Revolution bond together to form a dangerous MLS playoff team

"What are you going to do, complain about it?"

It's July 26 and the New England Revolution are in a tailspin. They have just lost to the Columbus Crew -- their eighth defeat in a row -- but coach Jay Heaps is staying positive. He knows his team can turn it around and that complaining about the slide won't fix anything.

"You have to roll up your sleeves and keep going forward," Heaps said. "It's awful and tough, but at the same time, you have to keep a perspective and keep going forward. We have a really young team and we know we can win games in this league; it's just a matter of finding a way quickly."

Four days later, the Revs came to life and beat Colorado 4-0. They found a way.

Now, in the middle of October, the Revolution have clinched a playoff spot after posting a 9-1-2 record in their past 12 games.

"We've always known we have the quality to be where we're at now," midfielder Lee Nguyen said. "A couple games we let slip, could've got a couple points here or there, ties, wins -- we don't have that many ties [an MLS-low four]. If we'd had four or five [more ties], we'd be challenging for the Supporter's Shield, too.

"But that's just the ups and downs of football. This team has a strong mentality and we knew that and we were able to get through it. It's just great character from the guys in the locker room."

The "locker room" has a mythical stature in sports. Players, coaches, media and fans have long decreed that it -- and team chemistry -- can make up for something that's lacking on the field.

"I think it's extremely important to have a locker room that supports you and I think all of us know how it feels when you're not playing or when you're injured and to have guys push you and stay positive and stay hungry is probably, if not the most important," forward Charlie Davies said.

"It's a really good group of guys," defender Andrew Farrell said. "And I think something that sometimes goes unnoticed is how good the team chemistry is. That's something we have had as we push for this playoff spot."

That chemistry had to be built, though. It didn't just appear one day. It had to percolate and required players and coaches who fit not only into the scheme on the field, but also the personality in the locker room.

After finishing the 2011 season with just five wins and missing the playoffs for the second consecutive year, the Revs made a major overhaul to their coaching staff, front office, facilities and roster.

Heaps, a former defender and TV analyst for the team, was hired to replace longtime head coach Steve Nicol, with the remit to build a roster not content with having a good starting 11, but intent on having a roster deep enough to foster competition among players.

New England's current squad shows the importance the franchise places on the MLS SuperDraft, a trend established under Nicol, who picked, among others, Shalrie Joseph, Taylor Twellman, Clint Dempsey and Michael Parkhurst.

Among those selected by Heaps and the Revolution front office, which includes general manager Mike Burns, are Farrell, midfielders Kelyn Rowe and Steve Neumann and forward Patrick Mullins. The draft has continued to be a staple of New England team-building despite the changing landscape of MLS.

"Now, has the draft changed over the last couple of years? Absolutely, and that's mainly due obviously because of the academy system -- there is a little north of 100 players that have signed through the academy system," Burns said. "So the college draft has changed, but we still feel it is impactful."

That academy system has offered another resource to the Revolution, and local talent such as Diego Fagundez and Scott Caldwell have been signed to homegrown contracts. In addition, a savvy eye in the existing MLS player market also has been of benefit.

Perhaps the greatest example of this came in 2012, when New England signed Nguyen, who had been cut by Vancouver before the start of the season. In this, his third season, the one-time United States international has scored 15 goals and has five assists to put himself in the league MVP conversation.

The squad is still young -- the average age is 26 -- but it has come together as a unit that wins and loses together. The signs were there at the end of last season when New England went unbeaten in the final six games to make the playoffs.

That strong team ethic was required in the first half of the 2014 campaign. Early losing streaks came on either side of a run of five straight wins, but now the Revolution look like a dangerous team going into the playoffs.

"This team I think is ready to take the next step. We have the experience. We have the quality," Davies said. "Now I think everyone is ready to take the next step as a team to launch ourselves or put ourselves in a better position to have success."

The squad's recent run -- and belief -- also has been bolstered by a new arrival. Jermaine Jones signed on Aug. 24 following a blind draw in which MLS allocated his rights to New England ahead of Chicago.

Since then, the U.S. veteran has added bite to the Revs' midfield and scored two game-winning goals in eight appearances. His presence has made an immediate impact on his new teammates.

"We saw what [Jones] was capable of at the World Cup and we knew he was the piece that we needed to make that push," Nguyen said. "We're grateful to have him and I know he's happy to be here and he wants to win just as much as we do."

"We'll have our bad stretches like we did in the middle of the season, which is kind of inevitable with younger players; you get kind of more extremes," Andy Dorman said. "But I think now, with the addition of Jermaine, there is more experience in the team, in the squad, to make sure those dips don't get too low and those peaks don't get too high."

Dorman has history with the Revolution when it comes to playoff runs. In his first spell with the team, he was part of a side that reached three straight MLS Cups between 2005 and 2007. He sees differences between that squad and the current incarnation.

"I think [those teams were] based more on experienced battlers with a strong mentality able to grind out results. I think this team now is a more open, free-flowing team that when we're on we're really good, built with young players, and obviously exciting to watch."

Given his veteran status, however, perhaps it's not surprising that Dorman isn't getting ahead of himself when asked what New England must do to achieve its goal of winning a championship.

Indeed, you only have to look at the team's next opponents for a reminder that there is no benefit in looking too far ahead. On Thursday (8 p.m. ET, ESPN2/WatchESPN), New England faces Houston, who beat the Revs in back-to-back MLS Cups in 2006 and 2007.

"I mean, we're still a long ways away from talking about [winning MLS Cup]," Dorman said. "We have got the two regular-season games left, and I think it's as the old cliche goes: It's about taking it a game at a time. It's no different going into this game against Houston."