Heaps’s strength in difficult times inspires Revolution
FOXBOROUGH - Jay Heaps learned not long after the Revolution finished practice two Wednesdays ago that his mother, who had been battling congenital lung disease, had died at age 62.
The coach was at practice the next two days. He took the trip with his team for a game last Saturday in Washington, where they battled out of a 2-0 first-half hole but still lost to United, 3-2.
The next day, Heaps attended his mother’s funeral services.
He considered traveling with the Revolution to Harrisburg, Pa., for a US Open Cup match Tuesday. But ultimately he chose not to.
That morning, though, he still came in to see his players.
“He came in with the boys just to say hi, and to make sure that the guys that were there stayed focused and make sure to be strong for everybody,’’ said team captain Shalrie Joseph. “The off-the-field-issues, make sure that we keep that in the background and focus on playing soccer.’’
The game came down to penalty kicks, and the Revolution fell short. When they returned to practice at Gillette Stadium Wednesday, preparing for another game with one of their biggest rivals, the Chicago Fire, Heaps was there.
In his first season at the helm, he has handled player suspensions, appeals, injuries, illnesses, and managed a roster that was reconstructed in the offseason with the hopes of recovering from the franchise’s worst season.
Even when family trauma worked its way into a season that already has been a battle, Heaps wanted to hang the blame for the two losses on himself.
“I’m going to put both of those games on me,’’ he said. “Unfortunately, a lot of emotion, and maybe too much to handle in certain areas.
“So I’m going to take it as a learning experience as a coach, a learning experience as a life experience - it’s something I can’t control - and as a motivation.’’
If he could do it all over again, he said, he would have been there.
“I think I learned that you can only take on so much,’’ he said. “You have to handle more than just what you think you can handle.’’
But his players saw his strength and supported him.
“Jay is unbelievable for what he’s been going through the last couple of weeks,’’ Joseph said. “For him to still even go to D.C. and watch the guys play, it’s unbelievable that he’s such a strong person and strong coach that he’s been able to maintain.
“He’s been able to go through all of this with his family, and our heart just goes out to him because we know how hard it is to lose a loved one. He’s been strong for us and that’s the kind of leader we need.’’
Darrius Barnes, who was a rookie during the last of Heaps’s playing years with the Revolution, said it was clearly different without Heaps on the sidelines.
“It was a little different, because we know Jay, his natural personality, he’s an emotional guy,’’ Barnes said. “This week we kind of felt for him and we rallied around him because we know, the death of any family member, it’s always going to be hard.’’
“We’re a family here, so we rallied around him. We felt his pain and felt his emotion and we rallied around him in practice and we’re still feeling it.
“So it was a tough week for all of us, knowing one of our own lost a family member, but we had a job that needed to be done so we tried to go on as usual.’’
The season has had its share of missed connections for the Revolution. All but one of their past eight games has been a one-goal decision or a draw. They’ve been haunted by late-game goals, giving up four in the last 15 minutes but scoring none.
They’ve had tough luck and self-defeating moments on the road, where they are 1-6. But they’ve found success at home, where they are 3-0-1.
Heaps has managed the year with patience, waiting for progress to turn into points.
“We’ve let him learn a couple times, but he knows what it is,’’ Joseph said. “He knows what it is to be a player, and some of the results haven’t gone our way, but he’s kept us focused on what’s more important, and that’s us playing well, moving forward, and trying to forget about the games that we gave away.
“It’s all about what we do next from here on.
After the Revolution fell behind by two goals to D.C. United, they rallied after the break. Three minutes into the second half, Saer Sene got on the board, and two minutes later, A.J. Soares evened the score.
Seeing his team respond that way was a strong sign for Heaps.
“Our talk that we had at halftime was pretty intense,’’ he said. “I looked into their eyes and I saw another gear.’’
As the team puts the losses and the emotions behind, Barnes said, Heaps’s commitment is an example.
“Jay’s dedicated,’’ he said. “For him to come out here on the day that his mother actually passed just shows his dedication to this team, to this club, and to this organization. That’s the kind of person Jay is.’’
Julian Benbow can be reached at email@example.com.