“Step-by-step, a grain in the hourglass” | Porter and Polster impressed with preseason start

1_17_24 Group training

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – New England Revolution head coach Caleb Porter and midfielder Matt Polster say they have been impressed with the sharpness of the squad in the first days of preseason.

The Revs reunited in Foxborough this week, reporting for duty ahead of the 2024 campaign, before the team travels to Florida for a warm-weather training camp where they will steadily step up preparations, contesting five friendly matches.

With the offseason break having afforded the opportunity to recharge batteries both physically and mentally, the squad have returned energized and excited for a new challenge. Taking charge of his first sessions as head coach, Porter is pleased with what he has seen so far, while Polster has been equally encouraged by his manager’s approach and actions, and the positive atmosphere around the camp.

“We’re two days in, and it's a very good group,” Porter declared. “It’s great. It’s what brings me to life – it gives me a purpose; it’s what I love to do, it’s my calling. It’s nice to be out there with the guys, to feel their energy. I love to build day-by-day in the preseason.

“We’re not focused on the opponent right now, we’re focused on ourselves – being the best version of ourselves, and just getting better. Every day is a lesson, every day there’s some improvement, and it’s not just the soccer, or tactically – it’s the chemistry, the unity, the cohesion we’re building every single day.

“It’s very important that you're smart – that you build the group up. Obviously, it's my 10th year in the league, so you learn a way of working in terms of building up the tactical piece, in terms of periodizing players from a physical standpoint – we have a way to build it up.

“You’ve got to obviously build ideas, but then play a game, and every game, you play a little bit more. You can tell by my voice that I've been yelling a little bit, so it's been fun. That’s just me – I’m all in. When I coach, I coach, and I get in there. There are some things we need to teach these guys – not how to play the game, but how to play the way we want to play.

“There are some things we’re focusing on this week attacking-wise, and we’ll build that into a scrimmage – get them like 40 minutes – then we’ll flip to the defensive side, and we’ll work defensively on those concepts, and how they relate to our game model, and then we’ll play a little bit more in the game. Then we’ll go to the transitional piece – how we react when we lose the ball, and then how we counter-attack when we have the ball; then, we’ll build it into a game, and play a little bit more.

“That’s how we build up the first couple of weeks, and then from there, it’s about getting more and more minutes; then it should look more like the way we want it – and we’ll get a couple of 90s in before we head to Panama. There will definitely be some [tactical] changes, but it’s a good group.

“Generally speaking, they play in an aggressive way, which is good. I like their mindset on the defensive side – they want to go and win the ball high. That’s a good nature, a good habit. In general, we could be a little bit more organized in some ways defensively, and how we go about that based on triggers and based on a shape. Same thing in the attack – can we have a shape, and clear rotations in how we build our attack and create chances on goal?

“This team takes ownership – a bunch of leaders, a bunch of guys that want to win. The attitude is excellent, the energy in training has been as good as I’ve seen in a group. There are some things to improve, but they are already taking those ideas on immediately. I thought we got better today (Tuesday) and I’m looking forward to tomorrow. It’s step-by-step, it’s like a grain in the hourglass. Eventually, it adds up though.

“In the first meeting, I talked about the key things in any championship club. Yes, it’s the talent, but you don’t need more talent to win an MLS Cup – you need a better locker room, and your performance environment needs to be a top performance environment. We’re trying to improve the performance environment – can we have a top-class sports science department where we minimize injuries though our awareness of analytics and sports science? Can our game model be more clear to help bring that 10-15 percent more? Can the locker room be even tighter?

“The teams I’ve had were tight, and they were unbreakable, so can we develop a unity where we take to the pitch and we trust each other, and we have each other’s backs, and we’re fighting for each other, and fighting for the supporters? Those are the little things when you can make gains, and marginal gains in this league are a lot. I’m enjoying it.”

Galvanized by Porter’s previous MLS Cup successes, leadership style and methodology, captain Carles Gil expressed the players’ eagerness to work with their new head coach, as the playmaker deemed the 2024 season ‘a new beginning’ for the club.

