BRADENTON, Florida – Wednesday afternoon was an important milestone in the New England Revolution’s preseason preparations, marking 10 days since new head coach Caleb Porter’s first training session with the group and their first preseason friendly under his leadership, a showdown with the Eastern Conference rival New York Red Bulls at IMG Academy in Bradenton, Florida.
Porter and his staff have spent the past week-and-a-half building the initial foundation of their philosophy and game model – while at the same time forming relationships with an entirely new group of players – and Wednesday’s game was the first opportunity to put some of those philosophies to the test.
Even as the Revs fell to defeat against the Red Bulls – playing two different groups for 45 minutes apiece – Porter said the lessons learned from the experience will prove critically valuable as they continue their preseason progression through the next four weeks ahead of their Concacaf Champions Cup opener against CA Independiente on February 21 in Panama.
“There’s no failure, it’s just feedback,” Porter said of Wednesday’s preseason contest. “For me, the feedback we got today was really important. We needed that feedback. We needed to struggle a little bit. We needed to find some mistakes to then now go back, show the film, look at it, work on it, and we’ll be better for it.
“There are not many teams that play the way Red Bull play, that press the way they press, and when you look at how we wanted to play out today and their press, I thought they executed better than we did today, so we’re better for playing this game. We’re better.”
New England opened camp last week in Foxborough and battled frigid temperatures to begin their prep, which included an intrasquad scrimmage as an initial test. Porter said the Revs focused largely on their defensive philosophy on Wednesday against the Red Bulls, which perhaps left the attack a little slow to get off the ground. That’s progress that will continue to be made throughout preseason.
“We need to get back to that, work on those details, continue to work on controlling games a bit better, creating chances, not getting turned over with a team that’s trying to press us. Finding solutions,” Porter said. “How do we create the advantage? How do we rotate? How do we find ways to not play into their hands?
“I think there was some really good stuff today, you know? But we gave up a penalty and we gave up a couple transitions, so those are moments that we have to do better in.”
Ian Harkes agreed that Wednesday’s test provided plenty of feedback, and perhaps even a bit of motivation as they prepare for their next preseason friendly against FC Cincinnati in one week’s time.
“We’re going to review what happened today, because we take pride in everything and we’re disappointed with how today turned out,” Harkes said. “I think there’s a lot we can work on and focus on from an individual standpoint – obviously, we’re all building – and then collectively, as a group, so we’ll take a look at that and attack it the next couple days.”
In total there will be four more opportunities for the Revolution to test themselves against MLS opposition this preseason, and each of those games will take on more importance as they inch closer and closer to games that matter.
For now, it’s back to the training ground and the film room, where Porter and his staff will continue the process of building out the philosophy, day-by-day and week-by-week.
“We’ve been kind of focusing mostly on our two-week tactical periodization – defending, attacking, putting it together – and then now we’re going to focus on the areas where there are holes, you know? Where we think we need to improve,” Porter said.
“Clearly we’ll focus on the playing out piece a little bit more, because in the past they’ve been a team at times I think that relied on going direct, sometimes too direct, as a solution. And I think you saw today that when they tried to play through the pressure, there were times we struggled at it.
“That’s going to be an evolution a little bit. That’s going to take some time.
“The good news is we got 22 guys 45 minutes (each), and we came through injury free. We do have a couple guys nicked up that didn’t play today, but we’ll get them back in the next couple days, and I think we’ll go again and work on the things that we need to work on.
“It’s about growing. It’s not about results. We’re playing two groups 45 (minutes). It’s about growing every single game that we play, and eventually, yes, the result does matter as we get closer to the end of preseason where we’re playing guys major minutes and physically we’re in a better spot.”