber joined New England in 2010 after deciding to end his European adventure and make Major League Soccer his home. The former U.S. Men’s National Team regular was in search of more playing time and ended up in New England with a team struggling with mediocrity and finding its identity. After two seasons with the Revolution, Feilhaber was traded to Kansas City before the 2013 season.
And the move paid off for both teams and the player. Feilhaber joined an MLS contender in Kansas City and New England was able to offload his salary and give their younger players like Kelyn Rowe and Lee Nguyen more prominent roles in the team that they might not have otherwise had.
“Obviously, Benny Feilhaber moving on was a difficult decision and club decision because he is a special player. He does a lot for KC and did a lot for the Revs,” Heaps told SBI on earlier this week. “But for where we were going and where he was going, I think the change was good for him and I think the with young guys around (here) we really felt a lot of faith in them. We wouldn’t have been able to do it if we didn’t have faith in our younger guys.”
That faith in the youth in New England has paid off immensely for Heaps and the club. But it’s paid off the most for second-year player Kelyn Rowe, who, after the Feilhaber trade, was able to move to a more central role for New England after spending his rookie season out on the wing.
Rowe has responded to the added workload Heaps has given him by chipping in seven goals and eight assists this season.
“When (Rowe’s) central and he’s in the rhythm, getting touches, getting at defenders, he causes a lot of problems,” said Heaps.
Since shifting Feilhaber, New England has created a fluid 4-3-3 system — which transforms into a 4-2-3-1 when New England is defending — that fits not only Rowe’s attributes, but also the rest of the team’s young core that includes 18-year-old Diego Fagundez, 20-year-old Juan Agudelo and 21-year-old Scott Caldwell.
“For me, when you’re building a team around younger players — and there is a lot of talk right now of building around younger players —and this is what I feel, you want to put them in a position to succeed, and you want to build around that rnther than just say, ‘Here you go, feet to the fire,'” Heaps said. “I think there has to be a thought-out process and I think we’ve tried to do that with players like Diego, Lee, Kelyn and Scotty , and Juan and how we want to play. It wasn’t just go out and play.”
The system change has paid off. New England is the postseason for the first time since Heaps hung his boots up. Now, though, Heaps has a new challenge, he has to figure out how to beat a team in Kansas City that not only has the Revs former midfielder, Feilhaber, but also has had success this season at shutting the Revs’ new system down.
REVS SCORING STRUGGLES AGAINST KANSAS CITY
New England has yet to score a goal against Kansas City this year. In the team’s two meetings, the teams have played to a scoreless tie and the second game in Kansas City, New England was thumped, 3-0.
- New England will host Kansas City in the first leg of their semi-final series on Saturday. New England is 8-5-4 at home,while Kansas City has the best road record in the league at 8-5-4.
- Kansas City has committed the most fouls in MLS with 511 this year. Oriol Rosell has committed 66 in 31 games. New England’s Lee Nguyen has committed 63 himself.
- Playoff games tend to be tight, with usually just a goal separating teams. Kansas City is 11-9 in one-goal games while the Revs are 6-8.
- Whoever is leading at half on Saturday will have a huge advantage. Kansas City is a staggering 11-1-1 when leading at the break and New England is 7-2-0. The Revs are 2-5-2 when trailing at half and KC is 0-4-1.
Looking back now, what do you think of the Revolution trading away Feilhaber to Sporting KC? Do you see him making an impact in this series? Like the youth movement that New England has currently?
Share your thoughts below.