I have been a fan of the Revs since the inception of the league, but I only started actively "covering" the Revolution in my blog about four years ago, and even then it wasn't very often. I spent most of my time on message boards talking with other fans about the Revs and the recent games, and the angst caused by some of the players. Here are some of my early thoughts about Jay Heaps from way back in 2006.
"Heaps is tough, but he whines a bit too much... JUST PLAY, JAY!"
"Heaps bugs me. That was such an obvious swat in the face of Moreno, and the foul could have given United another goal if it was inside the box. Stupid play - I am glad [Heaps] got an elbow in the mouth."
".... still think Larentowicz is the man. Love his style of play .... take notes Jay Heaps!"
Later in 2006 I was asked by CSRN to be the New England Revolution correspondent for their new weekly radio show "Around The League", so I started actively watching replays of the games via DVR, paying close attention to the players. It was then that I really started to take notice of Jay Heaps. I grew to respect his aggressive and scrappy style of play, even though parts of his game, like complaining to the Referee or Linesman, still bothered me. But the more I watched, the more I grew to respect his game, especially the way he played some of the tough strikers like Jaime Moreno and Ante Razov. He never shied away from playing those guys tough or mixing it up when the need arose. Despite his reputation as a scrappy player, Heaps only picked up 63 cautions and 4 ejections in his 11 year MLS career. Somehow it seemed like a lot more.
This past season, in my opinion, was Jay's best in his professional career. Playing left back, Jay was able to get forward and get into the attack more often than in previous years when he was playing in the 3-5-2 or at center back, and I got to see first hand what he really brought to the team. He always played his heart out, especially when his team was down, and would dig into the opposing corners, win balls for his team, and then run his tail off to cover on the counter attack. Jay played every game this season as if it was his last game. His hard work and dedication to his club earned him a well deserved call up to the US Men's National Team, an honor which yielded him his only caps for his country (as well as an ejection in the Gold Cup Final - yeah Jay, we noticed).
Recently I have been thinking about the collective age of the core group of veterans in the New England Starting 11 - Ralston, Reis, Joseph, Twellman and Heaps - and came to the conclusion that this core was getting old quick. They are all in their 30's (Twellman, born on February 29th, will be 30 on his next "birthday") and their age is starting to show. Twellman never fully recovered from his head injury last year. Reis was apparently playing with a bad shoulder for most of the season. Shalrie Joseph was banged up for portions of the season, and often played injured. And for a second year in a row, Steve Ralston's season was cut short just before playoffs. You could even throw Chris Albright into the mix as he is still on the roster and well into his 30's and also sat out the entire year. The Revolution were thereby forced to field a much younger team than in the past inluding starting three MLS rookies on the back line.
However, despite all of the injuries and new players, the Revolution were able to count on Jay Heaps. He provided the anchor that the Revs needed in the start of the season when the likes of Ralston and Reis were both sidelined with injury. He provided the leadership they needed at the end of the season, when the playoffs were on the line. He even added a goal and an assist along the way in the "Milestone Game" against the Red Bulls. If not for his call up to the national team, Jay would have started for the Revs every game this season.
Over the last few years, Heaps established himself as one of the key leaders on the Revolution team, both on the field and in the locker room, showing by example what it takes to succeed in this league. He leaves the Revs as the all time leader in starts (238), games (243), and minutes played (21,619). He takes with him 11 years worth of experience soaked in blood, sweat, and even tears. His drive, his grit, and his passion for the game will most certainly be hard to replace.
Jay - if you are reading this - you won me over. I can honestly say I am going to miss watching you play next year. You gave your all to our team, and for that I thank you.