FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The first two years of Zack Schilawski's career created a trend he would like to continue heading into his third season in New England.
Schilawski has earned a spot in the starting lineup at the outset of the past two seasons through diligent preseason work. Lengthy spells in the team (the first seven games in 2010 and six games to start 2011) ultimately yielded to more irregular match action, but those experiences have provided a template for Schilawski to follow as he tries to carve out his place in the squad.
“For the past two years, I've been lucky enough to have a pretty good preseason,” Schilawski told MLSsoccer.com recently. “I've started the first few games of both seasons and done fairly well, but, team-wise, as the season went on, we didn't do well and changes had to be made.”
The combination of a dearth of goals (three in his final 22 appearances in 2010 and one in 25 matches played in 2011) and the introduction of a seasoned striker or two often reduced his role as the season progressed. This year may see Schilawski face more pressure to perform earlier in the campaign with the arrival of José Moreno on loan from Once Caldas last week (plus a gaggle of hopeful rookies angling for a roster spot, a host of versatile players capable playing in a withdrawn role and any future reinforcements) and the dawn of a new era with different expectations.
Revolution coach Jay Heaps said he will ask Schilawski and his fellow strikers to do more work in possession with the goal of creating a more ambitious approach from the outset.
“We need Zack to start holding the ball up and really commit himself to keeping the ball and getting into the box,” Heaps said. “That's something I've had conversations with him about and our other forwards about [during preseason]. When we have the ball, we need a guy that can hold it, lay it off and get into the box as quick as he can.”
Former boss Steve Nicol and Schilawski discussed similar topics last season, but Nicol's streamlined approach often left the ex-Wake Forest man battling center backs for the direct service. The revised tactical outlook may ultimately benefit Schilawski's preference to keep the ball on the floor and work his way into dangerous positions inside the penalty area.
“It helps having guys like Benny [Feilhaber], Shalrie [Joseph] and Kelyn [Rowe] because those guys will get up underneath you for a quick option to lay it off, so I can get into a more dangerous position,” Schilawski said. “I think having a stronger midfield and having more time on the ball will help all of those things from a team perspective, not just myself.”
All of those factors could lead Schilawski to contribute more this season than he did during last year's trying campaign, but the 24-year-old striker knows the onus will fall on him to turn these potentially helpful circumstances into a starting role on opening day for the third straight year.
“I think we'll hit the ground running with the style of play [Heaps is] going try to have us play,” Schilawski said. “I think it'll be a little bit better suited for me. Hopefully, we can get some results, and I can take advantage of my opportunity.”