FOXBOROUGH, Mass.—With Friday's acquisition of Portuguese center back Sambinha, after nearly two years of growth, the New England Revolution's relationship with Sporting Clube de Portugal has begun to bear fruit.
The Revs and Sporting announced their multi-year strategic partnership in October of 2014, but New England’s run to the MLS Cup Final that year and short offseason did not afford an opportunity for the two clubs to get down to business.
This past offseason provided a greater opportunity for the sides to delve a little deeper into things and the Revs jumped at the opportunity to visit Lisbon, which included sending head coach Jay Heaps and general manager Michael Burns for a trip during a a three-week (Nov. 29 - Dec. 18) offseason training stint for Sean Okoli, Donnie Smith and Homegrown Player Zach Herivaux with the Primeira Liga power.
“They have so much to offer in terms of their history, their excellence in player development with a number of great players that have come through their academy system,” Burns told MLSsoccer.com following his visit with Sporting. “They’ve been open with us and we can use their resources in kind of any capacity we’d like.”
New Revs acquisition Sambinha
The 6-foot-1 Sambinha – on the Revolution’s radar prior to their visit to Portugal – joins the club on a full-season loan, with an option for New England to sign the central defender permanently at the end of the year.
Born in Cascais, Portugal, the 23-year-old has four caps with the Guinea-Bissau national team and served as Sporting's B team captain this season, scoring twice in 21 appearances; Heaps said the team had targeted a player on the B team who had A team experience.
Though the move addresses a need, providing another option for Heaps at center back, which the team lacked last season, it does not necessarily portend a lineup shuffle.
Former No. 1 overall SuperDraft selection Andrew Farrell slid from right back to the middle last year, and Heaps liked his progression.
“I see his continued growth as a center back," Heaps said. "We’re going to continue to work on that. That doesn’t mean that he won’t see time at right back if the game or the situation calls for it. But, going into preseason we’re going to work him in full time as a center back.”
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The Revolution are excited not only for the prospects of their newest addition, but also the additional benefits that this relationship with Sporting can provide towards player and club development.
“For me, personally, I was able to watch training sessions and learn from how they not only do things at the academy level but how they do things with their B team and then with their first team,” said Heaps. “I thought that was a real eye-opening experience because it was full access to a club that is pretty successful.”
And now that the two clubs' relationship has begun to take root, the outlook continues to flower.
“I think we’re still in the infancy of the partnership," said Burns. "I’ve said this before, it is a partnership that we don’t want just to be on paper. We want it to be something tangible and something that makes sense for both sides to have a partnership.”