By RYAN TOLMICH
The New England Revolution enter the 2014 MLS season coming off of the team’s first playoff appearance since 2009.
Head coach Jay Heaps is using the preseason to assess talent, as well as get some of the younger players implemented into a side that exceeded expectations last season.
“A lot of it is that you want to compete,” Heaps said about the preseason. “We’ve played three games that have been very beneficial in not only progressing the group, but seeing players. We feel like we know where a lot of guys are, but we want to add new players to that group as well. Nothing really has been too much of a surprise,” Heaps added. “A lot is about the young players and getting them minutes, along with the core from last year.”
One player that has already stood out to Heaps is rookie Patrick Mullins, the 11th pick in the SuperDraft. Mullins, a forward out of Maryland, is a two-time MAC Hermann trophy winner and has already impressed his new coach in the preseason.
“We talked about Patrick Mullins earlier,” Heaps said, “and I really like his development so far. I think he is strong and that he has what it takes. In the first 12 days, he’s asserted himself well. We’re excited about where we see his progression going. He’s a player that we see that’s pretty versatile and can play a couple different positions for us across the front line.”
The Revs will need youthful talent like Mullins to contribute, as the team will have to replace two of last season’s core players. Longtime goalkeeper Matt Reis retired, and American international Juan Agudelo left for Europe.
“With goalkeeper, we had a guy like Matt Reis and his leadership,” Heaps said. “We have a strong competition going on in goal right now between Bobby Shuttleworth and Brad Knighton. And up top, I think, Juan Agudelo. You see him scoring the other day and you see what kind of quality he had. We have players that have the opportunity to fill that, but at the same time we want to bring a competition to it as well.”
While Heaps stressed that he liked the direction his team was headed in, he also stated that he wasn’t fully satisfied. The Revs coach also said his team would be willing to take chances to improve.
“We’re actively searching for at least two pieces,” Heaps said. “We feel really good with where we are, but we want to be better. We’ve identified where we want to better and we’re going to take this season to move on in those areas.”
The Revs will look to be even better this season, despite not being able to fly under the radar as much as last year. However, Heaps believes he has a group that has the chance to succeed if they stay the course.
“We understand what it takes,” said Heaps, who’s team lost to eventual champion Sporting Kansas City in last year’s playoffs. “We understand the hard work that it took to get into the playoffs last year, and we thought we left a little bit on the table with actually having a lead on Kansas City in the playoffs. We understand how hard the work is to get there, and that’s what I’m stressing. The expectations are a little bit more organic in how they develop, but at the same time, our motivations are really high this year.”
The Revs will continue their preseason with a trio of games in Arizona’s Kino Sports Complex, beginning Feb 19.