Revolution roll on training wheels
FOXBOROUGH -- There is more than chance involved in the fact that the Los Angeles Galaxy have started three seasons with eight-game unbeaten streaks. Climate certainly has been a positive factor in their preseason preparations, just as it has been a negative factor for the Revolution.
But the Revolution have become the fifth team to start a Major League Soccer season with an eight-game unbeaten streak, the first to do so in five years, and they have done so in spite of difficult weather conditions. The Revolution (6-0-2), who will host Colorado Saturday, have had difficulty accepting the fact that they cannot prepare for the season without getting accustomed to practicing indoors and traveling far south of New England.
Their preseason training is conducted in virtual anonymity, often on another continent, and when the season opens, it becomes the extension of a long road trip. This year, the team traveled to Bermuda and Ecuador, then went to San Jose for the season opener. This might seem like an exciting and exotic itinerary, but it also can be draining. Consider the seven-hour round trip by bus on the Pan-American Highway to play a game on the Peruvian border, followed by an early wakeup call and a scramble to the Guayaquil airport because the team bus is a no-show.
The team benefited, though, and not just from the favorable climate. The adversity of training in Ecuador helped in the bonding of the team and also exposed the qualities of Michael Parkhurst and James Riley, key parts of the defense. In Bermuda, the Revolution discovered Khano Smith, who now is playing an important role as a midfielder-striker.
''How you start doesn't guarantee how you are going to finish," said Revolution goalkeeper Matt Reis, who played for the Galaxy from 1998-2002. ''We have finished the season strong after starting poorly the last couple of years. What it says is that we have a good group of guys who are good players from top to bottom.
''But every team is a couple of injuries away from really struggling for the rest of the year. As long as we are healthy, we should be all right."
Many factors have contributed to the Revolution's fast start. Among the most crucial is the way coach Steve Nicol and assistant Paul Mariner have optimized training sessions, which will help the team remain fresh at the end of the season.
Training sessions never extend more than two hours, including a 15-minute warmup and a 15- to 30-minute wind down. The team is rarely in a two-a-day practice mode, even during preseason conditioning. Nor does Nicol become frustrated or resort to punitive measures when the team is performing poorly. The Revolution have earned 20 points in eight games, well ahead of last year's pace, when they did not surpass 20 points until mid-August. Practices have barely changed since last season, though the mood of the team understandably has improved.
And consistency and patience are paying off. The Revolution established a core group of players in 2003 and have maintained that base. Four starters from the 2002 MLS Cup final team remain with the team, and Reis, who was a reserve for the Galaxy in that match, has proven to be more than a symbol of good fortune. His mobility and foot skills have enabled the Revolution to play a 3-5-2 formation, maximizing their midfield threat.
''With two new teams, it has thinned out the talent pool a little bit," Reis said. ''Teams that made a lot of changes in the offseason are struggling early. Teams like ourselves, which did not make a lot of changes, have benefited."
Revolution tactics are no longer conservative. The team is in attack mode from the start, and opponents are attempting to find ways to short-circuit the midfield.
''We have tried to emphasize passing the ball, keeping it on the ground," Reis said. ''That makes it easier on everyone because we are not just launching the ball upfield. The pressure is going to be on us in the back, but we know this is going to happen sometimes, and with our athleticism, we can cover with three in the back, if we are getting solid play from our midfielders and they are limiting the other team's passes to the forwards. The midfield is our driving force, they are all so dynamic and interchangeable in their roles."
Brazilian midfielder Cassio played the entire game as the Revolution took a 4-0 win over the Greater Boston Bolts Under 19 team yesterday. Luke Vercollone (18th minute), Jamie Holmes (50th), Tony Anderson (63d), and Felix Brillant (72d) scored. ''This is the first time I have played 90 minutes in a while," said Cassio, who played in the season opener but has been out with a turf toe injury since then. ''So, that was good. I was prepared to play last week but I was still a little sore, and I am hoping to have the opportunity to play [Saturday]." Riley (hamstring strain) performed in the first half and is probable for Saturday.