KENNESAW, Ga. – In preparation for the fast-approaching 2011 season, the New England Revolution has spent the majority of the past five weeks beating up on each other in daily training sessions.
Now at the start of an 11-day trip to Kennesaw, Ga. – which will serve as the final buildup ahead of the season opener against the LA Galaxy on March 20 – the Revs are anxious to test themselves against opponents wearing different jerseys for a change.
“We’re at the stage now where we want the games,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “Everybody’s ready to play.”
The Revs will get their wish with three games scheduled against MLS opponents in the next week, beginning on Sunday afternoon with a match against the Eastern Conference rival Columbus Crew. Kickoff is set for 4 p.m. at Finley Stadium in Chattanooga, Tenn., approximately two hours from both clubs’ base in Kennesaw.
A second meeting with the Crew will take place on Wednesday, March 9, while one final tune-up against the Houston Dynamo will round out the Revolution’s stay in Georgia on Sunday, March 13. Both of those matches will take place at Kennesaw State University Soccer Stadium.
With the season opener now just two weeks away, the Revolution’s trio of matches during this trip will be the club’s crucial final tests before the games begin to count.
“We have to start thinking about doing things right in terms of keeping the ball, being in good spots, being sharp and being focused,” said Chris Tierney. “We haven’t really played the stiffest competition up to this point in preseason, so this will be a good test for us and we’ll be able to really measure where we’re at going into the season opener in two weeks.”
After easing into their preseason schedule with shutout victories over the University of Central Florida and members of the U.S. Under-17 National Team, the Revs closed out their late-February trip to Orlando, Fla., with a 1-0 win over FC Dallas. With three more league opponents on tap to conclude the preseason, everyone should be prepared for the level of play expected at The Home Depot Center on March 20.
“That’s probably the biggest thing right now – just playing against a quality MLS team,” said second-year forward Zack Schilawski. “We expect it to be extremely competitive and I think that’s kind of what we need right now.
“Training’s great but at a certain point you need to really get out and test yourself in a competitive environment,” he continued. “We try to simulate that as much as possible in training, but it’s nice to get out in a game scenario with referees and play against somebody different.”
Every healthy field player on the Revolution’s roster will get a chance to play on Sunday, according to Nicol, who said he’ll use entirely different lineups for each half against the Crew. That includes a pair of recent international arrivals in Nigerian midfielder Michael Augustine and Argentine defender Franco Coria, both of whom will see their first game action with their new club.
Coria has participated in five training sessions with the Revs after joining the club in Foxborough earlier this week, while Augustine has trained just twice after landing in the United States early Friday morning. Yet even in limited action, Nicol has been happy with what he’s seen.
“Fortunately, we’ve seen in the short space of time [Michael’s] been here what we thought he had,” Nicol said of Augustine. “He’s good on the ball, he’s got pace and he likes to go forward.”
Unfortunately, French midfielder Ousmane Dabo will not make his Revolution debut as he continues to recover from a right quad strain. He’ll be joined on the sidelines by Kevin Alston (L hamstring strain), Didier Domi (R knee soreness) and Kheli Dube (R ankle sprain). The Revolution will monitor the injured quartet’s progress closely in the next two weeks, with Nicol noting that none have yet been ruled out for the season opener.
After all, the season opener is what truly matters in the grand scheme, regardless of Sunday’s result against the Crew.
“It’s not about being at our best tomorrow,” said Tierney. “It’s about being at our best come [March 20]. Hopefully we’ll keep doing things right, keep improving and we’ll be ready to roll in LA.”