The difference in attitude and energy from the 2011 New England Revolution to this year's 2012 incarnation is palpable even through a television screen. The players seem looser, more intense, and more exuberant, and it's showing in both style and results on the field.
Perhaps more importantly, the players seem younger. Whether the hard numbers back it up or not, the Revs feel like a younger team, and with that youth comes excitement and positivity. Much of that seems to be down to a culture shift within the team, and it's spearheaded by the Revs' young and active core of players, all of whom are throwing down the gauntlet to the rest of the league in terms of working hard and really "wanting it."
"There's definitely a better energy this year," said A.J. Soares. "It's more positive. The group is together more."
For Soares and his center-back partner Stephen McCarthy, the togetherness within the group has made a positive impact on their rapport and play on the pitch, as well. Both players agree that being around each other all the time (not only are they friends, but they have adjacent lockers and they room together on away trips) makes a big difference in the way they perform on the field.
"[Macca and I] being good friends...hanging out all the time is definitely a huge help," Soares said. "You get to know the person, and when you're on the field and it's tough, and you see that person go down or miss a play or something, you want to go back them up. You see that with Macca and me. Being good friends helps a lot."
"We're constantly talking and helping each other out," added McCarthy. "It's great for me."
Apart from driving a positive attitude shift related to results, the push and energy these younger players are creating has translated into training and conditioning as well. Soares and McCarthy, in particular, place great emphasis on strength training and working extra hard, even after training, to improve.
This has been helped immensely by the team's new weight room, which was built in this last offseason. For all of its five-star training facilities and amenities, Gillette Stadium actually was not equipped with a weight room that the Revolution could use prior to this year. The players have wasted no time working that into their training programs.
"[The weight room] was very exciting when it started, and we've all made a point to use it," McCarthy said. "People are in there every day working hard after training, which we never did last year because we didn't have the option."
This drive to make others work hard is not lost on head coach Jay Heaps. "[Soares and McCarthy's] energy is contagious," he said. "Guys like being around them, they like being in the weight room with them. No one wants to be the guy who's not working hard, and I like that kind of culture where each guy is pushing the other. A.J. and Stephen have been at the forefront of that."