Jay Heaps might have overachieved in guiding the Revolution to three playoff berths and finals appearances in the 2014 MLS Cup and 2016 US Open Cup in his first foray into coaching. But the team’s failure to live up to expectations this season cost him his job as coach, Revolution general manager Michael Burns said Tuesday.
Heaps’s fate was clinched after the Revolution sustained losses to Atlanta United (7-0) and Sporting Kansas City (3-1) last week, extending their road winless streak to 17 games (0-14-3) over two seasons.
“The way we’ve been trending the last 12, 18, 24 months is not the direction we want the club going in,” Burns said. “It was not just one specific game result.
“There is a sense of underachievement and there is blame to go around — everyone’s got to take some responsibility for that.”
Assistant coach Tom Soehn, who has been head coach with D.C. United and the Vancouver Whitecaps, will take over for Heaps, starting with a game against first-place Toronto FC at Gillette Stadium at 5 p.m. Saturday.
Burns believes the roster remains strong enough to challenge for a playoff berth this season. The Revolution (10-14-5, 35 points) are 7 points out of an Eastern Conference playoff berth with five matches remaining.
Their inconsistencies have been costly. The team has been dominant at home, compiling a 10-2-2 record and a shutout streak of 371 consecutive minutes. But their road record (0-12-3) is among the worst in team history, threatening the 1998 team’s 1-11-4 away mark.
The Revolution have gone from being competitive away from home to seeming disjointed. Could Heaps have stayed on with better performances against Atlanta and Kansas City?
“That would be unfair to Jay,” Burns said. “What you’re asking is hypotheticals, and I’m dealing with realities. If we had beaten Atlanta, 7-0, and Kansas City, 3-1, would things be different? I can’t answer that.
“It was a decision not taken lightly, and not just because of Jay’s tenure here. You would be hard-pressed to find a guy more dedicated to his craft, the work he put in, commitment to the organization, desire to succeed.”
Heaps was a surprise choice to replace Steve Nicol after the 2011 season, two years after retiring as a player. He had an 11-year MLS playing career, nine years as a Revolution starter. Several other recently retired players were hired around the same time: Robin Fraser (Chivas USA), Frank Klopas (Chicago), Jason Kreis (Real Salt Lake), Jesse Marsch (Montreal), Ben Olsen (D.C. United), John Spencer (Portland), Peter Vermes (Kansas City). Only Olsen and Vermes have outlasted Heaps.
“A six-year run with any professional team anywhere in the world, in any sport — six years for a coach with a lot of experience is a good thing,” Burns said. “Jay did as admirable a job as he could’ve in six years and I hope it serves him and he will be a better coach on his next [job].
“Not to say he didn’t do a good job here, but you learn a lot as you go, and he had nothing in the way of coaching experience prior to it.”
There has been a sense of Revolution rivals pulling away with ambitious investments in coaching staffs and players. Toronto FC is led by Italian Sebastian Giovinco, New York City FC by Spanish star David Villa, Atlanta by former Barcelona coach Gerardo “Tata” Martino. But Burns said the Revolution are not planning to make radical changes in their philosophy of team building.
“Clearly, there are a few teams that spend quite a bit more than other teams,” Burns said. “And there is a gap between some of those teams and the rest of the league.
“This is not me being naive. I have not given up on the team we have. Yes, we can be competitive with those teams. Is it challenging? Is it difficult? Yes, it is. The team we have this year, I feel we should be better than we are.
“The high priority is just to get better. I think probably too much has been harped on the defense. Where we stand in the standings, goal differential, the number of games we haven’t scored a goal and the number of games we’ve conceded a lot — I don’t think it’s just the back four or the front three. It’s just getting better.
“At times we’ve been solid, defensively and offensively. Unfortunately, too many times it hasn’t clicked on both ends of the field.
“It’s a more accurate statement the reason we’re in this position [is] the underachievement aspect, inconsistent away performances, offensively and defensively.
“That is more the reason, in my opinion, we’re in the situation we’re in. There isn’t a person, a player, or coach that wouldn’t say we’ve underachieved.”
The Revolution interviewed 12 candidates before hiring Heaps, less than three weeks after Nicol’s dismissal six years ago.
“We will consider internal and external candidates,” Burns said. “We’ll make a worldwide search and hire the best candidate possible.
“Six years ago, we made the right decision. I have no regrets, I’m not second-guessing anything.
“We will make an extensive search. We’re not putting a timetable on it. Ideally, we will get someone on board sooner rather than later. We would like to have someone for the remainder of the calendar year.
“I would love to have a coach to have input on personnel matters and roster decision but we won’t rush to a decision. We’ll do our due diligence.”