CARSON, Calif. – With an average age just a shade above 25 years old for its starting lineup, the New England Revolution showed its youth on Saturday night at The Home Depot Center, even running out a trio of rookies on opening night against the LA Galaxy.
Forward Zack Schilawski (22 years old) and left back Seth Sinovic (23) were handed their first professional starts, while midfielder Zak Boggs (23) made his MLS debut as a second-half substitute. It was a memorable night for the trio, who all impressed Head Coach Steve Nicol and the technical staff during the recent nine-week preseason.
On top of that, 23-year-old Senegalese midfielder Joseph Niouky – who signed with the Revs this past offseason – earned his first MLS start with a 90-minute performance in central midfield.
Unfortunately for the quartet of newcomers, they received a harsh welcome to the professional game as last year’s MLS Cup runner-up LA punished New England for an early lapse on a set piece and held on for a 1-0 win.
Despite the loss, the resilient youngsters remained upbeat about their performance and tried to take solace in an improved second-half showing.
“Obviously we’re a little disappointed with the result,” said Sinovic. “But in the second half we started to play a little more and we created a few chances. Personally, it was just exciting to be out there.”
Schilawski shared Sinovic’s disappointment in the final outcome of the game, but also agreed that there were positives to be taken as the new players get acclimated to the professional game and the club looks to move on with the rest of the season.
“It was frustrating at times,” he admitted. “I think that once we settled in, moved the ball around and had a little more possession, it was good.”
After a difficult first half – in which the Revs only mustered one shot – the Revs seemed to spark to life shortly after the break, as Schilawski and strike partner Kheli Dube began to link up more effectively.
According to Schilawski, some words of encouragement from Nicol at halftime helped spur the change in performance.
“He said that we needed to believe in ourselves a little bit,” he recalled. “That’s pretty much what the message was at halftime. We just had to have the confidence to go out there and the courage to knock the ball around a bit.”
With long-time veterans Jay Heaps and Steve Ralston no longer in the fold, the Revolution is undoubtedly a younger team than in recent years. But the situation was compounded even further by injuries during the season opener, as Edgaras Jankauskas (35), Matt Reis (34), Shalrie Joseph (31) and Taylor Twellman (30) – four of the club’s six players over the age of 30 – all missed the match.
Remarkably, three of the most experienced Revolution players to see action on Saturday night were Sainey Nyassi (fourth year), Kenny Mansally (fourth year) and Kevin Alston (second year).
All three are just 21 years old.
For Boggs – who replaced Nyassi at right midfield early in the second half – the match was all about gaining some of that experience for himself.
“For me personally it was just about getting my feet under me,” he said. “This was my first official game – so that was cool – and it was a great atmosphere. Hats off to all those other rookies who made their debuts.”
While gaining experience for the youngsters will be invaluable as the season wears on – and especially as the rookies turn into veterans in years to come – the simple fact is that it doesn’t count for anything in the standings at the end of the day.
With a key Eastern Conference battle with bitter rival D.C. United on the horizon next weekend at RFK Stadium, the hope will be that the experience gained in the season opener will help the youngsters mesh with the veterans as they return from injury.
After getting his MLS debut out of the way, Schilawski believes that improvement is inevitable.
“I think that we got better and better as the game went on and that’s pretty much what we’re looking for,” he said. “We want to keep improving, keep getting better and I think tonight will be a good experience for us looking back.”