By Mark Stokes
If the founding of the New England Revolution back in the mid-1990′s was the first step towards professional soccer in the region, then chapter two of the story surely begins this month in Easton, Mass, when the Real Boston Rams take the stage for what has become one of the most anticipated soccer ventures of recent years.
While the Revs have won the hearts of New England fans for the past 17 years, the professional game has, for reasons unknown, remained out of reach for far too many local soccer fans. But the bridge between the professional game and those hoping to one day play MLS soccer, will finally come into view at Muscato Stadium, on May 11 as the Rams take their bow in the USL Premier Development League versus New Haven, Connecticut powerhouse, CFC Azul (7pm kick off).
There have been quite a few false dawns on the local soccer landscape in recent years, with attempts being made to build an enterprise worthy of rivaling the Revolution. However, with a much more constructive mind set, general manager John Barata and club president, Mike Madden, saw more sense in not trying to beat a proven winner, but to join it instead.
And so this past April an historic merger between the New England Revolution and Real Boston was signed as the Rams became the official local affiliate of the Gillette Stadium franchise.
The affiliation agreement allows college-aged Revolution Academy youth team products the opportunity to play for the Rams during their PDL season. Additionally, members of the Revolution Academy’s youth teams’ technical staff will assist the Rams’ coaching staff to help oversee the Revolution players’ continued development during the summer months.
“We’re pleased to establish a partnership with Real Boston Rams,” Revolution general manager Michael Burns said. “Previously, our college-aged Academy players did not have a local outlet to play games during the summer under our supervision since they could not play with our reserve team. 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.”
Barata is equally excited:
“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,” said Barata
And indeed ‘long-term’ are the key words for the Rams as any soccer manager will attest – that success is not built overnight. Those of us who are familiar with the European and South American soccer models, know only too well that those continents’ largest and most successful clubs once came from the humblest of beginnings.
Trace the journeys of Manchester United, Bayern Munich or Barcelona and you’ll find those clubs were mere notions in someone’s mind over a century ago. Their strength was built through their reliance on and relationships with their surrounding communities.
This bricks and mortar approach proved to be a win-win for the now world famous clubs – they cultivated a production line of talent from right next door and in so doing won fans for life. Soccer in other parts of the world is a family affair – the merger between the Revs and Rams is clearly a step in that direction.
So, does the Real Boston club offer a bridge for players to make it to the pro game and for fans to see possible future pros in their own backyard?
“Absolutely,” says Mike Madden. “With the new partnership we have with the New England Revolution there is a strong chance that some of our players will make the transition to the next level whether it be USL pro or the MLS. So not only will people that come to our games possibly get to see future MLS talent it could be right here with our own MLS team.”
And the caliber of player we’re likely to see at Oliver Ames on May 11?
“The roster will consist of mostly local players,” says Madden.
“We have Matt Keyes and Gus Santos who played their high school soccer for King Philip and Framingham High School, Andrew Sousa from Fall River, Luke Finkelstein from Peabody, Keegan Campbell from Norton, Cole DeNormandie from Lincoln and Brett Conrad from Nauset just to name a few,” says Madden of a team which saw over 300 participants at a very thorough tryout session.
He also notes that Sousa and Ryan Madura are ex Major League Soccer stars with the Revolution and New York Red Bulls respectively, and will be in the thick of the action for the Rams this season.
And before the season even kicked off the Rams are already making friends – in Newtown Connecticut no less.
“The benefit in Newtown last weekend was a fantastic experience. To go down there and have the honor of taking part in the event was very humbling,” says Mike Madden.
“Having our GM John Barata grow up in that area and play soccer there as a kid made the day very special for us as an organization. Mike Svanda who was John’s coach as a youth and is the Newtown Prides coach did a wonderful job with the event. The Newtown team is a very good team and played well against our team in a game that I thought both teams deserved a tie. The Newtown Parent Connection is the organization they are raising money for and is an organization that raises money to help with the rise that the community may see in addiction and depression issues for years to come in that neighborhood in light of the tragic events that took place there last December,” continued Madden.
The Rams’ head coach, Jimmy Costa, is clearly looking forward to the season ahead: “I’m delighted with the opportunity to lead this team in the PDL and also to working with what is a rich pool of talent. We believe we have a knowledgeable and experienced staff and I cannot wait for the season to get started,” says the head coach.
Real Boston’s coaching staff is completed by assistants Peter Mendel, Mike Agostinho and Mike Madden with Drew Kelleher taking the goalkeeping duties for the season.
The Rams’ season begins on Saturday, May 11, 2013, with their first regular-season game against CFC Azul, and runs through August when most players return to their colleges for preseason training. The Rams play their home games at Oliver Ames High School in Easton, Mass.