Change was needed for the New England Revolution. It was not hard to see. Even putting aside the abysmal and inexcusable results of the past week, the team had, at best, stagnated or, at worst, fallen further and further behind the pack that is consistently competing in MLS.
The process of change began on Tuesday when the club announced the firing of Jay Heaps, and it is one of several needed if the Revs want to rediscover themselves in the long-term.
Heaps’ firing isn’t quite a surprise because the writing has been on the wall for quite some time. It’s all been downhill since the team’s run to the 2014 MLS Cup final, the last real high point the club has experienced.
That team was built around a strong core that included Jermaine Jones, A.J. Soares and Lee Nguyen. Soares is the last competent central defender the Revs have had, and their defense has been far from settled since he left after that loss to the Galaxy. Nguyen has been in good form ever since, but it’s hard to expect anyone to live up to his MVP-like numbers of that season year after year. The team’s best decision was to cut bait with Jones before the injuries hit, but they never truly replaced him with leadership and presence in the midfield.
Since that run, the Revs have been middling. Kelyn Rowe has gotten significantly better, but Diego Fagundez and Juan Agudelo have been up and down. Andrew Farrell has moved all over the place due to the unrest in defense. A talented attacking group has routinely proven to be less than the sum of its parts.
The problem is the Revs never truly got better in a league that is constantly evolving. The young players, like Fagundez and Agudelo, have stagnated. Big signings have been almost universally underwhelming and/or ineffective. The biggest move, a trade for Kei Kamara, saw the club repeatedly attempt to jam what was very obviously a square piece in a ridiculously constrictive round hole.
Part of that falls on Heaps. Throughout his run, the Revs haven’t gotten the best out of the roster they have had by any means, and part of that is down to tactics and style of play. Heaps was, at times, very rigid with his tactics and philosophies, and the failure to adapt Kamara to any sort of role that fit his skillset has set the team back for a year-and-a-half now.
The other part? The front office, who haven’t quite provided the pieces necessary to reach that upper echelon. When you look at the contenders, there’s a very obvious correlation between winning and spending money. Toronto FC isn’t Toronto FC without Sebastian Giovinco and Miguel Almiron and Josef Martinez make Atlanta United tick. Those are two of the teams the Revs hope to compete with, but they simply don’t have the talent to do so.
Now, a team can overcome issues with coaching or issues with talent, but not both. Great players can find a way to win in spite of their coach while a great coach can gameplan his team to wins over bigger and better foes. However, when you’re routinely out-coached and out-spent, what else can you do?
The Revs face a big winter. Their new coaching hire has to be something ambitious, something fresh to provide a much-needed jolt of energy. The roster needs an overhaul, especially on the attacking end where the club has movable pieces that simply don’t fit. There needs to be a new group of leaders and a new group of bright prospects brought in, which is obviously easier said than done.
“Our goal is to field a team each and every season that is competing for championships and over the past couple of seasons we have fallen short of that goal,” owners Robert and Jonathan Kraft said on Tuesday in a joint statement. “We will immediately begin a search for a new head coach and are committed to seeing the New England Revolution once again return to championship contention.”
As of right now, the Revs are far away from championship contention. The first domino fell on Tuesday as the club moved on from Heaps. Now, we’ll see what happens with the rest of those dominos and whether or not the club is willing and able to make the big moves needed to compete in the current era of MLS.