FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – A group of New England Revolution Academy players and staffers piled onto a bus bound for New York City early Saturday morning to start the type of extraordinary journey most teenagers can't even fathom.
When they arrived at John F. Kennedy airport later in the day, they knew all of the discussions surrounding their trip to South Africa for the Future Champions Gauteng tournament were hours away from finally turning into reality.
“When they extended the invitation, it was a real privilege for us,” Revolution director of youth development Bryan Scales told MLSsoccer.com before the delegation left. “We were happy to accept it. We're excited to represent the club, MLS and this country in the right way.”
As part of the tournament, the Revs' squad of U-17 players will contest five matches over six days at the Nike Football Training Center in Soweto, just outside Johannesburg. The first outing, a 3-0 defeat to Orlando Pirates on Monday, aired on local television carrier SuperSport 4. Two more group games and two placement matches will follow as the Revs test their skills against SAFA School of Excellence (South Africa), K-Stars (Zambia) and two other opponents to be determined.
In addition to those on-field tests, the Revs must also grapple with a whole set of challenges off the field – a new culture and unfamiliar surroundings – as they attempt to secure results.
“These are all of the things that you want to do to help develop soccer players,” Scales said. “They need to know how to travel. They're in a foreign country. They need to know how to concentrate. It's great. It's an opportunity for them to get out of their comfort zone, adapt and play against some very good teams.”
While the journey itself remains an important piece of the voyage for the teenagers involved, the matches offer a chance to show the development and the progress of the Revolution Academy and the MLS youth development structures over the past few years.
“Over the last couple of years, we've felt like this is a group that is mature enough [for this type of trip],” Scales said. “We have the right guys. We feel like the soccer makes sense on our end, too. We're taking a pretty good team over there, knowing that we'll be playing against some other very good teams. We're excited to represent the club, MLS and teams from the States.”