FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – In a metaphorical sense, the New England Revolution’s recent trip to Orlando, Fla., could be considered the appetizer of the club’s preseason meal.
As it follows, the Revs will dig in to the more substantial main course when they head to Kennesaw, Ga., for another 11-day training trip on Thursday.
“[The Orlando trip] was always about getting people time on the field and seeing what they’ve got,” said head coach Steve Nicol. “We managed to get a good look at everybody – that was one of the major goals. We’ll move on to [Georgia] and probably have somewhat of a slightly different strategy.”
If Nicol’s primary objective in Florida was to assess his roster, the 10th-year head coach can consider the trip a success. Training camp invitees Zak Boggs and Tim Murray signed with the Revolution on Wednesday, while contracts are in the works for draft picks Ryan Kinne, Alan Koger and Andrew Sousa. Those additions come on the heels of Monday’s announcement that Fernando Cabadas, Roberto Linck and Steven Perry have been released from camp.
Consider also the recent arrivals of international signings Franco Coria and Ousmane Dabo – plus the impending addition of a young outside midfielder from Nigeria – and New England’s roster is filling out just in time for the critical trip to Georgia.
“It’s huge,” said third-year defender Darrius Barnes in reference to the fact that every player in the Revolution’s Georgia camp is expected to be under contract. “Especially from [my own experience] as a rookie, once you’re offered that contract, it takes a little bit of the pressure off and you can just focus on playing.”
Rookies A.J. Soares and Stephen McCarthy signed contracts with MLS prior to January’s SuperDraft – slightly easing the stress of preseason – but nevertheless, Soares understands the significance of the Georgia trip as the Revs come together as a unit now that the roster has taken shape.
“It’s important for everyone to know the guys on the team – who it’s going to be, who you’re going to be with all the time,” said the first-year center back. “Adding [Coria and Dabo] is going to be just another step up in the level (of play). They’re both really great players.”
With the roster nearing its completed form, the Revs plan to shift their focus considerably during their stay in the Peach State.
“On the [Orlando] trip you’re really trying to accomplish (an increased) fitness level, mostly,” said Soares. “(You’re building) team camaraderie, those types of things. On the [Georgia] trip we’re going to start establishing the lineup, the rhythm and the style of play.”
To achieve those objectives, the Revs will face strong competition as they’ll play three games against MLS opponents in an eight-day span. After easing into their preseason schedule with matches against the University of Central Florida and members of the U.S. Under-17 National Team in Orlando, the Revs will face league opposition in the Columbus Crew (twice) and Houston Dynamo during their second journey south.
“It’s definitely going to be a step up,” said Barnes of the difference in opposition from Orlando to Georgia. “I like the way they set it up where we’re kind of climbing a hill a little bit. We’re getting to the peak of our preseason right now and we’re going to be playing some stiffer competition, so I think it’s going to be great to see where guys are at and see how we’ve developed.”
The trio of tests against MLS opponents could prove particularly valuable for the rookies as they prepare themselves for the season opener against the LA Galaxy on March 20.
“Any time you can play the best competition, it’s good,” said Soares. “It’ll allow everybody to get up to speed with the league. That (level of play) is what you’re going to see in the league. I think it’s a good idea to play MLS teams before the season for that reason.
“It’s definitely a higher level of everything in those MLS games – higher level of fitness, higher level of play,” he continued. “So to get three games [in Georgia] plus the one (against FC Dallas) in Orlando, I think I’ll feel confident going into the season that I’m up to speed and ready to go.”