Watson impresses in shift at center back: “He can play anywhere on the field”

Je-Vaughn Watson smiling

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Je-Vaughn Watson responded with two words when New England Revolution head coach Jay Heaps told him he’d be playing center back against Orlando City SC.

“Okay, boss.”

Watson, whose first four appearances with the Revolution were at right back, was asked to shift into the middle for last weekend’s 2-2 draw to compensate for the absence of Jose Goncalves. The versatile Jamaican took the reassignment in stride and put forth perhaps his best performance in a Revs jersey.

“At the end of the day, whatever the coach wants me to do, I’m going to be able to do it,” Watson said. “As long as we’re playing for three points – on the road or at home – I’m always ready to go.”

There was a slight hiccup in the opening moments when Watson was whistled for a foul on Julio Baptista inside the box, leading to a penalty that Kaka converted. But from there the 32-year-old settled comfortably into the position, partnering Andrew Farrell for the entire 90 minutes.

According to Watson it was his first competitive match at center back since August 15 of last season, when he partnered Matt Hedges in the middle of FC Dallas’ backline against the LA Galaxy. But he certainly didn’t look like a player who hadn’t featured at the spot in eight months.

“It was fun playing back there with him,” said Farrell, who noted that communication wasn’t an issue despite Watson being less vocal than Goncalves. “He’s a great player. He’s done well for us at right back and now he’s done well for us at center back. It’s good to have him on our team.”

“Je-Vaughn’s a good player and I think he can play anywhere on the field. He could probably play goalkeeper,” said Bobby Shuttleworth. “There wasn’t much of a transition playing with him and I think he did really well and he was solid.”

Goalkeeper is just about the only position Watson doesn’t play, but it’s not just that he’s versatile enough to play anywhere along the backline or in midfield – it’s that he does it seamlessly and successfully.

“He’s just one of those guys where you have a few words with him and he understands exactly what we’re trying to do,” Heaps said. “He’s a very intellectual player in that his soccer IQ is pretty seamless whether you put him at left back, center back or right back. He can also play defensive midfield and attacking midfield.

“That’s what you get with a guy like Je-Vaughn: versatility and performance. It’s not just that he can play those positions, he can play those positions well.”

Watson’s cerebral nature was put to the test on Sunday at the Citrus Bowl. When playing fullback Watson relies primarily on speed and athleticism, but center back is more mentally taxing. It might not seem like a big shift to move from the right into the middle, but in reality the positions are miles apart.

“Center back is more of a using-your-brain type of position,” Watson said. “You can’t take risks in the back because you’re the last defender.”

It’s likely that Watson will move back out to the right side of defense on Saturday evening against D.C. United, as Goncalves has returned to training and hopes to be available this weekend.

But should Heaps call upon Watson to play center back once again, his response will be the same.

“Okay, boss.”