New England Soccer Today

Welcome to the fold

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Common wisdom holds that you only get one chance to make a first impression. Shine, and your path can be a walk in the park. Stumble, and your trail can be tumultuous and trying.

With seven rookies in camp for the New England Revolution, it’s fair to say that there are quite a few players doing their best to avoid any trip wires or banana peels this early in their careers.

They need not worry too much. Fortunately for them, their manager is none other than Steve Nicol, the former Liverpool defender who’s reputation as a “player’s manager” has been well-earned through the gaffer’s affinity for fraternizing with his charges.

“He’s a great guy,” said rookie center back A.J. Soares. “He’s really funny. He was kicking the ball at me during training. He’s made it easier to come into the team, which is nice.”

For Soares, who comes into camp with the pressure that often accompanies much-heralded SuperDraft selections, Nicol’s playful attitude has certainly helped ease him into his first professional preseason.

“He creates a relaxed environment that allows players to thrive both socially and in soccer,” said Soares. “Different coaches do it different ways, but I like the way (Nicol) does it.”

Another player who has taken to the Scotsman’s managerial style is second-round SuperDraft selection Stephen McCarthy, who gushed about his new manager after the first day of training.

“I love him,” said McCarthy with a laugh. “I got to juggle with him a little bit today in between running. He was just cracking jokes right and left. He’s an awesome guy, and a good role model (for player like me) from the time I’ve spent here so far.”

No doubt, Nicol’s way often entails a lot of light-hearted moments, especially in the earlier portions of the preseason, while the club is still working on strength and conditioning. It’s a manner that has often afforded his first-year players a certain level of comfort that encourages his charges to play within themselves rather than trying to become world beaters right out of the chute.

“You really have to focus on staying relaxed,” said third-round SuperDraft pick Steve Perry. “Because once you tense up, you’re finishing touch goes away, your touch tenses up. Although it’s important to play hard and play well, you kind of have to have relaxed air about you.”

There’s no doubt that Nicol’s personality affords his rookies the chance to breathe in that relaxed air. After all, what good is a player who’s constantly looking over his shoulder?

One player who certainly carried that nagging worry into camp is another third-round SuperDraft selection – Alan Koger – who admitted he was a little on edge going into preseason not knowing how well he’d fit in with his new manager.

“I was a little nervous coming in,” said Alan Koger. “But, Coach Nicol is really funny actually. He likes to joke around a lot. Sometimes, you go in and you think a coach may be kind of (strict), and not really say much, but he’s very personable.”

Suffice to say, Koger’s anxiety was quickly dashed – with a little help from some of his new teammates after finding himself the target of some good-natured rookie hazing during Day 1 of camp.

“I got tripped up one time while I was jogging backwards – as a joke to the new guy,” said Koger. “They got me on that one. It’s a good time, though.”

Of course, another area of welcome news for the rookies – aside from Nicol’s neverending jabs and jokes – is the return of the Reserve League, which had been shelved for the past two seasons.

The league, which in the past provided valuable match minutes to rookies, is set to resume that role once again.

“In my opinion, this is the best year for to be college player coming out and playing in MLS,” said Perry. “I know me, especially, and some of my other teammates are really excited about the reserve league because it’s good to get in the games and learn the little nuances of the pro game.”

Teaching the nuances of the pro game to freshman players is the primary objective of the new and improved Reserve League. With far stricter rules and guidelines than its predecessor (the elimination of “guest players” and the implementation of reserve league coaches among the most prominent changes), the league will allow players who might be on the roster bubble far more chances to make their cases for first team minutes.

“Its always tough coming in and trying to get a first team spot,” said Koger. “Being on the reserve team would be completely fine by me. It gives you a little bit of experience in getting used to the level of play in MLS. It would be a great opportunity.”

It’ll be an opportunity afforded to the Revolution rookies who’ve made good impressions, both with the club and with their good-natured gaffer.

Leave a Reply