FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Defense wins championships, so the age-old saying goes.
The LA Galaxy proved the validity of that popular proverb in 2011, riding the league’s stingiest defense to a Supporters’ Shield title and an MLS Cup triumph. Led by the league’s Defender of the Year Omar Gonzalez and fellow Best XI performer Todd Dunivant, the Galaxy conceded just 28 goals last season, eight fewer than any other team.
New England, meanwhile, conceded more than twice as many goals as the MLS Cup champions. The Revolution’s backline was punctured 58 times, ranking second-to-last in the league in goals against behind only Toronto FC (59). Unsurprisingly, the Revs finished at the bottom of the Eastern Conference standings.
Head coach Jay Heaps – a defender himself during his playing days – has made strengthening his defense a priority this offseason, highlighting both central defense and left back as areas of need prior to the 2012 campaign. With that as a starting point, let’s examine the Revolution’s current roster to see where the club stands at each position along the backline.
Left Backs (Darrius Barnes, Chris Tierney, *Danleigh Borman)
For the second straight year, the Revs found little consistency at the left back position in 2011.
Natural left-sided defenders Didier Domi and Seth Sinovic began the season as the top two choices at left back, but Sinovic was waived on March 31 before making an appearance and Domi was released on July 15 after injuries limited him to just eight starts.
Subsequently, the Revs turned to the makeshift duo of Darrius Barnes and Chris Tierney to split duty on the left side of defense for the remainder of the season. Barnes started at the position 14 times, while Tierney started there 12 times, and both proved capable of playing the position in a pinch.
Both Barnes and Tierney return to the Revs in 2012, but in the hopes that they’ll be able to return to their more natural positions. Barnes has spent the majority of his professional career playing in central defense – he started all 30 games there in his rookie season of 2009 – while the versatile Tierney has been most effectively utilized on the left side of midfield.
The Revs have already made one move to shore up the left back position, selecting Danleigh Borman in Stage 1 of the Re-Entry Process. Borman, who is currently weighing the Bona Fide Offer extended by the league and thus is not officially on the Revolution’s roster, is capable of playing both left back and left midfield but has seen increased time on the backline in recent years.
Even if Borman does join the Revs, additional reinforcements at left back may be necessary.
Center Backs (Darrius Barnes, A.J. Soares)
Three of the seven players whom the Revs have parted ways with since the end of the 2011 season were central defenders – Ryan Cochrane, Franco Coria and Otto Loewy – signifying a massive overhaul at the position heading into 2012.
While Loewy never saw the field in a regular-season match, both Cochrane (19 starts) and Coria (14 starts) were regular contributors last season, so their departures leave holes to be filled on the Revolution’s roster. At the present time, Barnes and A.J. Soares represent the only natural center backs in New England, although Barnes only started seven games in the middle last season while spending the majority of his time filling in at left back.
Although hampered by an ankle injury throughout the year – an ailment which ultimately cut his season short in early October – Soares was impressive in his rookie season, starting 28 games and earning the Revolution’s Best Defender award. After garnering MLS rookie of the year consideration as well, Soares is a likely candidate to start for the Revs once again in 2012.
Heaps has identified a central defensive partner for Soares as an area of need, however, while additional cover at the position will likely also be necessary when taking into account the rigors of the lengthy MLS season. Considering the current lack of central defenders on the roster, the Revs could be looking for help there both internationally and in the 2012 MLS SuperDraft.
Right Backs (Kevin Alston, Darrius Barnes, Zak Boggs, Chris Tierney)
Kevin Alston enters the 2012 season with a stranglehold on the Revolution’s right back position after starting 33 games there last year and setting a club record for minutes played in a season (2,954). Coming off his first career All-Star nod in 2010, the 23-year-old overcame lingering hamstring issues to start every game after missing the season opener in 2011.
Cover remains a concern at the position, however, with Barnes the likeliest backup having made only one career start at right back. Zak Boggs and Tierney have also featured on the right side of defense in emergency situations, but the Revs might be well served to add some natural cover behind Alston.