FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Brad Friedel wants to make one thing explicitly clear: It doesn’t matter what a player’s track record is or how much money they make. If they aren’t fully bought in, minutes will be hard to come by.
“I know that means there are going to be a few unhappy faces around the place on game day, but what I can tell you is the level of training and the level of commitment has never once dropped,” Friedel told MLSsoccer.com after Wednesday’s training session. “As long as that continues, then we have a chance to succeed.”
That level of competition, which Friedel stressed in his introductory press conference nearly five months ago, has been a defining theme of the New England Revolution in 2018, especially after last weekend’s 2-0 win at the Houston Dynamo.
That’s when five big-name players weren’t in Friedel’s starting XI, including Kelyn Rowe, Juan Agudelo and Antonio Delamea all on the bench. The Revs’ manager has since said he views all three as integral parts moving forward. Outside of that trio, Krisztian Nemeth didn’t make the matchday 18 upon returning from international duty with Hungary, while Lee Nguyen was also left off the gameday roster for the fourth consecutive game after requesting an offseason trade from the Revs.
From afar, Friedel acknowledged how that all might appear puzzling, but stressed that winning spots in training is massive in how he manages the club. Simply, he doesn’t want any of his players ever feeling like their spot is permanent.
“Complacency is a bad word in sports,” Friedel said. “If you ever get to the point where players become complacent, it’s really difficult to get them to learn and make themselves better. Every player, no matter how good they are, can always learn and better themselves if they’re prepared to learn and focus themselves on what they need to do, what they’re good at, what they’re not good at, et cetera.”
That approach has proved fruitful for Matt Turner, who has snatched the starting goalkeeper job many presumed belonged to either 11-year MLS veteran Brad Knighton or recent US national team call-up Cody Cropper.
Turner said that showed his teammates that Friedel was serious about training serving as a proving ground, a fact that’s also benefited Jalil Anibaba. Signed this offseason for defensive depth, the 29-year-old defender has since started three consecutive games. As Anibaba sees it, that goes to show how vibrant the competition is in New England.
“You can be never be comfortable as a professional footballer,” Anibaba said. “You always have to try and improve and at your best. None of us take that lightly.”