FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – With temperatures dipping into the low-30s during Saturday’s training session, many New England Revolution players exited the indoor pitch anxiously eyeing the warm Florida sunshine that awaits them for a slate of preseason matches.
But, for manager Steve Nicol, the 10-day trip to Orlando, which runs from Monday to February 24th, is more than just about sunny skies and warmer temps. It’s the opportunity to gauge the progress of his youngest players since camp opened up two weeks ago.
“The biggest thing is that we want to see some more people standing out and making their cases for playing time,” said Nicol. “We want to see some guys stand up and say ‘you want to play me.’”
A few players itching to make their cases to for playing time are non-contracted rookies like Steve Perry, who looks to continue his impressive preseason showing down south.
“It’ll be good to get out on a much bigger open field and play against people who you haven’t seen,” said Perry. “I think it’ll get us better prepared for the season.”
While the Dana Farber Fieldhouse has provided the Revolution ample opportunity to open it up for small-sided games and passing drills, the opportunity to get outdoors and train, run, and perform on regulation-sized pitches against other clubs is a welcome change.
“It’ll be good to stretch our legs,” said Perry. “It’ll show (the coaching staff) what you’ve got, and see what you need to work on.”
Another non-contracted rookie in camp who’s also looking forward to the trip is Fall River’s Andrew Sousa, who’s also opened some eyes with his technical skills and dangerous runs during the past two weeks.
Despite his encouraging form so far, the former Providence College Friar is hoping to show that he’s no one-trick pony.
“I just want to show that I’m a well-rounded player,” said Sousa. “I can attack, defend, win head balls, and tackle. I just want to show them that I’m ready (to play in MLS).”
Midfielder Stephen McCarthy is another rookie who’s ready to show he’s MLS-ready during the 10-day getaway. Although he arrived in Foxborough with a contract in hand, the former North Carolina Tar Heel will face some stiff competition from newly-signed Ousmane Dabo, a former Lazio midfielder who will likely join the team down in central Florida. With two more international signings reportedly in the wings, McCarthy conceded that all he can do is focus on doing his job.
“As a rookie, I’m just doing all I can to work hard every day,” said McCarthy. “I’m sure these (incoming players) are going to be big-name players, but there’s not much I can do about that, so I just try not to think about it.”
One thing the center mid has been thinking about for this week’s trip?
“The beach,” said McCarthy, with a laugh. “It’s going to be nice to get out of this weather.”
Incidentally, the change in weather – from cold and snowy to hot and humid – is another challenge that awaits for both rookies and seasoned veterans.
“It’s going to be tough to play games in the heat,” said McCarthy. “It’s so different (than it is in Foxborough right now). It’s easy to get dehydrated and what not.”
In addition to combating the heat, McCarthy also hopes to accomplish some other goals under the warm Florida sun.
“I’m going to try to lose the ball as least often as possible,” quipped McCarthy. “I just want to keep it moving and just start thinking quicker. If I can do that in these next few games, I’ll be really happy.”
Although the Revolution will face a variety of opponents (U.S. Men’s National Team U-17s, University of Central Florida, and FC Dallas) during their Orlando excursion, Nicol doesn’t believe the differing levels of competition will make it harder to measure his players’ progress.
“It doesn’t matter who you play,” said Nicol. “If you’re playing a team that’s just not good, you still have to do the right things well. As long as you go about your business the right way, it’ll help you - whoever you’re playing against.”
Or wherever you’re playing, for that matter.