When he was acquired in a midseason trade from the Colorado Rapids last year, New England-born Nico Colaluca inspired a surplus of feel-good stories about a young player and his lifelong dream to play for his hometown soccer team. A native of Coventry, R.I., and a graduate of La Salle Academy in Providence, Colaluca grew up watching the New England Revolution from the stands at the old Foxboro Stadium and visualizing the day when he would have the chance to suit up for the Revs.
It was undoubtedly a touching story, and one which tugged at the heart strings of anyone with childhood dreams of playing professional sports. But it became an injustice to the player when his local roots were the focal point of every conversation.
The time has come to talk about Nico Colaluca’s on-field production.
A clever midfielder with a deceptively powerful long-range shot, Colaluca appears to have come into his own as he prepares to enter his fourth year in the league. While his opportunities in Colorado were limited – he made just four league appearances in more than two years – he became a consistent option off the bench for the Revs late last season, totaling six appearances and earning his first professional start.
The playing time was a confidence boost, and that self-belief has noticeably carried into the 2010 preseason. In training session after training session, Colaluca has been active on the attack. Always willing to challenge players in one-on-one situations on the dribble, he’s not shy of physical confrontations despite his smaller stature (five-foot-nine).
Part of Colaluca’s preseason form can be attributed to his offseason workouts and the constant sense that he needs to confirm his ability.
“I did a lot of work in the offseason,” he said. “This is a big year for me – it’s my fourth year. I feel like this can be a year when I can prove myself.”
Colaluca also claims that his confidence has been aided simply because this year, he’s been with the Revolution from the start of preseason training camp. Joining the Revs two months into the 2009 season provided a slew of challenges, as he tried to fit in with a new group of players while simultaneously proving himself to the Revolution’s coaching staff.
After using the first few months to settle in and establish himself, Colaluca felt that it all started to come together toward the end of the 2009 season. Head Coach Steve Nicol must’ve felt the same, as Colaluca appeared in four of the Revolution’s last five games of the regular season during the critical push in which the club qualified for the MLS Cup Playoffs.
“Last year I came in midseason, and [Coach Nicol] hadn’t seen my play for a while,” Colaluca recalled. “It took a little while to settle down and show him what kind of player I was. Starting a season off here and going through preseason, I feel like I’m really a part of the team this year now that I’m here from the start.”
Preseason performances aren’t often critical for a player entering his fourth professional season – a player with that experience is typically a known commodity – but 2010 has a bit of a different feel in Revs camp. With midfielders Steve Ralston, Jeff Larentowicz and Wells Thompson no longer in New England, starting spots for the season opener on March 27 are there for the taking.
From Colaluca’s perspective, his chances are as good as anyone else’s to earn a place in the starting eleven. And for him, it’s all about state of mind.
“I just come out every day like it’s my first day trying to show the coach who I am,” he said. “The spots are open, so as long as I come in and work hard, I think I have a fair chance.”
Ironically, one of the people who has helped Colaluca the most in his development is one of the players he’s trying to replace in the Revolution’s starting lineup. For six months last season, the young midfielder learned from one of the league’s best – Ralston.
“He’s a legend,” Colaluca said. “He came in every day like it was still his first year. He was just such a competitor. Definitely having his leadership last year and having played with him a little bit, I took some experience from him.”
Perhaps the greatest lesson Ralston passed on to Colaluca was the importance of versatility. Throughout his illustrious career, Ralston played primarily as a wide midfielder, but also saw time as a central midfielder, forward and even outside back.
While Colaluca probably won’t find himself serving as a makeshift defender any time soon – although he did say that he doesn’t care where he plays as long as he’s on the field – he can certainly play in a variety of roles in the attack. He spent time in college playing both as a wide midfielder and central midfielder, and added withdrawn forward to his repertoire in a few appearances with the Revs last year. The ability to serve his team in multiple roles can only increase Colaluca’s chances of finding playing time.
One player who knows a bit about versatility is Chris Tierney, who has been a consistent option for the Revs both at left back and left midfield for the last two years. A teammate of Colaluca’s at the University of Virginia, Tierney has had the chance to see the 23-year-old’s progression from college to the pros.
To hear him speak of his teammate, Tierney’s been impressed with what he’s seen.
“He’s made huge strides,” he said of Colaluca. “If you watch our training sessions this year, he’s been the player that I know and he’s just starting to show that. He’s super dynamic and he’s been taking guys on.”
“He brings something new that we haven’t really had the last couple of years,” Tierney continued. “He’s a player who can get the ball, run at defenders and really make things happen. Hopefully he keeps improving and progressing the way he is, because right now, he’s in really good form.”