PORTLAND, Ore. – Only two months ago, New England Revolution rookie Henry Kessler was a junior in college playing soccer at the University of Virginia.
That all changed on January 9, when Kessler was the club's first pick in the 2020 MLS SuperDraft (6th overall). Since that night, Kessler has dived in head first to his new life with the Revolution.
The 21-year-old has now spent approximately six consecutive weeks training with his Revolution teammates. He’s appeared in all four of the Revolution’s preseason matches to date, including three starts, one of which was a full 90-minute performance.
“Each game I think I’m doing better and better,” said Kessler. “The first game it was maybe not my best performance [versus Los Angeles], but then against Colorado, I think I improved. In my 30 minutes against Minnesota, I thought I did pretty well and was pretty solid, and this past 60 minutes versus Vancouver I thought I was pretty solid again.
“I’m trying to build off previous performances and try to continue to do decently.”
The work that Kessler puts in to improve has captured the attention of several veterans on the team.
“He reads the game very well,” said Seth Sinovic, who has played with Kessler in preseason along the backline. “He’s very good on the ball. A lot of times covered very well on balls over the top so I’m very impressed with him as a rookie so far.
“Obviously he’s got things to improve on just like everybody on the team does, but I think he’s had a great start and I think he’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Kessler has been a sponge while playing in preseason. He wants to absorb as much knowledge as possible from experienced players as he adapts to the game at the professional level.
“I’m trying to take things from the experienced guys,” said Kessler.
“I remember maybe there were a couple of things where I took a few risks against the Galaxy that were unnecessary, so I’m looking to maybe do less of that and be safer. Then, [ I’m learning] to work together with my teammates and building that chemistry, getting our line right – I think that really helps so being more in tune with each other and taking a few less risks.”
Kessler said that center back Michael Mancienne has acted as a mentor since his arrival in New England, and Mancienne has seen incredible promise in the young defender.
“I think he’s been fantastic,” said Mancienne, who played alongside Kessler for the full 90-minutes in Sunday’s game against Vancouver. “From the first day of preseason, I thought yeah, he’s a very good player – very young. He’s still got a lot to learn, but I think he’s got a bright future ahead of him.”
“I’ve just tried to talk to him, give him confidence, help him learn, but as you can see, he’s doing fantastic. I thought he was brilliant [on Sunday] and he’s been brilliant in the other games in preseason so far.”
“He’s doing well,” said Diego Fagundez. “I think every young guy on this team has been doing well from the first day. They’re learning new things and we’re trying to speed them up a little faster, but it’s always good to come out here, play some games and get them used to how we want to play and how the league is.
“To be honest, I’ve been talking to Henry quite a bit to try to see if he can play forward more, and he’s been doing that.”
In addition to the 240 minutes Kessler has played on the preseason pitch, the time he has spent off the field with his new teammates has been arguably just as important.
“Everyone’s been really kind and they’ve made my transition a lot easier,” said Kessler.
“There’s a lot of great parts. Playing is great [and] off the field is great. I think it’s a really tight-knit team and that doesn’t always happen. There’s also a language barrier, but it doesn’t seem like that because everyone’s so friendly and nice to each other. I would say just the kindness of everyone is my favorite part. On the field as well, it’s really competitive so I think it’s been great.”
When veterans crack jokes about rookies, that’s a tale-tell sign that they’re on the right track.
“I wouldn’t take him out to dinner because he eats a lot,” joked Fagundez about Kessler. “Everyone has been great. Everybody tried to speak some Spanish now, which is awesome. But all the young guys including Henry are just fun to be around, and it’s an easy group to hang out with.”
Kessler's contagious positive attitude and personality, paired with his desire to learn are propelling him as he heads into his rookie year.
“I’m building confidence,” said Kessler. “I’m trying to get myself in the right frame of mind before the match and trusting my abilities – trusting myself, trusting my teammates – but more and more minutes, the more confident [I’ll] get.”