Eight years ago at this time it would have seemed almost inconceivable that the New England Revolution would become one of the leagues most dominant teams. Throughout the teams first five seasons there was little to get excited about on the field, and that quickly turned to apathy amongst fans.
Prior to the 2001 season the Revs made a move for local boy, and ex-rookie of the year winner, Jay Heaps. Heaps had spent the two seasons prior playing for Wortman and Ray Hudson in Miami, before he was traded to the Revs for Brian Dunseth. Heaps had compiled 73 games for the Fusion in those 2 short years, and was quickly making a name for himself as a good young defender in the league. Heaps had always showed promise, and was always considered one of American soccer's best athletes. A basketball player at Coach K's famous Duke program, Heaps had every right to be considered a great athlete.
The 2001 season was a disappointment, however. The team again failed to qualify for MLS Cup under Clavijo, and continued their less than mediocre perception within MLS. They did make it to the US Open Cup final, but were defeated by the LA Galaxy. That 2001 season would change everything, though. Heaps former club, the Miami Fusion, were in dire straights, and the league decided to contract them (as well as their cross state rivals Tampa Bay). With the contraction came a dispersal and allocation draft, and the beginning of a new era in New England. That off season they acquired Steve Ralston through the allocation draft, from Tampa Bay. They also drafted young Taylor Twellman, and Shalrie Joseph in the first and second rounds (respectively) of the 2002 MLS Superdraft. A year later, the team acquired Matt Reis for a draft pick from the LA Galaxy.
Fast forward to yesterday. Entering the game Heaps was sitting on 299 games played in MLS, Twellman was on 99 goals, and Reis had compiled 49 shutouts. The first milestone was assured before the game began, as it was not a question whether Nicol would select Heaps for the starting XI.
Heaps was not only selected by Nicol for the match (as expected), but was honored before the match by coach Nicol, and owner Bob Kraft. Nicol further honored the 32 year old defender by making him captain of the match. Heaps played maybe his best game of the season locking down the left side of the field, and netting what was ultimately the game winning goal in stoppage time of the first half. Heaps then quickly helped the Revs pull away from the game, when he worked hard in the left hand corner, won back a ball from a defender, then found Steve Ralston on the back post to make the game 2-0.
In true fashion, this Revs team reached milestones together, as a team whose core has been together since their sort of reincarnation following the 2001 season. Legendary striker Taylor Twellman quickly added a goal in the 57th minute, on a ball from Shalrie Joseph, to make it 100 goals in his MLS career. Twellman sprinted over to the bench and gave coaches Nicol and Mariner a huge as he celebrated his milestone goal. Twellman wasn't finished, and finished another chance when Steve Ralston slid a ball his way inside of 12 yards, where Twellman took a touch, and slid the ball under Red Bulls keeper Conway in the 64th minute.
At this point, the game had basically been decided. The Revs still had one more milestone to reach though. They needed to help their keeper tally his 50th shutout of his MLS career. When the final whistle blew, just a few minutes into stoppage time, Reis became the third member of the Revs on the night to reach an important milestone. His 50th shutout came on a night where he had to make just 3 saves, but the accomplishment is still incredible.
Heaps, Twellman and Reis all reached their milestones, as long time teammates Shalrie Joseph and Steve Ralston helped them as the 5 have done together for quite a long time. Though this group has yet to win an MLS Cup, it is clear that they love playing with and for one another. Together they have been one of the era's most dominant teams in MLS, and with them all back healthy now, hopefully they can continue that through this season. Though the Red Bulls looked like a disinterested team for much of the game last night, make no mistake that this collection of talent that the Revs have is one of a kind in MLS. Few teams have kept a core this strong together for as long as the Revs have, and they are a challenge for anyone they go up against.
GLORY GLORY REVOLUTION!