Rookie Zack Schilawski has played in his fair share of big games. During a four-year stint at perennial Atlantic Coast Conference powerhouse Wake Forest, he made a school-record 99 appearances, scoring an impressive 40 goals along the way. Included amongst that 40-goal haul was the game-winning strike in the 2007 NCAA championship game, a 2-1 win over Ohio State when he was just a sophomore.
Now, like many players before him, Schilawski is making the jump from college into the professional game. With an entire league of players who are bigger, stronger and quicker than most anything he’d seen on the collegiate level – no matter what type of big-game experience he had at Wake Forest – the transition can be daunting.
The 22-year-old didn’t appear to be intimidated during his first-ever appearance with the Revolution on Tuesday morning, however, starting up top in the club’s 2-0 loss to FC Dallas at ESPN’s Wide World of Sports Complex. Instead, he welcomed physical battles with Dallas’ center back pairing of George John and Ugo Ihemelu, while also using his quickness to make darting runs in behind the backline.
Although his efforts didn’t produce any goals on the day, there were certainly positives to be taken from the performance.
“It feels good to have [the first game] under my belt,” he said. “It’s a challenge. That’s why I’m here. I want to challenge myself. It was a good game – frustrating at times that we didn’t get the result, but I think with time we’ll be able to put it together and get some results.”
With Taylor Twellman back in Foxborough continuing his rehabilitation and Edgaras Jankauskas nursing a quad strain, Schilawski and Kheli Dube were left as the only true forwards available for the Revolution against FC Dallas. Because both players are more accustomed to playing the secondary role behind a larger target forward, the pair was forced to adapt to a different dynamic.
When asked about what he felt he needed to improve upon after his first preseason game, Schilawski made mention of his ability to play in more of a target, hold-up role when necessary.
“Just keep concentrating on holding the ball up as a striker,” he said. “Trying to connect passes with Shalrie (Joseph) and Pat (Phelan) underneath me – and obviously get in the box and try and score some goals.”
Head coach Steve Nicol has said multiple times that preseason training – and especially the first organized preseason match – is much more useful to gauge where a team is physically as opposed to tactically. While Nicol made multiple second-half changes to his lineup and used a total of 17 players on Tuesday morning, he did give a handful of players the opportunity to play the full 90 minutes, or close to it.
One of those players given an extended run out was Schilawski, who saw 79 minutes of action before being replaced by Nico Colaluca.
While preseason training can give a player a strong head start on his fitness level following a long offseason layoff, it always takes a few matches at full speed for the athletes to truly get their lungs back and their feet under them. A strong offseason workout can get the wheels turning, however, and Schilawski believes that he prepared himself in the correct way.
“[Fitness] was one of the things I wanted to make sure I took care of coming into preseason,” he said. “I just want to focus on my game instead of injuries or fatigue. I feel like I’ve done a pretty good job preparing myself that way, and it’s getting there.”
One surefire sign that Schilawski’s fitness level is where it needs to be was his instant desire to get back on the field for another game.
“There’s been a lot of training, a lot of buildup,” he said. “I’m excited, I want to keep going, and I’m looking forward to the next one.”
Schilawski won’t have to wait long for that next one, as the Revs will play their second preseason match in just two days, on Thursday, Feb. 25, against a team of local college all-stars. That match is set to kick off at 10:30 a.m. ET from the University of Central Florida.