Sunshine State of mind

ORLANDO, Fla. - For three consecutive weeks to open the 2010 preseason, the New England Revolution’s daily routine was almost identical. Each morning for five days a week, the club conducted a two-hour training session inside the familiar confines of the Dana-Farber Field House on the grounds of Gillette Stadium. While the local indoor sessions were great to kick off the preseason and provided an ideal method for the players regain their fitness, the repetitive schedule became monotonous for both players and staff alike.

As of one o’clock last Wednesday afternoon, the Revs were expected to continue that same schedule for an additional two weeks before embarking on their lone preseason training trip, from March 10-21 in Cary, N.C. That all changed in the blink of an eye, however, when head coach Steve Nicol decided to relocate the club to Orlando, Fla., for a six-day excursion beginning on Saturday, Feb. 20.

The last-minute nature of the trip took many of the players by surprise – and undoubtedly put a wrinkle in a few weekend plans in the Boston area – but it’s safe to assume that the news was welcomed with open arms by those eager to escape the harsh New England winter and enjoy some 70-degree temperatures.

“We’re professionals, so we’re paid to be wherever and whenever the team tells us,” said Chris Tierney, who is one of the Revolution’s longest-tenured players as he enters just his third season. “Plus, it helped when we found out we were coming down to sunny Florida. I don’t think anyone’s really complaining about it.”

While Nicol and the Revs consider themselves fortunate to have the necessary indoor facilities on-site at Gillette Stadium, playing on grass and recreating game conditions is essential during preseason training. That’s especially true now that the Revolution’s season opener against the LA Galaxy is just about four weeks away, on March 27.

“The bubble we have is fantastic, but at the end of the day, we play our games outside,” he said. “We need to get outdoors to get prepared for the season, so it was important for us to get into the conditions that we’re going to have when the season starts.”

The chance to train on a natural playing surface is also welcomed by the players, who have been training day after day on the FieldTurf inside the Dana-Farber Field House. Of course, the Revs play their home matches on FieldTurf at Gillette Stadium, so it behooves the players to acclimate themselves to its nuances. But training on an artificial surface each day for weeks on end can have unintended side effects on the athletes’ bodies.

According to Tierney, the effects of the FieldTurf are magnified during preseason, when the players are still trying to regain their fitness.

“It can take a toll on you, especially when you’re just starting off in preseason training,” he said. “Going from not playing, to playing on turf, it can wear on your ankles and knees.”

It’s one thing to simply train outside on grass, but the Orlando trip will also allow the Revs to play their first games of the 2010 preseason. In addition to three training sessions at the University of Central Florida – on Sunday, Monday and Wednesday – the club is slated to take the field against FC Dallas on Tuesday and a team of local college all-stars on Thursday.

After three weeks of scrimmaging against each other, the Revs are looking forward to the chance to finally face an opponent in a different colored jersey.

“You can play yourself as much as you want, but it’s always good to measure yourself against another quality team like FC Dallas or whoever we may play,” said Tierney. “I think we’re ready. I’m excited about it and we should be ready to put in a good performance.”

One group of players particularly excited to train outdoors and play organized preseason matches is the un-signed rookies, who are still attempting to impress the Revolution’s coaching staff and earn roster spots. Ninth overall draft pick Zack Schilawski has already signed a contract with the league, but later-round selections like Seth Sinovic and Zak Boggs, along with non-roster preseason invitee Rylan Hawkins, are still uncertain of their futures.

Not only will the rookies finally have the opportunity to show their skills against MLS opposition like FC Dallas, but they can also count the trip’s three training sessions on grass as a further chance to make an impression. In fact, Nicol believes that the trio of sessions in Orlando is really his first opportunity to fairly judge the new players.

“I don’t think it’s fair to judge them inside,” he said. “They’re not indoor players, they’re outdoor players. If you’re judging players who play outdoors when they’re indoors, it’s a wee bit wrong.”

For the team overall, Tuesday morning’s match against FC Dallas – slated for a 10:30 a.m. kickoff at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports – will be the first barometer of where the club stands entering the 2010 season. But Nicol believes that the game will provide as much insight into the team’s fitness level as it will into its skill level.

“You think you’re strong and fit, but until you play a proper game, you can’t find out exactly where you are,” he said. “Some guys will be further on than others, but it gives everybody a chance to personally see where they are and what they need to do to get fitter, stronger and quicker.”