CARY, N.C. - Just two weeks remain until the New England Revolution takes the field against the LA Galaxy at The Home Depot Center in the 2010 season opener. That's a mere 14 days until the games really count and teams begin to pile up points as they drive toward the ultimate goal of playoff glory and a championship.
For now, its time for dress rehearsal.
After playing two early-morning scrimmages during an impromptu trip to Orlando two weeks ago, the Revs will finally get their first taste of playing under the lights and in front of a crowd Saturday night, March 13, when they take on the Charlotte Eagles of the USL Second Division. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. from UNC-Charlottes Transamerica Field.
Saturday nights match will be the first of three tests for the Revs during their 12-day trip to North Carolina, as meetings with Duke University (March 17) and the Carolina RailHawks (March 20) will follow.
With the season opener against the Galaxy slated for just one week after the RailHawks match, these three preseason games will provide a glimpse into the mind of Head Coach Steve Nicol. While he is still likely to mix and match his lineups to a certain extent, one would think hed be inclined to get a look at what he views as his starting 11 at some point during the next week. With that said, an in-depth look into the lineups against the Eagles, Blue Devils and RailHawks could be revealing.
These matches could also be telling for the Revolutions on-field performance as we edge closer to the start of the season. The pair of matches against FC Dallas and the Florida College All-Stars in Orlando provided an opportunity for the players to work out a few kinks, get on the field and increase their fitness levels, but not much could be taken from the play on the field. Presumably, that wont be the case in North Carolina, as the Revs have now had six full weeks of preseason training and should be rounding into form.
For Nicol and the technical staff, not only will Saturday nights match against the Eagles serve as a warm-up for the season opener, but it will also provide an opportunity to take a look at a newcomer and a trio of trialists.
After receiving his P-1 Visa, recently-signed Senegalese midfielder Joseph Niouky arrived in the United States earlier this week and joined his teammates for three training sessions on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Unlike Emmanuel Osei and Edgaras Jankauskas each of whom arrived midseason in 2009 Niouky will have the advantage of two weeks of preseason training with his new teammates, and these three games in North Carolina could be critical for his progression.
The Revolutions search for reinforcements on the attacking end of the field could also come into focus on Saturday night, as trialists Marko Perovic, Gareth Williams and Andres Raad will be available for selection. All three have had their chance to impress in training this week, but Nicol will be eager to see them in action in a game situation before moving forward with possible contract negotiations. The pressure is certainly on for those hoping to earn a roster spot, as the Revs currently have seven unsigned players in camp including 2010 SuperDraft selections Seth Sinovic and Zak Boggs and just three roster spots (one senior and two developmental) currently unfilled.
One factor which the trialists and the entire Revolution roster will have to take into account is pregame preparations, which will be a bit different than usual tomorrow night. Because the Revs are stationed in Cary and Saturday nights match is in Charlotte, the squad will have to take a two-and-a-half hour bus ride to the stadium. For creatures of habit which professional athletes undoubtedly are it will be an adjustment, for sure.
Of course, the opponent is always a factor, as well. Led by top scorer Amaury Nunes (nine goals), the Eagles finished tied for third place in USL-2 last year with a record of 8-5-7. A solid playoff run landed them in the leagues title game for the third time in the last four years, but just as they did in their previous two appearances, they fell to defeat in the championship match.
The Eagles will provide stern opposition in front of a hometown crowd, which is the type of test the Revs are hoping for with the season opener on the horizon.