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Confidence critical for young Revs By Jeff Lemieux, Staff Writer & Online Host

Back-to-back wins have New England’s youthful side believing in themselves

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Revolution head coach Steve Nicol had one simple message for his players at halftime of the club’s 1-0 loss to the LA Galaxy three weeks ago.

“He said that we needed to believe in ourselves a little bit,” said rookie forward Zack Schilawski, who made his first professional start that night at The Home Depot Center. “We just had to have the confidence to go out there and the courage to knock the ball around a bit.”

What Nicol knew – and what he was trying to instill in his young team – was that all the ability in the world doesn’t matter without the self-belief to show it.

The Revs appeared to take Nicol’s message to heart in the second half of that season opener in Los Angeles, giving an improved performance during the final 45 minutes and almost stealing a point on the road. Despite the 1-0 loss, there were positives to be taken from the match, which served as the Revolution debut for five of the club’s 11 starters and helped alleviate much of the nerves built up through a long preseason.

A 2-0 win at D.C. United the following weekend bolstered the Revolution’s confidence, while last Saturday night’s emphatic 4-1 triumph over Toronto FC – in front of the home fans at Gillette Stadium, no less – has the Revs believing they can take on all comers.

“Wins breed confidence,” said Nicol. “Whether you’re young, old – whatever. Winning games is great for everybody.”

While it’s true that even the most experienced professionals build some level of self-belief based on the team’s current form, it’s safe to say that the pair of early-season wins has done wonders for the younger players – especially those who had no previous professional experience.

One rookie whose confidence should be sky-high following last weekend’s victory over Toronto is Schilawski, who became just the third rookie in MLS history to register a hat trick.

Not only was it a rare feat for the first-year player, but he needed only an 11-minute span in the second half to bag all three goals.

“He was worried that he was here to score goals and he wasn’t,” said Nicol of Schilawski, who didn’t register a shot in his first two professional games before scoring on all three of his attempts against TFC. “We just said to him, ‘Look, while we’re not making chances for you, you shouldn’t have a problem.’ But we got him chances [against Toronto] and he showed what he’s capable of doing.”

With a trio of goals now under his belt – and the knowledge that he can score at the professional level in hand – Schilawski should not have any more issues with his self-belief.

“I’m very happy for Zack scoring a hat trick,” said Cory Gibbs, one of the five players who made his New England debut in the season opener. “It’s just huge for him and his confidence, and he’s got the fans behind him and the team behind him. We had a lot of faith in him. The first two games he didn’t score, but we had his back and we knew he’d step up to the plate, and he did that.”

Schilawski admitted that his own self-confidence was boosted by the three-goal performance against TFC, but he also noted that it wasn’t just him who should be feeling good about the Toronto match.

“It helps a lot – not only for me, but I think for the team,” he said of the Revolution’s winning ways to start the season. “To come out offensively and kind of explode there in the second half, score [four] goals and get as many crosses and shots as we did … I think for the whole team it’s given a lot of confidence, and I think we’re going to build on that every game from now on.”

That confidence will be critical as the team continues into the rest of the 2010 schedule, with a particularly important three-game home-stand coming up from April 24 to May 5. It will be the Revolution’s only three-game home-stand of the season, and one of just four times this year when the club will play back-to-back regular-season matches in Foxborough.

The only game standing in the way of the Revs and three straight at home is this weekend’s trip to San Jose, where they’ll face a confident Earthquakes team coming off its first win of the season.

With back-to-back wins already secured, Saturday night’s visit to Buck Shaw Stadium will be vital as the Revs look to carry their current momentum into the upcoming home-stand.

“We’re confident right now,” Schilawski said. “So [let’s] just keep flying, let’s steal as many points as we can here while we’re in a groove, and hopefully start the season off well on a little run.”