As a veteran of eight MLS seasons, Revs defender Jay Heaps has seen teammates come and go, seasons begin and end, and began playing for the local club in a home stadium once thought to be “the local high school field.” But through the seasons, one thing that has remained constant is his veteran presence on a team that seems to feed off its veterans.
“In 2002, we were just excited it was here (in Foxboro), and it was an eye-opener,” said Heaps, a native of Nashua, who returned to his roots via trade by way of Miami Fusion mid-way during the 2001 season. At the time, the Revs were playing in Foxboro Stadium, a field which could be described on its best night as “serviceable.”
When reflecting on the veteran nucleus comprised of Joe Franchino, Steve Ralston, Taylor Twellman, and himself, along with manager Steve Nicol, Heaps acknowledges that the continuity in the team’s veterans is a testament to Nicol, who continually brings in seasoned players year after year to help fill in the gaps.
“We have a core group of guys from the beginning of 2002. What Steve Nicol has done is that he’s added, every year, some new type of player position. Whether it was Kenny (Khano Smith) last year, and still this year, or (Jose Manuel) Abundis this year, and then having said that, guys like James Riley have gotten the experience (in addition). It really helps us when a guy goes down, or can’t play, or MLS says they can’t play.”
He also recognized differences in approach in this year’s Eastern Conference champion versus the 2005 incarnation.
“Last year, we really thought we were going win it, (but) we really didn’t show up on game day (in 2005),” said Heaps, dwelling on the hot start the team got off to last year en route to their first place regular season finish in the Eastern Conference. “You can be the hottest team in MLS up until the (final game), and then kind of cool off like we did last year.”
With the experience of last year, and taking with it the positives despite their 1-0 loss to the Los Angeles Galaxy, Heaps said that this time around, the team will be better prepared. “We’re happy to be going back, happy to be staying at the same hotel, like a walk-through last year. So this year, because it’s very similar to last year, we’re going into it feeling like we’ve been there (before) and that we have to go get it. If we can take a positive last year, it’s (that) walk through. We know what to expect this year with the stadium (and such).”
With one final game – the final game - remaining, Heaps also dwelled on the fact that the Revs, although plagued with rashes of injuries, suspensions, and national team obligations, never lost sight of the task at hand through the ups and downs of this season.
“I think that guys realize that it’s a tough season, and it’s tough to get back (to the Final). The road that we had to go through to get there was very difficult, and in getting there, many guys realize that the opportunities don’t come very often.
“As a veteran player, I try and preach it everyday, but until you’ve been there and seen it that you don’t get there every year, it’s difficult to take (not winning).”