Their 2-7-1 record might reflect some early-going struggles for the Real Boston Rams, but for the Easton, MA-based club currently in their inaugural season, working towards the future is the real end goal and always has been.
Rewind to September 2012. Front Office brass from the defunct Boston Victory Soccer Club, a USL PDL team that disbanded after their first and only season, are sitting down at a local family restaurant and bar in Randolph, Massachusetts trying to figure out what their next move would be. Jonathan Fonseca, Director of Operations and Media for the Rams, is among the group. Their objective on that day is figuring out how they can turn a bad situation into a new one-a better one. And it didn't take them long to plot their course. As Fonseca explains it:
"We were all part of an unfortunate situation last year with the Boston Victory. So, when they folded, our big thing was ‘how do we acquire the USL license' and ‘what would our goals be for this team now that we are the ones running the club.' And, you know, we sat down, [and] we ironed out a few guidelines, [a] major thing being development, which is why we started with such an incredibly young team--their average age is 20. Most people in this league, they play with all 8 overage players, so they are older than 23-[but] our [plan] was kind of building for the future...
"So, you know, we just sat down, talked about everything, discussed pretty much the route we want[ed] to take and where we want[ed] to be in pretty much 5 years, which would be really challenging every single year, having a strong team on the field all the time. But for the time being, focusing on developing the players and making sure we know what players work in the system and what we need to change for this league that it's a competitive league."
And that was how their new team, with a new mission statement, was born. Fonseca along with John Barata, the Rams' General Manager, and others from the Boston Victory staff were suddenly in the driver's seat, and their first destination (so to speak) was the New England Revolution.
"Because our main objective was developing players, we thought to ourselves ‘okay, well, what's the level we can get them to?' and that would be the Revs," Fonseca explained. "So, we had some contacts at the Revolution, we reached out to them, we got a meting with (Revolution President) Brian Bilello and (Revolution General Manager) Mike Burns and it was pretty much solid after that. We kicked everything off really well, had a great conversation, and then it was just [a matter of] signing the documents."
For the Rams, now with the support of the New England Revolution, the 5-year-plan had become that much clearer. And so the two clubs worked together to form a partnership, announced this past April, that would see Revolution college-aged academy products play with Real Boston during the summer when they are not at school. This move not only keeps the players sharp with extended coaching and guidance from Rams and Revs staff, but it also crucially allows the Revolution to keep their Homegrown protected status over these players so that they can groom them and potentially bring them into the first team as professionals.
The plan that is currently in place is fairly simple, although somewhat taxing on the players themselves. The Revs academy grads on the Real Boston Rams roster spend morning training sessions in Foxborough with the Revolution and then meet up with Real Boston in the afternoon to train with their Rams squad.
And although the two-a-days can be demanding, Jonathan Fonseca believes the benefits and results are already shining through, none more so than for Rams striker Cole DeNormandie, a known quantity who recently transferred from the University of Cincinnati to Boston College for his Junior year (which of course keeps him closer to home, and closer to the Revs). "[Cole] has really improved himself to completely another level, and it's great," Fonseca said. "From the beginning of the season to now it looks like he's much tougher both mentally and physically and he seems to know how to move the ball better."
But DeNormandie isn't the only player that the Revolution have their eyes on. Fonseca explains, "Right now, monitoring by the Revs, we have three [players]: Cole DeNormandie, Fabio Machado, and Jack Hilger. We are supposed to get a few more this year but they had some injuries [and] they couldn't play with us, so they are taking the summer off. For this year, three. There has been a bunch of Revs academy players on the team who have graduated from the academy, but so far there are only three who they are really keeping tabs on."
Fabio Machado, another striker on the Rams roster, is not actually related to Dominik Machado, an academy stand-out at New England for many years who has just recently helped lead the U-18 squad to the U.S. Soccer Development Academy Playoffs for the first time in club history down in Frisco, TX last week (in fact, he scored a hat trick over the LA Galaxy side to clinch the berth).
Fabio, though, is no slouch himself. Hailing from Leominster, MA (not unlike another academy product who currently leads the Revolution first team in goals this MLS season, Mr. Diego Fagundez), Machado plays his college ball at Drexel University in Philadelphia. At Drexel, Machado tallied 4 goals and 5 assists from 18 appearances (15 starts) in his sophomore season. He even scored against the Revs just a couple weeks ago at the "Soccer Revolution" charity event benefiting the Newtown, CT Parent Connection organization.
The third player that the Revolution are keeping tabs on, according to Fonseca, is Jack (John) Hilger, who also attends Boston College with DeNormandie. Hilger is a midfielder and was a key member of the Revolutions 2010-2011 U-18 team, earning him the Coaches' Award that season.
These three are joined by other academy grads such as midfielder Gustavo Santos, defender Matt Keys, and forward Manuel Andrade who leads the Rams in goals this season. The Revolution academy alums on the Rams roster are joined by a group of players from last year's Boston Victory squad that enthusiastically joined the Real Boston staff for their second shot at establishing a successful USL PDL team.
"We had a really good rapport with those guys," Fonseca said. "They are players that we got along with fantastically during the [Boston] Victory season. Like I said, it was a really unfortunate situation, but we reached out to them as soon as we heard about the club and invited them to come play, come to tryouts, and they loved it. They were ready to jump right on, ready to come right away. You know, it's pretty much maintained that where I think we have a friendly personality with the players, the players respect that, and they are ready to come back for us."
Among those returning players from last year's Victory team are Keegan Campbell, Russell Oost-Lievense, Paul Latif, and Andrew Sousa, who was originally drafted by the Revolution in the 2011 Supplemental Draft but ended up being waived later that year. Sousa has since moved on to conference rivals Ottawa Fury, but not before tallying 2 goals and an assist for Boston.
Ultimately, the partnership between the Revs and the Rams is truly a win-win. In the Rams, New England has the opportunity to work directly with their affiliate's staff to ensure that the players have the proper guidance and coaching as well as the opportunity to continue to improve their game while being closely monitored. Deven Apajee, the Revolution Academy Director, spends a good amount of his time during the work week with the Real Boston Rams, keeping track of the number of games that Revs Academy grads are playing in order to ensure that they retain their Homegrown status. In an effort to further link the two clubs, New England appointed John Barata, the rams GM, to their Academy staff just this past year.
With this partnership in place, New England has the ability to watch over an entire roster of players that may one day be called upon to join the first team, if both parties so choose. On an even smaller-scale, the Revolution's involvement helps the Rams keep a talented and competitive team on the pitch week-in and week-out, so they can rest assured that their Academy grads are playing with some of the best players young that New England has to offer. This is a huge benefit for the Rams and helps them make great strides toward meeting their goal of fielding a competitive team on a consistent basis. Simply put, Fonseca says the affiliation has "been going fantastic" thus far. It seems safe to say that both sides expect more good things to come down the road.
Despite only two wins on the season at the time of this writing (but with still four games still to go), Fonseca and his Real Boston Rams staff are keeping their heads held high, because they know that this time they got it right. "We're definitely coming back next year," Fonseca said, "and we should be good for a while to come. So, that right there is the biggest win we could have this season."