ORLANDO, Fla. – Upon arriving in Florida last week, New England Revolution head coach Steve Nicol made it known he planned to give every player in the club’s Orlando camp a chance to prove themselves in a game situation.
On Monday morning, he followed through on his promise.
Nicol used two completely different lineups for each half of the Revolution’s 2-0 win over members of the U.S. Under-17 National Team program, handing starts to unsigned rookies Fernando Cabadas (left midfield), Alan Koger (forward), Steven Perry (forward) and Andrew Sousa (central midfield), while out-of-contract trialist Roberto Linck started at right back. The only Revs in camp who didn’t see action were Kenny Mansally – who is still recovering from a quad strain – and unsigned goalkeepers Tim Murray and Clint Irwin.
“We have to make a couple of decisions on players,” said Nicol, who has been evaluating those in camp for the past three weeks. “At the very least, they should get on the field and get some time. That happened today. We saw everybody, and now we’ll go from there.”
While it remains to be seen which non-rostered players made the most of their opportunity to shine, one of the Revolution’s returning players unquestionably capitalized when a chance presented itself on Monday.
In the 63rd minute, 2010 Revolution MVP and free-kick specialist Marko Perovic left the field after experiencing tightness in his right adductor. When Zack Schilawski was chopped down outside the box five minutes later, someone had to take the ensuing free kick.
Enter Chris Tierney, who expertly curled his dipping shot over the wall and neatly inside the right post.
“[Marko’s] taken a bunch of great free kicks,” said Tierney after the game. “He didn’t happen to be on the field, so I stepped up.
“You hit a good one every once in a while,” Tierney added with a chuckle. “Today it was windy, so the ball was flying everywhere. I just tried to get it over the wall and it went in the corner.”
Nicol was more willing to heap praise on Tierney’s set-piece stunner.
“The goal’s a great goal, anywhere (in the world),” said Nicol. “You don’t see too many goals like that, do you?”
But Tierney wasn’t finished, capping his day with an assist five minutes later when Pat Phelan redirected his corner kick into the far side netting with a glancing header. After the game, Tierney claimed he actually mishit the corner and directed the praise to Phelan for his clever flick.
While Nicol said the decision to remove Perovic was more precautionary than anything else – adding the Serb may be available for the Revs’ next preseason match against FC Dallas on Wednesday – he doesn’t believe Perovic’s presence eliminates Tierney from the running when free kick chances arise.
“It’s always good to have another option,” said Nicol. “If your other option is a guy who [hits free kicks like Tierney did today], it’s not a bad option, is it?”
For all the set piece success, Nicol still sees room for improvement in other facets of the game following the Revolution’s first two preseason matches.
“We need to get better in the run of play,” he said. “A sloppy touch or a sloppy pass … instead of being something, it ends up (being) nothing. It’s kind of a typical preseason routine. So we have to work and concentrate on eliminating that between now and the start of the season.”
The Revs’ next chance to hone their skills will come in just two days time on Wednesday, Feb. 23, when they’ll take on 2010 MLS Cup runner-up FC Dallas in the final match of their 11-day Orlando trip.
After taking on the University of Central Florida and the U.S. U17 National Team in their first two preseason matches, Wednesday’s meeting with FC Dallas will present a different kind of challenge.
“The [U.S. U17s] are a good side, they’re all good players,” said Tierney. “But when we step up to some stronger competition, I don’t think the level we’re playing at right now is going to be sufficient. We need to up our game a little bit, for sure.”