BRADENTON, Florida – New England Revolution head coach Caleb Porter says he is pleased with his squad’s progress, competitiveness, and camaraderie so far during preseason.
With two weeks of training under their belts, the Revs continued preparations for the new campaign, completing week one of their warm-weather training camp in Florida with a second scrimmage at IMG Academy.
After kicking off match action with a friendly against the New York Red Bulls last Wednesday, the team contested a 60-minute intrasquad encounter in Bradenton. An opportunity to evaluate fitness, formations and tactical understanding, the head coach was happy with what he saw from his players: collective improvement, defensive solidity, and a hunger to impress.
“It was great,” Porter reflected. “It was another chance to play 11-v-11, and sometimes the best thing you can do is play each other. That allows us to look at where guys are at in the audition for parts in the play that ultimately we’re going to put out [in] Panama in the first game in the [Concacaf] Champions Cup, and then our first [MLS] road game against D.C. [United].
“We have a really competitive group, and in some positions, it’s really tight (the competition). It was great to see that competition continue to take shape. We did 60 minutes – it’s probably the earliest I’ve done 60 minutes with a group, so I really like where we’re at, at this stage physically.
“Tactically, I saw massive improvement from three days ago – our build-out was much-improved from both groups. We worked on that in training. Our defending overall was much-improved – when you look at the last run-out against Red Bulls, we got punished defensively in transition, and [on Sunday] we didn’t give up a goal.
“In terms of the commitment to defend, to get a clean sheet, those are important things. I say it sometimes: people think ‘defending’ is a curse word. We want to be a good attacking team, for sure – we want to score goals, and we want to play good football – but we want to be a balanced team. We want to defend well – we want to be one of the best defensive teams in the league – and we’ve got a lot of guys that really work hard, and you saw that.
“You can’t really play the way we want to play unless you’re fit. For about 40 minutes, we were at a very high level, playing in an aggressive and dominant way – both sides of the ball. We had way more control in this match – we had a much better high press, aggressive press, and we created more chances.
“That was all very pleasing, but then we fizzled out at about 40 minutes. Then it didn’t look like us, so can we continue to push with the fitness – that aggressive approach where we’re pushing games, where we’re carrying games; not just a passenger in the game?
“We don’t want to be a passenger in any game where the opponent is dictating us – we want to dictate and boss the opponent ideally, and to do that, you have to be fit. We’re still working on that a little bit, but I would say we’re ahead of most groups at this stage, and that will come.”
A stoic defensive display with clean sheets for both sides ensured the only missing component of a fine afternoon’s work was a match-winning goal.
While Porter acknowledged it would have marked another positive step to have opened the Revs’ account for 2024, the head coach assured it naturally takes time to sharpen up on the offensive front, as the players continue to build confidence and chemistry on and off the pitch.
“I’m really pleased with the defending, I’m pleased with the build-up, and I’m pleased with the chance creation – it’s just the final third where we need to be better,” he noted. “That’s always the case – you look at any game in the preseason, I don’t think any coach is completely happy with their attack, because it takes a lot longer to gel, that side.
“We are playing a different system, a different formation. Figuring out the spacing of it, and the ideas within it, and some of the patterns of play (without overthinking it, too – sometimes they get it, but then they overthink it in the game), it’s finding that balance of the ideas, but also the instinct taking over; the creativity and imagination taking over, so that part will come.
“Both teams were excellent defensively. Our attack is still coming, but we created a ton of chances, and for me, that’s the key – are you creating chances? We created a lot more chances than we did in the last game against Red Bulls. The final third detail of the finish, that will come, so I’m pleased.
“In those connections, it’s the feeling, the chemistry around the front players, and just learning each other a little bit, too. That’s a key for me – that chemistry, that spirit in the team, in the locker room. It’s a long season, and there are going to be ups and downs, so we have to have good relationships – and not just fake ones, but real ones, genuine ones. We need to be able to trust each other through all the ups and downs, and work together.
“I love that we have a diverse locker room – we’ve got guys from all over the world, and a lot of guys that are different. You’ve got guys that come from different walks of life, different cultures, and do different things, and think different things. I don’t want to take that away from them, but I do want them to blend their individuality with the uniformity of what we want to do as a team, and I think they’re learning that.
“I’m not going to change who they are, but as a team, we have to have a model and a structure, and we have to have a uniformity that blends the individual with the collective, and I think that’s coming together really well.”
Last week also heralded the arrival of a new face in the locker room, as Slovakian shot-stopper Henrich Ravas joined up with the squad in Florida, following his signing from Polish outfit Widzew Łódź.
Bringing with him useful experience from a seven-year career in Poland, Slovakia and England, the 26-year-old has already made a positive impact within the Revolution ranks, and has notably caught the imagination of goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock.
Having guided former Revs duo Djordje Petrović and Matt Turner to Premier League fame, ‘Hitchy’ is now eager to help Ravas to reach new heights between the sticks.
“He’s a great guy, a great pro with really good energy,” Porter said of Ravas. “Sometimes goalkeepers are lone rangers, and they don’t talk a lot – he’s a talker. He’s got a good personality, so that’s really key in transitioning to a team.
“He’s a big boy – he’s long, and lean, and quick, and very talented. I know ‘Hitchy’ is really excited about him. When I see Hitchy smiling after training, then I’m happy, because he knows goalkeepers better than anybody, and he’s very happy with Ravas. He sees a lot of potential in him.”