MARBELLA, Spain – Academy duo Tyler Freitas and Eliot Jones have both trained with the New England Revolution first team on several occasions, but they’d never experienced anything quite like the journey they’ve been on in Marbella, Spain for the past two weeks.
Freitas, an 18-year-old right back, and Jones, a 15-year-old goalkeeper, were invited to train with the Revs for the entirety of their stay on the southern coast of Spain, immersing themselves in the first-team culture and learning exactly what it takes to make the leap to the professional level.
From travel, to meals, to team outings, to the training ground, Freitas and Jones have been integrated into the group during a critical time in New England’s preseason preparations.
“With any experience like this, you get out of it what you put into it, and both of them have worked really hard here,” said head coach Brad Friedel. “I’m sure it’s been a little bit of an eye opener … They’re both great kids and this should do a world of good for their development.”
“I’m very grateful that the coaching staff has given me the opportunity to be here,” said Jones, who has featured consistently at youth levels with the U.S. National Team. “It’s very different from just coming in and being in the locker room with the guys. There’s a lot more interaction … I’ve gotten a lot more comfortable with the group just being here.”
“Seeing what a professional environment is like, being here, training with the guys every single day, and even just getting to watch them play is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” said Freitas, a native of North Attleboro, Mass. “You don’t get this opportunity every day, especially with a non-MLS Academy team.”
It’s an opportunity that Freitas wasn’t expecting at all as he prepares to begin his college career at the University of Vermont in the fall. Initially his Academy coaches told him he might join the first team for the preseason trip to Bradenton, Florida, so it was a bit of a surprise when he was included on the Spain trip.
It was even more of a surprise when he was asked to suit up for friendlies against Shanghai Shenhua FC and FC Viktoria Plzeň, playing 45 minutes at right back in each match and helping the Revs keep their opponents off the board on both occasions.
“To get into those games, it was just amazing,” said Freitas. “I thought I played well. I worked my butt off for it, so I just did what I could for the team.”
Jones hasn’t featured in a match but he’s been fully immersed in the goalkeepers’ union with Cody Cropper, Brad Knighton, Matt Turner and assistant coach Ruben Garcia, and the young shot-stopper hasn’t looked out of place amongst the professionals.
The biggest difference between Academy training and a professional environment, Jones said, is the intensity, and he believes that every time he rejoins his teammates in the Academy, he brings a bit more of that experience with him to pass on to the rest of the group.
“Every time I go back, I can tell a difference in the way I play, the way I feel, and the way I handle myself,” Jones said. “I think I bring a lot of the intensity that you find here with a lot of the guys, I bring it back, and I think that’s really helped my age group and the other teams to start getting towards the mentality they have at this level.”
These preseason trips often provide a tangible link between Academy and first team – current first teamers Isaac Angking, Nicolas Firmino, Zach Herivaux, and Justin Rennicks all attended preseason trips as Academy players – and that link will grow even stronger once the club’s state-of-the-art training facility opens later this summer.
When that building is completed, first team and Academy operations will be housed in the same facility, bringing players, coaches and staff all under one roof.
“The Academy staff is going to understand a lot more what we want, and we’re going to understand how they work more,” said Friedel. “It’s all very important stuff.”
For those Academy players with professional aspirations, seeing the first team on a daily basis will only serve to bring that objective into the clearest focus, particularly with three Academy products – Angking, Firmino and Rennicks – making the jump to the first team within the past 13 months.
Freitas and Jones – who will be joined on the trip to Bradenton by midfielder Trevor Burns and defender Colby Quinones – both have professional ambition, and experiences like they’ve gained this preseason could well set them on their desired path, provided they keep putting in the work.
“That’s always been a dream of mine since I was a little kid,” said Freitas. “That is where I want to go. I want to be one of those guys one day.”
“There are so many guys here (with the first team) that have been through the Academy,” said Jones. “There’s no better place for me to be. I have a lot of trust in the process, as they always say, and I don’t think there’s any better way for me to get where I want to be than here.”