Reflecting on his own first impressions of the new boss, Polster also hailed Porter’s drive, as well as the two-time title-winners’ exceptional attention to detail, as key characteristics of promising early exchanges.

“We’re very optimistic,” the midfielder declared. “He said he wants to come here, and he wants to help put trophies in the cabinet – that’s as big a message as you can send.

“So far, in the two meetings we’ve had – day one and now day two – you can tell he brings a presence about him. He’s very determined and organized, and has a plan ahead. You can see that he wants to win – he’s done that at his previous clubs, and he’s going to want to do the same thing here.

“The biggest thing I can emphasize on is his detail, his organization, the plan he has in place – and it’s going to be up to us players to put that into reality, into the games.

“They have a really detailed plan of where they want to go, and how they want to do it. For two days, [the fitness level] is quite impressive. Obviously, there are little bits and pieces that are a tad sloppy, but that’s going to come off pretty quickly. Guys are working really hard, we’ve had very intense sessions so far, and I expect the same: to just keep continuing to progress.

“I think we have a good core, we have a great team – and that’s why [Porter] chose this club: we have a great organization, and a great staff, a great front office, and a great ownership group. There are a lot of things in place that can make us successful, and I think we brought the right guy in to help us get there.”

Porter will be supported by a backroom staff of new and familiar faces, having recruited his former Columbus Crew assistants Pablo Moreira and former Revolution player Blair Gavin to join the newly-promoted Clint Peay and esteemed goalkeeping coach Kevin Hitchcock in the club’s first-team set-up.

Blending the experience and knowledge of the Revs duo with the fresh outlook, ideas and philosophies of his established ‘Crew’, the head coach hopes to have struck the perfect balance for an efficient and accomplished team.

“It’s important,” he declared. “I always keep at least one guy – it’s important to have some intel: a guy that’s been here, a guy that knows the inner workings of everything, that knows the players. They can help me kind of transition, and then I have a couple of guys I usually always bring with me.

“Pablo is one of them. First and foremost, he’s just a great guy, a great person. All the players love him, and he speaks Spanish, which helps. He does a lot of our prep, he handles all the set-pieces, and he’s just a great guy and a great coach.

“Blair is one of the brightest young coaches I’ve worked with. I had him as a player. He played in the league, had a cup of coffee in the league – should have had a longer one. He’s a very good player, always a very smart player. I’m an emotional, passionate guy, and Blair’s not emotional at all. He’s very cerebral and extremely smart. When I get wound up and I can’t think, he helps me think.

“I love Clint. He’s been in my chair, he knows what it’s like to be a head coach. He’s still learning, which I like – even though he’s my age, he’s still learning, still growing – and he’s just a good person, you can tell. He knows the young guys, which is key.

“Hitchy, I haven’t met yet because he’s not been here – he’s going to be here this week. He’s had some Visa issues, passport issues, but I think his reputation speaks for itself with the goalkeepers he’s developed.”

Upon his arrival, Porter spoke highly of the breadth of quality within the Revolution roster, stating the chance to unlock the team’s full potential stood as a major attraction to joining the club.

Yet, the head coach has been pleasantly surprised by the true level of talent glittering throughout the squad – an excellent mix of character and creativity, industry and invention; fight and flair.

“It’s funny – a lot of these guys are a bit underrated at times, from the outside looking in,” he explained. “Guys like Matt Polster – he just does a lot of really good little things that maybe you don’t notice unless you’re coaching them. He’s such a ‘Steady Eddie.’

Henry Kessler, Dave Romney are the same – they don’t make many mistakes, they compete. They’re very smart players. They don’t always do the ‘sexy’ thing – they do the simple things. They carry their lunch pail every single day, put a shift in, and I like that. Some of those guys for me, I’ve noticed.

“Polster is a key player for us because he’s MLS-proven, he’s a vet. He’s been in this league, and he’s complete as well – he covers a lot of ground, wins a lot of balls; he does a lot of little things in possession, he keeps the ball moving as well. He’s a smart player, and a leader, and a fighter, and he’s a competitor – he hates losing, and I love that. We want to have a bunch of guys who refuse to lose, and I love his mentality.

