KENNESAW, Ga. – Almost exactly one year ago, then-rookie Zak Boggs signed his first professional contract with the New England Revolution after earning a roster spot with a string of impressive preseason performances.
So there was a sense of déjà vu for Boggs earlier this week when it was announced he’d re-signed with the club which drafted him in the second round (31st overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft after once again proving his worth in preseason.
“Last year was a little different because there were so many unknowns,” said Boggs, who entered the Revolution’s preseason camp without a contract for the second straight year. “I didn’t know anybody and nobody knew me. This year it was a little less stressful.”
Still, the knowledge that his contract is now signed and his roster spot is secure provides Boggs with a sense of stability he’d been unable to completely grasp in recent weeks.
“It didn’t really feel like I wasn’t part of the team (this preseason), because all the guys are so friendly,” he said. “But just to have that done, it feels good.”
Perhaps most importantly, Boggs feels good physically after missing the second half of his rookie year with a lingering concussion. The former University of South Florida standout stormed onto the scene with a pair of goals in his first professional start last May, but a seemingly innocuous clash of heads during a training session in late June derailed Boggs’ promising start and sidelined him for the remainder of the season.
Boggs slowly worked his way back to fitness and returned to full training at the end of the 2010 campaign, and now he’s ready to move on to new challenges in 2011.
“It’s behind me,” Boggs said of last year’s injury woes. “I feel good. I feel great.”
With his return to the field – and the Revolution’s roster – complete, Boggs’ primary challenge now becomes adjusting to the new role he’s occupied throughout preseason. An attack-minded forward and midfielder during his college career and his first year with the Revs, Boggs has played almost exclusively as a right back in recent weeks.
“It’s something new,” said Boggs of his newfound defensive responsibilities. “There’s a lot of learning and everyone’s been really great helping me – coaches, players, everybody.
“I’ve been working on getting better with communication,” he continued. “I think that’s gotten a lot better. (I’m working on) positioning, too, for sure. I just think athletically I’m able to get to spots and maybe I’m able to get a jump on some things.”
Head coach Steve Nicol – a defender himself during his playing days with the legendary Liverpool FC – has worked closely with Boggs as the Revs search for cover on the right side of defense.
“I think he’s done pretty well considering we’ve thrown him in a little bit,” said Nicol after watching Boggs play right back for the full 90 minutes in a 1-0 win over FC Dallas last week in Florida. “Defensively I think his strength and athleticism will help him and help us. But he looks to go forward and he’s decent with the ball at his feet, as well, so that’s a positive.”
That constant urge to push into the attack is something Boggs is aware he’ll have to balance should he continue to progress as an outside back.
“I like to go forward,” he said with a smile. “I know [goalkeeper Matt Reis] always yells at me not to go forward, so I have to pick and choose.”
Considering his soccer pedigree, it’s no surprise Boggs has begun to make such a smooth transition to the backline. Nor is it a shock that he won a roster spot with the Revs for the second straight year. Yet one question remains.
Was it difficult trying to win that roster spot while playing an unfamiliar position?
“I never really thought of it [in those terms],” Boggs said. “I just thought of it as playing. I’m just playing the game. It’s just been soccer.”