TUCSON, Ariz. – It was only 45 minutes, and it was only preseason, but rookie Steve Neumann was thrilled just to get on the field for Wednesday night’s Desert Diamond Cup opener against Real Salt Lake.
Neumann was a frustrated onlooker for the New England Revolution’s first preseason training trip to Bradenton, Fla., nursing an injured left ankle and missing all three of the club’s matches on the Gulf Coast. But after returning to full training last week, Neumann made his long-awaited preseason debut at North Stadium.
“For the past two or three weeks I’ve been itching to get out there with the guys. Tonight was a great opportunity against a good RSL team to come out against some good competition,” Neumann said. “I’m pretty happy with my performance. It’s just good to get out there, get my fitness going and get accustomed to the tendencies of all the guys around me. Overall, it was a good night for me.”
Neumann played the first half of the eventual 0-0 draw, showing his versatility by starting in a central attacking midfield role alongside Lee Nguyen. Head coach Jay Heaps said he liked the partnership Neumann and Nguyen formed, while at the same time lamenting the lack of possession his side managed in the opening 45 minutes.
There was almost a dream start for Neumann, who found himself in a promising shooting position just five minutes into the match. But as he was rushed to shoot a bouncing ball from 12 yards out, he popped his effort over the crossbar.
For a player regaining his form after a stint on the injured list, chalk it up to a lack of match sharpness.
“I missed probably the best chance of the game for us tonight, but that sharpness will come back,” Neumann said. “I’ve got to keep everything in perspective and I’m just getting back from injury now. We still have a few more games and likely my sharpness will get even better toward the start of the season.”
Despite missing the first two weeks of training, Neumann said he feels comfortable with his teammates, aided in large part by constant communication on the field. And as he continues to train and play with those teammates throughout the next few weeks, the comfort level will continue to grow.
“I think I’m assimilating myself pretty well and I think tonight I kind of showed that,” Neumann said. “I think I still have a long way to go, but it was a good night, definitely.”