Heaps: Strides made, but 'miles to go'

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Jay Heaps understands that it’s a process.

At this time a year ago, the Revolution were licking their wounds from a season that saw them claim a franchise-low five wins as well as a spot in the conference cellar. As a result, longtime head coach Steve Nicol was out, and a new coach would be needed to nurse the club back to health.

Now, fresh off his first year as head coach, Heaps looks back at the 2012 season -- one that saw the club’s win total (9), points (35), goals scored (39) and goals allowed (44) stats improve -- and believes his team is headed in the right direction.

But that doesn’t mean he’s satisfied.

“We made some (progress),” Heaps said. “But our away record still wasn’t good enough. So when you add (everything) together, yeah, we took some steps forward, but maybe we stepped back in some areas.”

Granted, the road record (2-12-3) wasn’t sparkling by any means. And yes, there were times in which the attack struggled mightily (12 attacking shutouts). Yet, it wasn’t a lost season, by any means.

One area in which Heaps was pleased this season was the emergence of newcomers Saer Sene (11 goals, 3 assists), Lee Nguyen (5 goals, 2 assists) and Kelyn Rowe (3 goals, 5 assists), all of whom were signed under varying circumstances.

The Revolution signed Sene after an extended preseason trial, while Rowe was drafted with the third overall pick in January’s SuperDraft. Then there was Nguyen, who was plucked from the scrap heap after the Whitecaps waived him prior to Week 1.

“I think we brought in some really good players,” Heaps said. “If you look at those three players, they’re our top three leading scorers right there.”

While the 2012 Revolution may have been more talented than their predecessors, one ongoing problem that spilled over from 2011 was giving up the dreaded late-game goal.

“We put ourselves in a decent position in a lot of games,” Revolution defender/midfielder Chris Tierney said. “But we didn’t have the wherewithal to see out the game and take out a point, if not three.”

Although there was certainly room for improvement in late-game situations, the Revolution made noticeable strides in other areas.

For starters, they focused on reclaiming their form at home. In 2011, the Revolution went 4-7-6 at Gillette Stadium. This year, they reversed that record, going 7-4-6 in front of the Foxborough faithful.

Another area of improvement: team defense. After giving up a whopping 58 goals last season, the Revolution defense worked on closing the passing lanes. The midfielders regularly dropped back to bolster the defense, and as a result the team cut its goals-allowed total by nearly a quarter (24 percent) in 2012.

Tierney believes the club’s resurgence in the rear is largely attributable to the experience that center backs A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy gained during their sophomore seasons.

“The more you play in this league, the more you figure out what it takes to win,” Tierney said. “I think a bunch of our young guys got a lot of minutes. So the more experience we get at playing in this level, the better we’ll be going forward.”

Even though a franchise-worst 10-game winless streak that stretched from mid-July through early-September bounced the Revolution from postseason contention, Heaps still believes that his club deserved better than its ninth-place finish.

“I think we’re a little disappointed in how we finished,” Heaps said. “We should’ve been higher up, maybe in the middle of the table, fighting for a playoff spot. So I think I was a little disappointed and surprised that we weren’t in the fight for the last five games of the season."

But Heaps won’t have time to dwell on that thought for long. With another two weeks of offseason training on the agenda, and a busy winter filled with scouting and player signings ahead, the Revolution head coach knows there’s still plenty to do before he can bring the club back to playoff glory.

“We have miles to go,” Heaps said. “But we’ve made up a lot of ground from where we were last year at this point.”