FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Zachary Herivaux, Sean Okoli and Donnie Smith have less than one week to brush up on their Portuguese. Then it’s off to Lisbon.
The trio of New England Revolution youngsters will spend much of December training with Portuguese powerhouse Sporting Clube de Portugal – likely splitting time between the first team and reserves – in conjunction with the partnership forged between the two sides last October.
“Both Sporting and us want to expand on our partnership, and they were willing and open to having some of our guys train with them in our offseason,” said Revolution General Manager Michael Burns.
“It’s a great opportunity for these three guys to get some more training at a high level to get them a little bit better prepared, since they didn’t play a lot of significant minutes for us this year. But it also puts them in a position to come into preseason ready for 2016.”
Herivaux (19), Okoli (22) and Smith (24) are three of the younger players on New England’s roster, and their first-team experience is limited. Of the trio, only Okoli appeared in a regular-season game in 2015, making five substitute appearances for a total of 46 minutes.
That’s precisely the reason New England sees value in sending these particular players to train with Sporting, a club renowned for developing young talent and currently atop the Primeira Liga standings with an unbeaten 8-0-2 record.
“They’re three guys that we feel will benefit from this training experience,” said Burns, who will join the trio in Lisbon from Sunday through Thursday along with head coach Jay Heaps. “They’re three guys that we think have promising futures and careers with us and in MLS.
“It’ll give them an opportunity to play at a high level and just have a different experience than what they’ve had here, and get them as best prepared as we can as they approach the 2016 season.”
While Herivaux, Okoli and Smith will be limited to training with Sporting CP – they won’t be participating in any reserve matches – they will have the opportunity to observe multiple first-team contests, including fixtures in both the Primeira Liga and Europa League.
Training stint “a good step forward” as Revs-Sporting partnership evolves
Wednesday’s announcement that Herivaux, Okoli and Smith will train with Sporting CP is the first tangible result of the strategic partnership announced between the Revs and Sporting last October, but Burns believes it’s just the tip of the iceberg with regards to the deal’s potential benefits.
Calling the training visit “a good step forward in terms of the partnership,” Burns said the Revolution hope to eventually leverage their relationship with Sporting into first-team acquisitions, whether that be through loan deals or, in some cases, outright transfers.
“We’ll look at some of their players that they may be looking to loan out,” said Burns. “So we’ll look at that from a first-team standpoint.”
It would also behoove the Revs to tap into Sporting’s wealth of knowledge at the Academy level. Having produced talents like Cristiano Ronaldo, Luis Figo and Nani, Sporting have understandably earned a reputation as one of the world’s best clubs for youth development.
New England have also earned plaudits in MLS for their burgeoning Academy, which has graduated Herivaux, Scott Caldwell and Diego Fagundez to the first team in the past five years.
Director of Youth Development Bryan Scales has been at the forefront of the Revolution’s progress in that area, and Burns noted that there could be potential opportunities for both Scales and Revolution Academy players to spend some time in Lisbon.
“There are a lot of different things that we haven’t done yet that we would like to do as this partnership continues to evolve,” said Burns.
No winter loans planned as Revs use extended offseason to properly recover
While last year’s offseason felt really short, this current offseason is going to feel really long.
New England played through mid-December in 2014, meaning players had less than seven weeks (47 days) to recover ahead of the 2015 campaign. But an early postseason exit means this year’s offseason will be almost twice as long (87 days), and Burns sees both pros and cons to the elongated break.
“Believe me, I’d rather have the six-week (offseason) because that means you’re playing longer in MLS,” he said. “But for some of our guys, it’ll be good to have a little bit of a longer break, because 2014 and 2015 seemed like it almost blended together.”
For that reason Burns said the Revs don’t currently plan to send any players on loan during the winter, instead using the extended offseason to recover after playing for nearly two years straight.
“There’s a little bit of time so some of the guys who played a lot in 2014 and 2015 can get a little bit of time to rest their bodies,” said Burns. “But at the same time, it is such a long [offseason] that you want to make sure that the guys don’t lose a base fitness level. Jay and (strength and conditioning coach) Nick Downing are monitoring that. Before you know it,  will be here.”