TUCSON, Ariz. – Left midfield, left back, right back, center back, central midfield, defensive central midfield and attacking central midfield.
Officially, those are the seven different positions Chris Tierney has played in the past two seasons as the 26-year-old utility man has established himself as one of the most versatile players in Major League Soccer. As is often the case in cap-driven leagues like MLS, versatility has translated directly to value; Tierney was the only player to start at least 25 games for the Revolution in both 2010 and 2011.
Although he undoubtedly retains that priceless ability to serve in a variety of roles, Tierney has focused on a more defined position under new head coach Jay Heaps this preseason, starting each of the first three preseason matches at left back.
“I’m getting more and more comfortable there, especially in the system (we’re playing) with the players that we have now,” said Tierney, who played primarily as a left-sided midfielder in college but has seen increasing time along the backline in recent years. “If that’s a role that Jay wants me to play, I’m comfortable that I can perform well there. But again, I’m always happy to fill in where needed and I think it’s valuable to have a number of guys who can play in a bunch of different spots.”
For his part, Heaps agrees with Tierney’s assessment that versatility remains an asset, but at the same time admits he’s been impressed with Tierney’s performances at left back in recent weeks. At the present time, the Revolution’s other left back options include 19-year-old rookie Tyler Polak and the centrally-inclined Darrius Barnes.
“I see him as a utility guy because I think he’s special in that he can play wide left (midfield) and he can sit in a defensive midfield role if he had to, but from the way we want to play, he has a lot of the qualities of a very good left back,” Heaps said of Tierney. “I think he has the qualities you want in your outside players: being able to get out of the back, play out of the back and in situations where you might give the ball away, he’s able to keep possession.”
Because of his past as a left-sided midfielder, Tierney is offensively inclined even when playing along the backline. That inclination meshes with Heaps’ possession-oriented approach, which stresses passing the ball out of the back and requires a healthy dose of service from the outside backs.
Tierney believes his best attributes are suited to Heaps’ style of play, although he admits it’s still been an adjustment transitioning from the more direct approach employed in previous years.
“It’s different spots, it’s more offensive and Jay just likes his fullbacks playing completely different than Stevie Nicol did,” Tierney said. “I’m looking to help us in possession, make good passes going forward and get our skilled playmakers in good spots with the ball so they can do what they do best. Hopefully, it’ll lead to more goals.”