FOXBOROUGH — Split between two soccer lives, there was never any time last year for Jerry Bengtson to settle in.
In one world, he was the striker the New England Revolution had been mining for.
He signed with the Revolution last July, almost midway through the season. He waited for the paperwork to clear, practiced with the team for three days, maybe four, and immediately scored his first goal in his first game, pushing the Revolution to a 2-0 win over the New York Red Bulls.
Then, he was gone.
Because in another life, he was one of the most potent scorers on a Honduras national team set to compete in the Olympics.
The reputation Bengtson had earned in Honduras, where he dominated La Liga National, was part of what piqued New England’s interest. But the Revolution knew he had major commitments that would pull him away. It was something they had to deal with.
“With Jerry, certainly, it was very difficult,” said coach Jay Heaps. “Right away, he was taken away from us. The longest we had him was 2½ weeks, I think, at a time.
“So he’s coming and going, he’s adjusting, he’s moving his family here — he has a young child and a wife. So I think, for him, it was very difficult.”
Over the course of the 10 games he played for the Revolution, Bengtson’s scoring potential showed in flashes. He scored more goals in four Olympic games (four) than he did in 13 MLS games (two), where he had to adjust to an environment he had hardly spent any time in.
This season is different, if only because it’s less of a balancing act. He has been with the team all preseason, developing chemistry on the field, knowing the Revolution will be leaning on him to be their primary scorer. They open the season Saturday on the road against the Chicago Fire.
“This year is easier, because I’ve been here since Day 1,” Bengtson said through Jasir Charris, the team’s player development programs coach. “So I’m getting to know my teammates, knowing what the coaches want on the field, so the transition is easier than last year in that aspect.”
Even his teammates have had to catch themselves in practice, realizing this is the most they’ve seen of Bengtson.
“I was just thinking about it the other day,” said midfielder Clyde Simms. “I think this is the longest he’s been with us since we’ve had him.
“You can see it with him, he’s just more comfortable in training and just being around us. It’s been really good for us and for him as well.”
For a team that scored only 39 goals last season (13th in the league) despite taking 455 shots (seventh in the league) and played 19 one-goal games, Bengtson’s skill set may be invaluable.
“He’s the scorer,” said midfielder Juan Toja. “He’s the guy who has to score all the time and he’s a very important piece for us in the puzzle.”
With last season’s leading scorer, Saer Sene, still recovering from a torn ACL, Bengtson becomes that much more important.
“We expect him to score goals for us,” Heaps said. “We expect him to be on the end of things.”
Knowing how difficult the adjustment has been, Toja developed a relationship with Bengtson away from the field.
“With the international team, you have to play so many games, go back and forth,” Toja said. “Sometimes it’s hard for us, because we miss him. So yeah, it’s going to be hard that way, but we have players who can do that job as well.
“You have to be happy to go and do your job and do it as good as you can. If you’re not OK, if you’re thinking about something else, or you have different concerns, it’s hard to go onto the field and play your best.”
With Honduras in the middle of World Cup qualifying, Bengtson will still be walking the tightrope. Last month, he played in the first of the country’s 10 games, a 2-0 win over the United States. Two games later this month will likely take him away from the Revolution’s March 23 meeting with Sporting KC. It’s one of several spots where the schedules for his two teams conflict.
“Everyone knows the qualifying game is an important game, but once that’s all said and done, my focus is on the New England Revolution,” Bengtson said. “I’m going to work hard for this team.
Last month, Bengtson had about a day to flip the switch.
One minute he was the hero for Honduras, tapping in a goal in the 79th minute to beat the US. The next he was on a flight from San Pedro Sula to Boston. He was riding an emotional high. He was also banged up after the game. He was leaving a region where 89 degrees was the norm to come to a place bracing for 25 inches of snow.
If Bengtson had asked for a day to get himself together, Heaps would have understood. The coach had already planned on ways to make the day light for him.
He told Bengtson, “Look, you can take this afternoon, do a bike workout.”
But Bengtson wanted be out on the field, even if it was just for warmups or light passing drills.
“I decided to be with the team,” Bengtson said. “The motivation, instead of being on the bike or something else, I’d rather be with my teammates and be around the team.”
When he stepped into the locker room, the welcoming committee — goalie Matt Reis and defender Darrius Barnes — had the jokes ready.
Reis gave him the hardest time.
“You don’t do America like that,” he said.
Barnes asked for a jersey.
“I was just messing around with him, giving him a hard time, congratulating him, but in a teasing way,” Barnes said.
Then they went to work.
“He wanted to be with the group,” said Heaps, “and that showed me a lot about where he wants to be with this club when you have that kind of desire.”
Barnes trusts that Bengtson can manage the juggling act.
“He knows how to handle it,” Barnes said. “He knows how to balance both. He’s going and contributing with Honduras and then he’s bringing that level back and you can see it in practice even more than last year.
“He’s just got that confidence and he knows he’s going to score and I feel like if he continues to play at that high level, it will carry over when he plays for us as well. I don’t think it’ll be any lag or any letdown. I think he’s going to continue to play at a high level.
Even if he’s pulling double duty.
“I want to come here, show the player I am, score goals, obviously, but there’s a lot that goes into it,” Bengtson said. “It’s not going to be an easy season. But I’m always working hard.”