'12 Season Preview: Heaps faces tough road ahead in charge of Revs

It has been a while since someone other than Steve Nicol has manned the New England Revolution bench, but the 2012 season will mark the dawn of a new era in Foxborough.

Nicol's 10-year spell as Revolution coach came to an end this offseason. The club finished bottom of the Eastern Conference, tied with Vancouver Whitecaps FC for the lowest point total in MLS with just 28, and the Scotsman's contract was not renewed by the club.

Enter Jay Heaps, who seized control of New England's coaching duties in November.

The former Revolution midfielder, and Duke basketball player, will be entrusted with rebuilding the club despite minimal changes to the squad.

The case could be made that Heaps has one of toughest gigs in MLS. He is replacing a legend in Nicol and is essentially being asked to do the most with the least as he is expected to turn one of 2011's worst finishers into a playoff team with no real wholesale changes in the offseason. Heaps will have to channel his inner Mike Krzyzewski, showing top-class man-management skills, if he is to have any shot at a playoff berth.

The Revs lost some key offensive pieces after the season as Milton Caraglio, Kheli Dube, Rajko Lekic, and Monsef Zerka all departed the club. New England is likely to rely on Jose Montero for goals after picking up the Colombian on a loan deal from Once Caldas.

New England will also rely heavily on the form of club staple and holding midfielder Shalrie Joseph as well as playmaker Benny Feilhaber.

Joseph has anchored the Revolution midfield since 2003 and has since been one of the faces of the organization. But after taking part in the league's substance abuse program and being the subject of transfer rumors, his commitment to the club was questioned. Heaps, however, was quick reject that notion.

"He's very on board," said Heaps. "When you're looking at a player of Shalrie's caliber, you have to know where to reach in and push the buttons. I've known him a long time and he knows what to expect from me."

Feilhaber, meanwhile, will play higher up the pitch. His technical ability is among the best in MLS and the attacking midfielder can control the pace of a game all on his own. Feilhaber's ability to unlock defenses in the final third will go a long way to determining New England���s level of success in 2012.

2011 IN REVIEW: New England had a rather miserable season in 2011, finishing last in the Eastern Conference with a 5-16-13 record. With 28 points, the Revs were tied with Vancouver for the fewest points in the league, adding further insult to injury for one of the league's more successful clubs in recent memory.

ACQUISITIONS: Blake Brettschneider (F), John Lozano (D), Jose Moreno (F), Tyler Polak (D), Alec Purdie (M), Michael Roach (M), Kelyn Rowe (M), Clyde Simms (M).

LOSSES: Milton Caraglio (F), Ryan Cochrane (D), Kheli Dube (F), Ryan Kinne (M), Rajko Lekic (F), Pat Phelan (M), Zack Schilawski (F), Monsef Zerka (F).

OUTLOOK: It will be a very tall order for Heaps to turn New England into a playoff team in his first season as an MLS head coach, especially with the lack of reinforcements brought in during the offseason. The Revs could certainly improve from last year and there may be some impressive results along the way, but it will not be enough to see the club reach the playoffs.