ORLANDO, Fla. – Limited to the sheltered confines of the Dana-Farber Field House for the first two weeks of preseason training, the New England Revolution concentrated primarily on fitness and controlled passing. Since arriving in Florida for an extended training trip earlier this week, the club has progressed to include possession exercises and full-field, intra-squad scrimmages into each session.
On Friday night, the Revs will take the next logical step in their preparation as they begin their six-game preseason schedule against the University of Central Florida.
“It gets a little bit old playing against the same faces all the time,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “It’ll be good to get a little bit of a fresh look and play some different opposition.”
Friday night’s meeting with UCF will be the first of three games during the Revolution’s 11-day stay in Orlando, with additional matches against the U.S. Under-17 Men’s National Team (Feb. 21) and FC Dallas (Feb. 23) scheduled for early next week.
Preseason contests serve a variety of purposes for both the players and coaches, who have approximately one month to ready themselves for the season opener against the LA Galaxy on March 20. While players continue to climb toward maximum fitness, coaches are provided an opportunity to evaluate un-signed trialists and experiment with different personnel pairings and formations.
Especially with so many new faces in camp, the Revolution’s six preseason matches take on extra importance as the club searches for its own unique playing style.
“We’re trying to find the best way that suits us to play, which means we have to try things,” said Nicol. “It’s not always going to be perfect, but we’re just looking for as many positive things as we can and then try to put them all together in a pattern of play.”
While the preseason process requires experimentation – not to mention playing time for the crop of un-signed training camp invitees looking to earn roster spots – Nicol doesn’t plan to constantly shuffle his lineup in his quest to find an ideal setup.
“I wouldn’t say we’re going to be chopping and changing all over the place,” he said. “Everybody will get on the field at some stage in the next three games. We’ll try to get a lot of guys a decent amount of time to [increase] their fitness, but we also want to try some things, so we need to try to balance the two.”
Similarly, Chris Tierney views Friday night’s match as much more than an opportunity to simply work on conditioning.
“A lot of [preseason] is about fitness and just putting the work in, but we also need to start thinking about some of the stuff soccer-wise which hurt us last year which needs improvement,” he said. “Keeping the ball is going to be huge for us – knowing when to go forward and when to keep it. [We need to] control the tempo of the game a little bit more.
“I think we struggled with that a little bit last year and we’re a little gung ho going forward,” Tierney continued. “If we start to relax on the ball a little bit, we can pass it around and make the other team work as opposed to us doing all the running.”
Tierney believes the Revs are on the road to improvement in that facet of the game, and the upcoming slate of preseason matches will only help to further that development.
“I think the team’s definitely going to be a better team this year than last year,” he said. “We brought in some guys who look to play soccer, guys who look to pass the ball, so hopefully we keep progressing in that direction.”