New England coach Jay Heaps packed up his players and transported them to the Phoenix suburbs during the second week of preseason for one reason: He wanted to give his squad a chance to find its footing amid a series of alterations to the previous operating order.
“This is the first real leg of our preseason,” Heaps told reporters during a conference call on Wednesday afternoon. “It's about finding out what we have and what kind of team we'll be. We're doing it at an excellent facility. There are lot of opportunities for players to get on the field, play with each other, get to know each other and get some strength and conditioning work in. It's really important that we [meet] a lot of different goals during these 10 days.”
For the players, one of the objectives involves figuring out their collective identity under this new regime. The approach and the rhetoric have changed significantly in the early stages of the Heaps era, but the 10-day excursion to Grande Sports Academy (Jan. 21-31) provides the first extended opportunity to see how those changes might manifest on the field.
The focus remains on conditioning and team building at this point during the preseason, but there are glimpses of how the new boss might deviate from former manager Steve Nicol, according to Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis.
“Soccer-wise, it's really not that much different,” Reis said. “You can't re-create the game. But we are putting in the work that we have to in order to be ready for the season. It's a little different without Stevie, but with Jay coming from being coached by Stevie, there are a few similarities. At the same time, everything's new and exciting.”
Several roster changes during the offseason have left the Revs with plenty of work to do to obtain the cohesiveness required to avoid a second straight season of frustration as the 2012 campaign approaches. This trip to a self-contained facility allows the holdovers and the new arrivals to establish some common ground without any external distractions.
“No matter what team it is, these kind of situations – where you're isolated and all you really can do is spend time with your teammates – help to build bonds and get together to find new and interesting things about each other,” Reis said. “The hard work you put in is definitely the base you can look back upon when it gets tough during the season. You can say we were in Arizona, sweating in the desert and it brings (us) all together.”
Four high-profile players will make their mark within the group over the next couple of days. Recent signings Fernando Cárdenas and John Lozano joined their new teammates on Tuesday after the Revs received all of the necessary paperwork to complete their moves from Colombian side América de Cali.
First-round SuperDraft selection Kelyn Rowe arrived on Wednesday night as well after finishing up his duties with the US Olympic team. US national team midfielder Benny Feilhaber is expected to join his Revolution teammates on Thursday after the Americans emerged with a 1-0 victory in Panama on Wednesday night.