CASA GRANDE, Ariz. – Even after signing Colombian newcomer John Lozano to join A.J. Soares and Darrius Barnes in the New England Revolution’s central defensive corps, head coach Jay Heaps made it clear he was still searching for additional cover in the middle of his backline.
While most assumed that meant Heaps would be looking to add another center back to the roster, the rookie head coach may have found the desired reinforcements within his own camp.
Stephen McCarthy – who made 21 appearances as a central midfielder last year in his rookie season – was deployed in central defense during this past weekend’s 2-1 victory over FC Tucson and has been working out with the center backs during training sessions and intra-squad scrimmages at Grande Sports World.
“Personally, I made a career out of being able to be versatile,” said Heaps, who started his career as an outside midfielder before transitioning into a role as a jack-of-all-trades defender. “I want to see some more guys be versatile, because in a pinch, you want to make sure that you know you have some backup here and there.”
Perhaps most importantly, versatility provides roster flexibility.
“If we need to get a player in like a forward or a goal scorer, we want to make sure that if we had to give [at a particular position], can someone else cover there and cover two positions?” Heaps added.
McCarthy’s size – the former North Carolina Tar Heel stands at an imposing 6-foot-4 – aerial prowess, knowledge of the game and distribution abilities are particularly suited for a central defensive role. Although he’s primarily played in central midfield his entire life, McCarthy has occasionally been used as a center back in the past, including during a preseason game with the Revs last year.
Still, a relative lack of experience at the position has been aided by the guidance of both Heaps and fellow 2011 draftee Soares, who’s serving as McCarthy’s roommate in Casa Grande.
“It’s been fun to try to see things from the back, be able to have everything in front of me and get a view of the whole field,” said McCarthy. “You can kind of start attacks from there.
“In the past, I’ve usually not liked center back so much, but right now I’m getting help from A.J.,” McCarthy added. “He’s giving me some pointers, too, so maybe with some more time I think I might really enjoy it.”
Currently, McCarthy’s soaking up all the information he can in anticipation of potential future opportunities in central defense.
“Just relax and play how you know how (to play) back there,” McCarthy said of Heaps’ advice in recent weeks. “He said he’s going to start working on it more if I keep playing back there, which I think I might.”