Revs agreement should help player development

On Wednesday, the Revolution strengthened their commitment to player development by launching an affiliation with nearby Premier Development League (PDL) side Real Boston Rams.

Under the arrangement, college-aged Revolution Academy products will receive playing opportunities locally with the Rams, who are based in Easton, Mass. In the past, college-aged Academy products were limited to training with the Revolution during school breaks. Unlike the Academy’s high school prospects, college-aged prospects were not eligible to feature in MLS Reserve League action due to NCAA rules.

“With this agreement with Real Boston Rams, we now have the opportunity to continue our Academy players’ development locally through their college years and help them maintain their Homegrown protected status with our club,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said in a statement.

The agreement comes less than three months after the Revolution established a groundbreaking affiliation agreement with the Rochester Rhinos (USL-PRO). As only one of four MLS clubs to sign a formal partnership with a USL-PRO team, the Revolution sent a strong message about how serious they were when it came to player development.

With that in mind, the Revolution looked for a better way to cultivate its college-aged talent. To do so, they looked at the growing numbers of Academy products who were playing college soccer, but weren’t necessarily getting much guidance from Revolution coaches.

Since the start of its Academy program in 2008, the Revolution invited Academy alumni like Akron midfielder Scott Caldwell back to Foxborough to train with the first team. But that was the extent to which Caldwell received instructions from the organization, which eventually signed him to a professional contract in December.

Granted, training with the first team served an important purpose -- the Revolution held onto Caldwell's Homegrown rights by giving him the requisite number of training sessions. But the fact is that the club was essentially supervising Homegrown-protected players, like Caldwell, with one hand tied behind its back.

Now, with their partnership with Real Boston in place, the Revolution can exert much greater influence over the development of those players. Not only can head coach Jay Heaps, along with his staff, oversee the club’s college-aged prospects in training, but on the very same day, coaches can send an Academy product to Easton, and monitor their progress. Additionally, Academy coaches will collaborate with the Rams’ staff to outline a coaching plan for the Academy players.

“The Revs are one of MLS’ leading clubs in player development and our affiliation agreement is the perfect complement as both clubs have congruent development goals,” Real Boston general manager John Barata said in a statement. “We look forward to building a long-term alliance that will provide multiple benefits for both clubs as we grow and develop professional soccer players in our region.”

Interestingly, Barata already has experience coaching college-aged Academy products. Last year, Barata, along with current Rams assistant coach Mike Agostinho, coached former Revs U-18 midfielder Ruben Resendes while all three were with former PDL side Boston Victory SC.

Real Boston’s season will kick off on May 11, and in the weeks leading up to the opener, the Revolution are expected to announce which college-aged Academy alumni will be suiting up for the Rams this summer.

The days of inviting a college-aged Academy product for training, only to have him play summer soccer outside of the auspices of the Revolution coaching staff are all but over. No longer will a player like Caldwell, who trained in Foxborough but played for the PDL’s Michigan Bucks last summer, be forced to jet set between distant locales just to get playing time.

In essence, the Revolution are taking advantage of an a rare opportunity: the chance to guide and instruct their best Academy players through college as those very same players prepare to make the jump to professional soccer.

In the view of the Revolution’s front office and coaching staff, player development should not only be a streamlined process that strengthens its ties to its best Academy prospects -- it should also yield tangible benefits (i.e. playing minutes and consistent coaching methods) to the player. By linking itself to Real Boston Rams, the Revolution organization has accomplished both.