LAKEWOOD RANCH, Fla. – The first week of the New England Revolution’s three-week camp on the Gulf Coast of Florida has featured the club’s first two matches of the 2023 preseason, including their closed-door opener against Inter Miami CF this past Thursday, and a 2-0 loss to the Philadelphia Union on Sunday afternoon.
After spending 20+ days battling the elements while training back home in Foxborough, these first two preseason tests in the Sunshine State have presented important opportunities for the Revs to build fitness, integrate new faces, and test different styles and systems ahead of the upcoming campaign.
“It has been good work,” said Dave Romney, one of those new faces after arriving via trade from Nashville SC. “There’s been a lot of positives we can take out, some things we’ve got to correct, but all-in-all, it’s kind of these first couple games just getting a fitness baseline. You kind of get used to playing 45, 60, 70 minutes and get used to this heat, which is always tough.”
Seven players go 60+ minutes as fitness keeps building in the Florida heat
The Revolution’s preseason opener against Miami featured two different groups playing 45 minutes apiece, while Sunday’s meeting with Philadelphia saw six members of the starting group play just past the hour mark, and No. 4 overall SuperDraft pick Josh Bolma play the full 90.
Extending minutes is always one of the biggest tests of preseason as players establish base fitness, but it’s particularly challenging in the Florida heat. After spending preseason in the Los Angeles area each of the last three years, the Revs made the switch to Florida for their current preseason prep, in part because the conditions – humid and touching 80 degrees most days – will prove more challenging for fitness.
“It’s early and it’s never going to be easy,” said Justin Rennicks, who played 45 minutes on Sunday. “The whole reason we came down to Florida was to play in this heat and prepare us for the first game of the season. I thought we had a few great starts, and now it’s just about working. It was our first week here and it’s all looking good.”
“It’s never easy to play out in the sun and humidity like that, but it’s one of those things where you kind of have to grind mentally more than anything physically,” added Romney. “No matter how fit you are, you’re going to feel pretty terrible in these humid areas, so it’s just being able to mentally recognize how bad you feel and just push through it.”
Preseason matches offering chance for Revs to test different systems
Sporting director and head coach Bruce Arena has said the Revs will test out several different systems this preseason as they integrate new additions like Romney, Bolma, Latif Blessing, Jack Panayotou, and Bobby Wood. That’s been true through the first two matches as the Revs have, at times, featured both a four-man backline and a three-center-back system with wingbacks.
Part of this exercise is to help determine which system best suits the Revolution’s personnel, but the ability to adapt and adjust systems midgame could also prove beneficial.
“You want to be able to play different formations because different teams are going to bring a different test, or say we want to move to a different formation in the closing moments of the game, you want every player to be comfortable playing multiple positions and multiple formations,” said Romney. “It’s just kind of getting that base underneath you, kind of getting those relationships used to each other whether I’m playing on the left or in the center, and who’s playing next to me. Just getting those lines of communication open and kind of knowing what you're doing so that when you are tired and hot, it’s just second nature to you.”
18-year-old Panayotou continues to settle in first MLS preseason
Jack Panayotou continues to impress during his first preseason with the Revolution, officially signing as the 10th Homegrown Player in club history following a stellar Academy career and one standout season at Georgetown University. The 18-year-old started Sunday’s game against the Union alongside Latif Blessing in central midfield, with Carles Gil playing just in front of them, and went 61 minutes.
Panayotou, who scored against Inter Miami after being set up by fellow teenaged Academy product Esmir Bajraktarevic, created the Revolution’s best chance of the game in the fourth minute on Sunday, slipping a pass through the Philadelphia backline and springing Jozy Altidore into the penalty area.
Along with Bajraktarevic (17) and Noel Buck (17), Panayotou has made a strong first impression amongst his veteran teammates.
“There’s a lot of young guys we have that I was shocked when I found out how old they were, just because we didn’t have an academy in Nashville that was kind of playing with us,” said Romney. “Just the level that these guys have, the raw talent they have, is crazy.
“They’re all confident, so it’s not like [getting] confidence up, which is a great thing, but just kind of knowing when to make the right decisions here and there and not being on the ball too long. Then, just more so teaching them the structure defensively of kind of where we need them and stuff like that, because on the ball in tight spaces, they’re all incredibly talented and they have so much to offer.”
Next up, Nashville, as five-game preseason slate continues Friday
The Revs will have three more preseason games and three more weeks to prepare for their regular season opener against Charlotte FC, set for February 25 at Bank of America Stadium. Their next challenger will be Romney’s former team, Nashville SC, as they’ll meet in St. Petersburg on Friday.
“I think it’s just being comfortable with each other,” Rennicks said of the Revolution’s biggest objectives in the coming weeks. “We’ve got a lot of new guys trying to squeeze their way in and we’ve seen a lot of positive things, and I’m sure it’s going to be there.”