Heaps juggling options to fill injury-plagued backline
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England coach Jay Heaps dusted off the old cleats and hopped onto the field earlier this week to take some reps with his charges.
The former MLS defender participates from time to time when the circumstances dictate, but, at this point, he may merit a spot on the depth chart in central defense even though he retired at the end of the 2009 season.
It's gotten that desperate that quickly for the Revs. A.J. Soares is the only regular center back likely to feature in Saturday's home opener against Portland with Darrius Barnes and John Lozano injured and Stephen McCarthy suspended.
The selection crisis has prompted Heaps to ponder every potential solution barring one.
“Except for me, there are no options that are off the table,” Heaps told MLSsoccer.com with a laugh.
In an ideal world, the Revs would include Barnes (left calf strain) or Lozano (right hip flexor strain) in the squad after they recover from injury. This game, however, may come too soon for them.
WATCH: McCarthy sees red against Sporting KC
“We're seeing how the week goes,” Heaps said. “The two we have right now who are trying to get through are John and Darrius. We're trying to get them fit and ready. We're hoping to sort it out as the week proceeds.”
If neither player can recover, then either Shalrie Joseph or Clyde Simms could drop into defense to plug the gap. Joseph slotted alongside Soares when Heaps adjusted his lineup after McCarthy's red card at Kansas City last weekend, but Simms said he remains willing to reprise a role he played occasionally with D.C. United if asked.
“Obviously, with Shalrie's size, I think he might be the first choice there [instead of me],” Simms said. “But I'd be ready for it. I definitely have some MLS games back there.”
Heaps hasn't decided on his final choice as of yet, but he said he and his technical staff will pay keen attention to the situation as they prepare for the Timbers this weekend.
“Clyde's an option,” Heaps said. “Shalrie's an option. We have to work and move through, but it's certainly an issue that we'll have to deal with this week.”
Time to dictate the terms
In their first two games, the Revs reacted to how the opposition wanted to play. San Jose forced them to play more directly than they prefer, while Sporting Kansas City's early pressure changed the game with McCarthy's dismissal.
The home opener provides the perfect opportunity for the Revs to assume the burden of setting the tempo of the affair and show how they want to dictate the terms of matches, according to Simms.
“That's something we need to concentrate on,” Simms said. “I feel like something that's going to help us as a team is to concentrate on ourselves. That's how we're going to get better and better and begin to take steps forward. If we have our way of playing and we play that way every single game, then we're going to be better rather than worrying too much about the other team and trying to change up things every game.”
That particular mindset – keep it on the ground and pile the pressure on the home team – could lead to goals sooner or later. Given the fact that the Revs haven't scored in either of their first two outings, the former option offers the most appeal to Heaps.
“I think it's important,” he said about scoring the first goal on his watch. “Last week was a little unfair because we were down a man. This week, we have 11 players and we're on our home pitch. We certainly expect to play some aggressive soccer and some attacking soccer and make teams that come in here know that we want to play and make it a difficult environment.”