New England is not perceived as a breeding ground for soccer talent, partly because of climate and limited opportunities. But there appear to be enough local prospects to provide players for the Revolution’s first team as well as stock a USL League One (third division) team.
And the latest could be Damian “Tico” Rivera, who scored twice Wednesday as the Revolution took a 3-1 win over the Colorado Rapids in a preseason game in Carson, Calif. Rivera converted in the seventh and 15th minutes, and Tajon Buchanan added a 53rd-minute score as the Revolution improved to 1-1-0 in the preseason.
Rivera, 17, the youngest player on the Revolution roster, developed in the team’s academy program and said he has wanted to turn pro since he “was a little kid, 10 years old,” in a recent interview.
Rivera, born in Cranston, R.I., skipped playing for his high school and committed to Providence College before signing with the Revolution in August. Despite his spectacular debut, Rivera is not expected to play a major role with the Revolution, but will be a candidate for game-day rosters and will compete for the Revolution II squad that will participate in USL League One.
“You can’t get overly excited when somebody scores two goals,” Revolution technical director Curt Onalfo said. “Tico is a really talented player and that’s why we wanted to sign him. He’s an attacking player, he creates assists and goals, and he only needs to continue growing.
“He’s projected to get lots of minutes with the second team but train with the first team. But it all depends on performance and how he continues to grow. The challenge is to compete on a high level every day.
“It’s all about doing things on a consistent basis. He’s going to have ups and downs, but we have a system now that will benefit players like Tico, and guys that are younger that aren’t pegged as starters.”
The recent crop of academy players includes two 20-year-olds: North Providence’s Isaac Angking and Hamilton’s Justin Rennicks, who were both in the starting lineup alongside Rivera.
Angking made his Revolution debut in 2018. Rennicks, who has been participating in Revolution preseason matches since he was 15, scored once in three games in all competitions for the Revolution last season.
Another New England stereotype is that its players might be inclined to be pragmatic, defensive types. You can leave it to Florida, Southern California, and Texas to produce the flair.
But Angking, Rennicks, Rivera — and Diego Fagundez, who made his Revolution debut at age 16 — are all attackers.
“Obviously, the weather, it helps to be outside,” said Onalfo, who grew up in Ridgefield, Conn. “But still, you look around the world, players develop where they have winters. It’s all about getting talented players to training and training them up and coaching them up and creating an environment where they can thrive.”
The Revolution’s recently-opened training facility, combined with a residence program, should up the ante on development. Onalfo said the Revolution’s academy players are on par with those for the Los Angeles Galaxy, with whom he worked.
“When we look at our U19 team — part of my job is to evaluate the academy and enhance it — I was pleasantly surprised with the talent level,” Onalfo said.
Onalfo said residence setup is helping former Burke High School star Meny Silva, the latest Revolution addition.
“He is very talented, but he wasn’t able to get to training on a regular basis,” Onalfo said. “Now that he’s there every day, in the environment, he starts to thrive.”
“If he hadn’t had that opportunity, he’s a guy that would’ve been missed. It’s about implementing ways of getting the most talented players there at training.
“The culture Bruce [Arena] is creating in the organization — you look at the sports town of Boston, it’s just a winning town, there’s an edge to it, a workmanlike mentality to it.
“ I feel like, for us, it’ll make more sense to look to this area — not saying we won’t take players from outside — but they fit into the culture we’re creating. They’re local and have roots here.”
The Kraft family has upped the investment in the Revolution via the training center and paying transfer fees for players.
“It is a big investment, and they wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t feel like there was a reason for it,” Onalfo said.
“We feel like we can certainly make it better and the goal is to develop players for the first team. It’s not going to happen overnight.”
Proof is there
After Ruben Amorim replaced Ricardo Sa Pinto as Sporting Braga manager, the Portuguese coaches’ association filed a protest because of Amorim’s “lack of qualifications.”
But Amorim has mostly proven himself as Braga had an eight-game unbeaten run, including a win over Porto in the League Cup final Jan. 25.
Amorim, 35, had been in charge of Casa Pia for four Taca de Portugal matches last year, before making his Braga debut last month. Amorim’s minimal experience might have been costly as Braga squandered a two-goal lead in a 2-2 tie with Gil Vicente last week. Now, Braga is preparing to travel to Benfica Saturday, followed by a Europa League visit to Rangers Feb. 20.
Braga, in fourth place in Portugal’s Liga Nos, has survived the challenge of playing in several competitions, compiling a 25-7-6 record overall. Midfielder Andre Horta played briefly for Los Angeles FC and missed out on LAFC’s impressive run in MLS last season. But Horta is gaining invaluable experience performing alongside his brother, Ricardo, with Braga, and his playing time could increase with the departure of Trincao on a $35 million transfer to Arsenal.
As a player, Amorim performed mostly for Benfica, and for Portugal in the 2010 and ’14 World Cups. He was with Benfica in a 4-0 win over the Revolution in 2010, and Portugal in a 3-1 loss to Brazil in 2013 and 1-0 victory over Mexico in 2014 at Gillette Stadium.