“I also think we can help as well through certain things – little nuances: his positioning, his body shape, some of the fundamentals. We’re working on that with this group. I’ve learned that even the top guys slip in their fundamentals. There are things to clean up in that regard. I’m not teaching these guys how to play soccer, but I’m reminding them of the little stuff that matters.

“Carles, as good as I thought he was, he’s even better than I thought. Tomás Chancalay, as good as I thought he was, he’s even better than I thought. When you’re in there, working with these guys, the level of those two guys is very high.

“That was a pretty good year [Gil] had last year, and he’s pretty consistent. I hesitate to say: ‘put more on him’, but at the end of the day, he’s a key player. There’s no ‘I’ in ‘team’, but there’s an ‘I’ in ‘win.’ We need our individuals, our top guys performing, producing for sure. I think we can squeeze even a little more out of him.

“I think he’s enjoying it. We’ll highlight him, his strengths even more so in the way that we play our 10. I've never had a 10 not produce a lot of goals, so watching him in the first couple of days, he is as good as it gets in this league. He is as good as it gets.

“[Chancalay] has got it all, really – he’s strong, he’s got more pace than you think, and he can absolutely crush a ball! It’s scary when he’s around goal, because he’s either going to break the net, or break the goalkeeper’s hands, or score – so he is just ruthless, and looking to score goals.

“What surprised me most about him: he’s a little more clever on the ball too, just in how he can get out of stuff, combine, jump defenders. He’s a very smart player, and he’s a very positive guy. His energy is excellent – he’s just happy, always smiling. I can’t say enough about him. He’s a very good player.”

Having deputized in various defensive roles towards the latter stages of the 2023 campaign due to injuries, suspensions and international call-ups, Polster’s versatility and willingness to give his all for the crest proved the 30-year-old a valuable asset.

Relishing the chance to play another crucial role in the new campaign, the midfielder asserts he is looking forward to making his contribution to a serious trophy charge, strengthened by the collective commitment of every single person connected to the Revolution.

“It’s a little different,” he admitted of last year’s tactical shift. “I've always been that player with the mindset of: ‘I'm going to do whatever it takes to help the team win.’ I would do the same again this year. Obviously, I do feel more comfortable in the middle of the field – I feel that’s where I can influence the game the most, but I hope that's the same this year.

“[To challenge on multiple fronts] it's going to take a whole squad – that's what [Porter] said. We have a lot of games in a short spell, so we're going to need everybody to step up, and bring that intensity into the games, and into the sessions, and compete – because when we have everybody competing at the same level, the sessions are better, and then the games become better.

“Like I said, he has a plan and it's very organized, it's very detailed, and it's going to be up to us players to make that plan into reality. I think it’s nice to have some familiarity with the [backroom] staff; then obviously, the guys that Caleb has brought in are guys who know the league, who know how to win in this league, who know what Caleb is about, and I think that's very important because they're going to be able to take his ideas, and then give them to us throughout the session, and throughout the season.”

In preparation for a testing start to the new term (with Concacaf Champions Cup action set to kick off a jam-packed opening schedule), the Revs face useful friendly clashes against the New York Red Bulls, FC Cincinnati, Orlando City SC, and Philadelphia Union.

While building up fitness and form marks the priority for preseason progress, Porter emphasized the significance of starting the year off on the right note.

“It’s always important to get off to a good start,” he continued. “When you're imprinting your ideas, you want to maintain the buy-in. You need results to maintain the buy-in, and I think these guys are really thirsting for some new ideas and are taking the ideas really well.

“We have to execute in the end. Our goal is to get through preseason healthy – that’s number one probably, because if we start the year healthy, we’ve got a roster to be able to rotate in games. Our one-two is really strong, so in those first couple of games in Panama and D.C with a short window in between, you’ll probably see a lot of different guys play.

“I think we can put different guys out there, and call different guys’ names, and put together some gameplans where we’re rotating but still putting out a high-level lineup where we’re going to win both games.”