TUCSON, Ariz. – For seven straight years Tucson has been the spot where the New England Revolution have wrapped up their preseason preparations, making all their final adjustments before heading into the long haul of the eight-month regular season.
What’s more, Tucson camp has also been a place for New England Revolution Academy players to get a taste of life with the first team, as years past have seen the likes of Zach Herivaux, Justin Rennicks, Joe Brito, and more join the Revs for a week of training in the desert.
This year sees the Revs bring their largest-ever group of Academy players to the Grand Canyon State, as five youngsters – Kevin Vang, Prince Loney-Bailey, Trevor Burns (yes, son of General Manager Michael Burns), Nicolas Firmino, and Pierre Spiegel will train with the first team this week. Vang and Loney-Bailey arrived in camp over the weekend, while Burns, Firmino and Spiegel were slated to arrive on Monday night, following the conclusion of the Generation adidas Cup.
For Vang and Burns it’s a second preseason camp after training in Tucson last year, while it’s the first time that Loney-Bailey, Firmino and Spiegel will join the Revs for an extended run in Arizona.
“We felt like these five players, these Academy players, they’ve earned the opportunity to come in and train,” said Michael Burns. “We’ve always felt like this, as an organization, it’s not just great for the individual players, but it’s great for our Academy program.”
New England have signed four Homegrown Players in the club’s history – Diego Fagundez, Scott Caldwell, Herivaux and Isaac Angking, all still on the roster – and all four players spent significant time training with the first team as youngsters before signing their first pro deals.
Those experiences not only served as an opportunity for the players to showcase themselves to the first-team coaching staff, but also made the transition to the professional ranks that much easier when the time came to make the move.
“It doesn’t mean that every Academy player that comes in is going to be offered a first-team contract, but it certainly makes the transition smoother,” said the elder Burns. “It’s a great opportunity for these kids. It builds their confidence tremendously.”
From training sessions to travel, from meals to meetings, Academy players are immersed in the Revolution first-team experience during preseason. But perhaps the coolest opportunity from the players’ perspective is the chance to play in first-team matches in the Mobile Mini Sun Cup.
Vang saw 20 minutes of action in the Revolution’s 3-3 draw with San Antonio FC over the weekend, and the 5-foot-4, 17-year-old central midfielder didn’t look overawed as he matched up with the pros.
“Credit to him, he got in there,” Burns said of Vang, who said his primary objective was to avoid making any major mistakes. “Confidence is a huge part of it for these players. It’s easier said than done, but the guys who can go in there and play as freely as possible, don’t play tight and just kind of let it fly, that says a lot about the player and their character.”
Head coach Brad Friedel, who noted that he’s familiar with every player in the Revolution’s Academy after serving as the U.S. Under-19 head coach, said the Revs will continue to rotate Academy players into first-team training throughout the year, and said he hopes the young players will take the confidence gained and the lessons learned back to Academy training to share with their teammates.
“By providing an opportunity for our Academy kids to train with the first team – on the field, off the field – (it gives us a chance to see) who can raise their level, who can’t, and it will change from year to year,” said Burns. “It’s tremendous for these kids to have this opportunity.”