There were still five games left when the Revolution were eliminated from playoff contention last year.
They could have dwelled on missing the postseason for the third straight year — and they had reason to, after overhauling their roster, hiring a new coach, and going in with the goal of restoring a once-successful franchise, only to swallow a season full of painfully close losses.
Instead, they saw it as a head start on 2013.
A massive makeover set the tone in 2012, when the Revolution all but gutted the locker room and added 11 new players. Constant transition dotted the regular season, with the boldest move being the midseason trade of captain and mainstay Shalrie Joseph.
The approach this offseason was more focused, with general manager Michael Burns and coach Jay Heaps evaluating the pieces they had while also having ample time to search for the pieces they needed.
Even though eight players were waived or traded and those 11 new faces were brought in, the Revolution kept together a core group of players and were aggressive about adding depth.
“I have asked both of them to be very aggressive from Day 1,” said second-year team president Brian Bilello. “I think what we’re trying to do is kick the tires on as many things as we possibly can so that when the opportunities are there, we know about it and we’re the first team to know about it.”
Of all the ways to acquire players, Burns said, “We’ve touched upon every one of them”
They targeted veteran midfielders Kalifa Cisse and Andy Dorman, who both signed in November from Europe, and a month later had defender Jose Goncalves in their crosshairs.
“We like adding veteran players like that, similar to what we did with Clyde [Simms] last year,” said Heaps, “because they’ve been around this league and understand it and they can help some of the younger players adapt.”
They added forward Chad Barrett through the reentry process, plucked defender Bilal Duckett from the USL and forward Matt Horth from the NASL, and signed homegrown midfielder Scott Caldwell (Weymouth).
“My feeling is it’s the deepest team we’ve had in a long while,” Burns said.
The boldest moves, though, were the trades they made to set themselves up in the draft, starting with dealing away their highest-profile (and highest-paid) player, Benny Feilhaber, to Sporting Kansas City for first- and second-round picks, then later grabbing the first overall pick from Toronto for the fourth pick and allocation money.
They used the No. 1 pick to take Louisville defender Andrew Farrell, a player they believe can contribute right away.
“When the No. 1 pick became available, for us, he was our No. 1 guy collectively across the board,” Burns said. “When it became real with Toronto, and we knew we could move up, he was the guy we targeted. It was a relatively easy decision for us.”
His size and knowledge of the game stood out.
“He’s very aware of the game,” Heaps said. “He’s got a very high soccer IQ. So when he receives the ball, he’s not just receiving the ball, he’s already on the next play as it’s coming to him.
“When you’re a coach, you can see that. His preparation with the ball and just his technical ability is very good.
Overall, they’ve made changes that the players in the locker room trust.
“It gives us confidence as players, and it shows that this organization, they want to win,” said midfielder Lee Nguyen, who scored five goals last season. “We’re not just content. We want to go out and get the best.”
They were changes that needed to be made. The Revolution played 19 one-goal matches last season, winning four. Closing out games was easily the difference between reaching the postseason and starting the offseason early.
“Last year, we felt that we let points slip away and we know that,” Heaps said. “Now, I want to have a harder, more mentally strong team.
“That’s something that we also took into account when we made our changes from last year to this year. The players we kept, we wanted to make sure we had a really good group of guys that want to be together and are going to fight for each other to the last whistle. That’s what we feel strong about, about this core.”
They know, though, that they won’t be judged by their offseason effort.
“We’re going to judge it by the number of wins we get and making it to the playoffs,” Nguyen said. “We won’t let it go this time.”Julian Benbow can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.