With just one final match left to play in 2012, the New England Revolution sit at a pretty poor 8-17-8 record. The playoffs have realistically been out of reach for two months or more, and after a bright start, a lot of the same old issues that have plagued the Revs since around 2008-2009 or so started to appear.
At the center of this is first-year head coach and former Revolution defender Jay Heaps. Heaps was hired for his youthful energy and his connection with the franchise; handed the reins in his first-ever coaching job, he was given a tall order from the outset, tasked with trying to bring the Revolution back to relevance, if not immediate success. To say that he was unsuccessful would be a bit of an understatement, but there had to be some expectation that he'd have hiccups in his first managerial appointment.
Regardless, some are going to call for his head at the end of this season. It's the nature of sports, really. Fans are impatient creatures by nature, and Revs fans especially want to see their club return to the heady heights of the playoffs and the MLS Cup Finals. But does that mean they're wrong?
Here's some of the things Heaps did very well this season:
- Earned a better record. Last season, the Revs finished 5-16-13 in a 34-game season, tallying a dismal 28 points. This year, with 33 games gone, they've already got three more wins and four more points, although the team does have more losses (17 so far) than under Steve Nicol in 2011.
- Improved discipline. New England set a club record for red cards last season with 10, but this year have been issued just three, while also coming in at 18th in the league (as of now) in fouls committed, an incredible number considering the Revs' reputation as a group of bruisers last season. The Revs have also earned the third-lowest number of yellow cards in the league.
- Shored up the defense. After conceding an embarrassing 58 goals in 2011 (good for second-worst in the league), the Revs have given up just 44 goals in 2012, which is a much-improved 11th overall.
- Changed the culture. There was a sense last season that things had grown stale, and that perhaps the locker room wasn't as solid as it could have been. That sensation has been totally removed this season, and even when mired in a massive summer slump, this team appeared to genuinely fight for each other.
And, here's some of the not-so-good things from this season:
- Lost games...a lot of games. Despite improving the team's point total as indicated above, the Revs have actually lost more matches in 2012 than in 2011, and there's still one more game left.
- Removed the team's backbone. While seeing the Revs improve in the discipline charts was a welcome breath of fresh air, it also brought with it the sense that New England could be easily bullied out of their game plans. That became a favorite tactic of several opponents; beat the Revs up, because they'll lose their rhythm and they won't fight back.
- Became inconsistent in his gameplans. The Revs started the season as one of the most fluid passing teams in MLS, controlling possession and tempo and knocking the ball around almost at will. However, after hitting a rough patch in the summer, Heaps appeared to flip that ideal on its head and started playing frantic, defensive, and sloppy "Nicol-ball," to the dismay of many fans. The fluid passing hasn't really returned.
- Maintained a stagnant offense. The Revs finished 2011 with just 38 goals scored. Today, with one more match to play, they sit at that same number. There's potential to improve upon it against Montreal, but when Heaps said "We're going to attack" at his hiring press conference, fans expected better than 1.15 goals per game.
- Had no answers. Perhaps most troubling of all, here, is that when things were at their worst for this team, Heaps didn't seem to have any answers. He blamed officials, he blamed mistakes (of which there were more than a few, in his defense), but in the end, it seemed as though he'd run out of ideas. It's part of being a new coach, really; but it's also troubling when you're the head coach.
So what do you guys think? Does Jay Heaps deserve another year? Do you think he'll get it, or is he facing the chopping block this offseason?