New England Soccer Today

Devil’s in the details

ORLANDO, Fla. – On paper, it would be easy to deem the New England Revolution’s three-match, 10-day trip to Orlando a bona fide success. Three wins, zero goals allowed, and a defense that seemingly matured overnight would naturally lead many to think that the trip was win/win…and win for everybody.

But upon closer examination, the subplots that surrounded the club’s on and off the field form have to be scrutinized.

Perhaps the most glaring detail was that two of the matches were against amateur sides and the other against a set of MLS reserves. Sure, the Revolution may have gone undefeated during their stay, but what MLS team wouldn’t have an identical record facing similar competition?

In addition to the cream puff competition, there were also some rather unsettling developments down in Disney. We discovered that Kevin Alston and Marko Perovic, two of the club’s biggest contributors last season, each picked up an injury along the way. So much for staying healthy this year.

Last, but certainly not least, was the most disturbing development the entire preseason, never mind the trip itself: Alston and club captain Shalrie Joseph getting jettisoned back to Boston for disciplinary reasons. Even more troubling was the fact that Joseph’s dismissal was the result of his arrest by Orlando Police for trespassing.

Success? Only if today is Opposite Day.

Despite all of that, manager Steve Nicol didn’t seem bothered in the slightest about the artificiality of his team’s success, nor about the off-the-field issues after his club’s 1-0 victory over FC Dallas. Instead, he focused on the trip’s objective.

“It’s kind of a dual purpose: it’s a bit of fitness, but it’s also about confidence,” said Nicol. “You need to get confidence, and you certainly don’t get confidence by losing games.”

Whether that confidence is real or imagined is still up for debate. Granted, three wins in three games will boost anyone’s confidence. But were they quality wins? Shouldn’t the Revs, who fielded their first team for a good chunk of those thee games, have little to no problem beating up on clubs that boast a bunch of players not yet old enough to drink?

Nevertheless, the manager defended his scheduling approach, alluding to the idea that he wanted to “ease” his club into match action.

“The strategy behind (playing U17 teams) is that you don’t want to kick the season off playing against Real Madrid away,” said Nicol. “You don’t want your first preseason games to be against a team who are clearly going to be miles ahead of you.”

Though some may question the gaffer’s approach on scheduling cupcake opponents for his club, Nicol posited that it was more than just picking on the smaller kids at the playground.

“You need to get confidence, and you certainly don’t get confidence by losing games,” said Nicol. “You get confidence by spending time on the ball. Every team is pretty much doing the same thing, just trying to steadily build their confidence – both fitness-wise and quality-wise – before the start of the season.”

While building confidence, especially after a disappointing 2010 season, is certainly crucial to adopting a winning mindset, Nicol admitted that he also wanted to use the matches to evaluate his rookies, albeit in a fairly pressure-free environment.

“This trip is kind of a fact-finding job,” said Nicol. “Especially with a lot of young players and finding out where they’ll be come the start of the season.”

One of those younger players who saw minutes was forward Alan Koger, a non-contracted rookie who started up top during the match against the United States Men’s National Team U-17s on Monday.

Like the rest of his fellow rookies, the trip afforded him the chance to get a better acquainted with his teammates, not to mention competing against different faces.

“It’s entirely different than playing against the same guys you’ve played against for the past few weeks and going into a game situation,” said Koger. “I’m trying to adjust and get in synch with the guys.”

Not that he had a ton of time to do it. Although former William & Mary forward admitted that the level of competition he faced wasn’t terribly intimidating, he felt an added sense of pressure given the limited amount of playing time (45 minutes total) he accumulated, knowing that it was the only chance to show the coaches his abilities.

“There’s no telling if the coaches are going to make their decision from that one game,” said Koger. “It’s tough, but all you can do is try to make the best of it.”

As far as Nicol making the best of it, the gaffer summed up the trip as a success, as it allowed him and his coaching staff to accomplish a major goal.

“We’ve managed to get a good look at everybody – that was one of the major goals,” said Nicol. “So we’ll move on to Atlanta and probably have somewhat of a slightly different strategy.”

And it should be different. Much different. After beating up on inferior sides and picking up a couple of key injuries along the way, the trip to Atlanta should be a complete deviation from the Orlando getaway.

Well, except for keeping that perfect preseason record intact, of course.

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