FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – For most of the players wearing New England Revolution jerseys on Wednesday night, the international friendly against Portuguese powerhouse SL Benfica served as an opportunity to test themselves against one of the top teams in Europe. Although a 4-0 loss wasn’t the ideal result, the defeat was secondary to the experience.
However, the match was much more than that for three players currently on trial with the Revolution. Ivan Gvozdenovic, Jean-Baptiste Fritzson and Jason Griffiths were all given the chance to step on the field and show what they can do against a club which recently won its 32nd Portuguese Liga title.
While it was admittedly difficult for them to put their stamp on the match with Benfica controlling much of the possession, head coach Steve Nicol thought they did what they could considering the circumstances.
“I think they all worked extremely hard,” he said. “They’re all in different situations. [Fritzson] has been playing – he played in an international last week, so he’s obviously a lot fitter than the other two guys. As far as the effort and work rate, they did well enough. Obviously, it’s hard for anybody (in that situation).”
Of the group, only Ivan Gvozdenovic – the most experienced player of the trialists – played the full 90 minutes. Although the 31-year-old Serbian’s background is primarily as a defender, he was used as a central midfielder and showed calmness on the ball during the limited time the Revs were in possession.
Despite the difficulties presented – including his adjustment to the time zone after arriving in the United States just a few days ago – Gvozdenovic said he felt good in his stint on Wednesday night and was particularly impressed with the welcoming nature of the Revolution players.
“The players were very friendly, very kind,” he said. “They wanted to help me because they know I am a new player. It was difficult for me to play because it was my first game with [these] players, and I didn’t know how [they] play, or where I needed to move. They were talking a lot on the field, they were speaking all of the time. I think that I can say big things for the players.”
Fritzson – a 24-year-old Haiti National Team forward – also earned a start, playing up top alongside Zack Schilawski. He registered the Revolution’s only shot on goal with a long-range drive in the 23rd minute, while he also blasted a 20-yard shot just over the bar in the 63rd minute. He was replaced by Kheli Dube in the 71st minute.
Griffiths came off the bench at halftime to play central midfield alongside Gvozdenovic and wasted no time getting himself involved in the game, picking up a yellow card just one minute into the second half. A recent graduate of the University of Kentucky, Griffiths was drafted by the Revolution in the third round (48th overall) of the 2010 MLS SuperDraft, but chose to finish his degree before joining the Revs on trial.
After the match, Griffiths said he was looking forward to continuing his trial next week, when the Revolution will have its first full week of training since late April.
“It felt good,” he said of his appearance on Wednesday night. “It was tough playing against Benfica, but it felt good to be out there. I think I did alright and I look forward to coming up next week and training with the team.”
After watching the trio of trialists perform against Benfica, Nicol said that he’ll continue to evaluate the players in training before making any decisions on possible contract offers.
“We have to take everything into consideration,” he said. “The condition he’s in, if he’s been training full-time, the competition. With the opportunity that he did have, what did he do? We’ll certainly take care about it and try to evaluate it the best we can and be fair all around.”