Revolution atop MLS Eastern Conference
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) — Patrick Mullins was in junior high school in New Orleans when he attended a New England Revolution clinic there about 10 years ago.
The MLS team was in the middle of a six-season stretch of reaching the Eastern Conference final and making it to the championship game in four of them.
“They were probably the first team in MLS I started watching,” the rookie forward said Tuesday. “I know a little bit about the Revs’ past.”
Now he’s part of their impressive present and hopeful future after a four-year slide in which they failed to make the playoffs three times.
And those four title games?
They lost every one of them — two in overtime and one on penalty kicks.
There was more disappointment this year when the Revolution won just one of their first five games, going scoreless in four.
But since then, they’re 6-0-1 and have won their past five games.
They’ve outscored opponents 16-4 in that winning streak, their longest since 2005, with an Eastern Conference matchup at last-place Montreal set for Saturday night.
While their performances have changed, their attitude hasn’t.
“I’ve been in this league long enough and I’ve been on seven-game winless streaks,” said defender Chris Tierney, who has spent all seven of his MLS seasons with the Revolution.
“Had I rolled over and given up then I wouldn’t be here now. So it’s just about maintaining an even keel.”
New England leads the conference, but “we’re still a third of the way through the season and we have plenty of work to do,” Tierney said.
When Jay Heaps became coach in 2012, the Revolution had missed the playoffs for two straight seasons. They fell short again in his first year then lost in the first round last year.
But his emphasis on drafting college players is paying off.
The Revolution chose midfielder Kelyn Rowe of UCLA with the third pick in 2012, defender Andrew Farrell of Louisville with the first pick in 2013 and Mullins, the two-time national player of the year from Maryland, in 2014.
“The first year was really about changing the culture and trying to bring new players in and create depth,” said Heaps, an outstanding defender with the Revolution from 2001 until his retirement after the 2009 season. “I love working with younger players, even when I was an older (player).”
Mullins has been a key to the current surge.
He played half of the opening game at midfield, a new position for him, then sat out the next seven. When he returned, he was back at forward where he starred in college.
He has scored one goal and played the full 90 minutes in each of the past four games, only the second rookie in MLS history with a four-game goal-scoring streak.
“When I first came in I definitely wanted to make sure I just contributed,” he said, but playing forward “is stuff that I’ve done my whole life. It’s a little more natural.”
Preseason injuries contributed to the Revolution’s slow start, but they’re healthier now and their chemistry and confidence are growing.
In their past three games, they beat Seattle 5-0, Philadelphia 5-3 and D.C. United 2-1. Only two other MLS teams have scored at least five goals in two straight games, the most recent in 2001.
“It was very important to win a different style of game” against D.C. United, Tierney said. “It definitely wasn’t our best stuff, but we have to realize that five goals aren’t always going to (come) every time we take the field.”
He spoke after practice while another outstanding team that plays in Foxborough, the New England Patriots, went through organized team activities on an adjacent field.
“They’re a tough act to follow,” Heaps said.
And, like Patriots coach Bill Belichick, Heaps moves on quickly from past games, no matter how successful.
“At the end of the year,” Heaps said, “if these (wins) help us get into the playoffs, then I’ll say, ‘all right, that was a good run.’ But to me, it’s too early.”