Versatile Watson impresses in central midfield: “He doesn’t give away anything”

Je-Vaughn Watson training

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Starting as a deep-lying central midfielder, Je-Vaughn Watson was given straightforward instructions ahead of last weekend’s meeting with Columbus Crew SC.

Break up plays. Play hard. Don’t get a red card. Just go out there and get the job done.

By all accounts, Watson followed orders. The 32-year-old was energetic and ever-present playing alongside Scott Caldwell, making four successful tackles, three recoveries, two interceptions and one clearance, to go along with one key pass.

Most importantly, Watson brought a physical presence to the Revolution midfield that’s been missing with Gershon Koffie sidelined, and that helped drive New England to a much-needed 3-1 victory.

“He’s hard, he’s strong, and he’s competing on everything, so he doesn’t give away anything,” said head coach Jay Heaps. “That’s what you need sometimes in games like we had on Saturday; a little bit more competition on every play, and [Je-Vaughn] brought that with Scotty.”

Central midfield is the fourth different position Watson has played this season as the versatile veteran has also featured at right back, left back, and center back, and he’s also capable of playing on the wing. Saturday night marked his first league start in midfield with New England, although he had started there in a U.S. Open Cup match and featured there as a late-game substitute in recent weeks.

But using Watson in a defensive midfield position wasn’t a decision Heaps and the coaching staff made on a whim. In fact, Watson’s ability to play the position is one of the reasons they made a move to acquire him from FC Dallas days before the season opener.

“We saw him play there for Jamaica last Gold Cup,” Heaps said. “It was one of the reasons we really pursued him so hard in the offseason. We know he can play outside back and center back, but one of the things with his versatility is in that midfield, where he almost adds a center back or a right back mentality into that defensive midfield position.”

Watson was used primarily as an outside back with Jamaica during the recent Copa America Centenario, but he’s often been a central midfielder on the international stage. He admits his preferred position is in the middle of the park, having been a midfielder most of his life.

“Growing up, playing soccer, that’s my first spot on the field, playing in central midfield,” Watson said. “It’s a spot that I’m used to. I just go out there, break up plays, try to be a [nuisance] towards players, and try to get the momentum going forward.”

Based on Watson’s performance this past weekend, Heaps won’t hesitate to continue using him in central midfield moving forward. But with Koffie nearing a return, there’s a chance that Watson could be supplanted in the coming weeks.

Should that be the case, Watson will likely be used somewhere else in the Revolution’s lineup, and he doesn’t care where that may be, so long as it’s on the field.

“I’m a team player,” Watson said. “Regardless of if I love playing midfield or if I like playing right back, if the team wants me to play right back, I’m going to play right back. At the end of the day, anywhere I go, I’m going to perform to the best of my abilities. I’m going to bring to the table what I always do.”