Earthquakes aim for playoff return in 2012

Earthquakes aim for playoff return in 2012
March 9, 2012, 11:54 pm
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Programming note: Watch Saturday night's season opener at 7:30 p.m. on Comcast SportsNet California.

SAN JOSE (AP) -- Hiring an unproven coach and installing a new system has the New England Revolution living up to their nickname.

A slew of changes and a milestone ruling have the San Jose Earthquakes feeling confident.

Jay Heaps looks to win his coaching debut and prove the Revolution's solid preseason is a sign of things to come Saturday night when they visit the Earthquakes to open the MLS season.

New England finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference last season with a 5-16-13 record, failing to reach the playoffs for a second consecutive year. That was enough to cost coach Steve Nicol his job after 10 seasons.

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With the Revs in the midst of a rebuilding project, they opted to hire Heaps, the club's television analyst for two years after spending 11 as a rugged, stalwart defender -- nine with New England.

The stunning hire was followed by an equally surprising change; the Revolution would be altering their system to a more possession-based one to encourage offensive play.

The style showed promise during preseason, as New England won three of four games (3-0-1), outscoring 2011 MLS Cup champion Los Angeles, New York and Salt Lake by a combined 7-3 in those victories.

"At times, it's been very positive," Heaps told the team's official website. "We've shown that we have players on the field who, when they have the ball at their feet, can change the game and that's what we really want to create.

"We also have good, strong, athletic players who can also get in behind. So we want to have kind of a one-two punch where we keep possession and we wear teams down, but then have the ability to get behind them."

One of those players is Saer Sene, a French forward who was has size (6-foot-3) and speed. He spent nearly three years with Germany's Bayern Munich, but was limited to playing for the reserve team. However, he had 19 goals in 55 matches.

"He's a great striker of the ball," Heaps said. "Now, (the question) is going to be can we spring him? Can we get him in dangerous areas?"

That task will be up to a midfield that stars captain Shalrie Joseph, U.S. international Benny Feilhaber and 20-year-old Kelyn Rowe, the third overall selection in January's SuperDraft.

Rowe, who left UCLA two years early, has been used in offensive-minded roles with various U.S. youth national teams.

"We're so excited and so looking forward to Saturday night," Joseph said. "Even though it's on the road, it feels good just getting our season started. Everybody's just ready to get that first kick in and get a win on the road."

The changes could help New England, which went 1-9-7 on the road last season. The team is 1-6-2 in its last nine visits to San Jose.

The Earthquakes are also looking to capitalize on changes, as they enter 2012 looking to return to the playoffs after going 8-12-14 last season.

They added midfielders Marvin Chavez, Tressor Moreno and rookie Sam Garza along with defender Victor Bernardez to a roster that already boasts Chris Wondolowski, who has totaled 34 goals over the last two seasons.

"We brought in some great guys, especially offensively, and I think that's really going to help produce (goals) and be very dangerous in the attack," Wondolowski told the team's official website. "I know other guys are going to be scoring a lot, but I think goal totals in general -- and general play for us -- will improve."

Wondolowski has three goals in the last four meetings with New England, including both in a 2-1 road victory Oct. 8.

The Quakes' optimism may also stem from last month's unanimous vote by the San Jose Planning Commission that approved the building of a new stadium.

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