Best of 2010: Kevin Alston
Keith Nordstrom

State of the Revs: Goalkeepers and defenders

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – It’s been more than two months since the New England Revolution last took the field in a competitive match, that being the 2010 regular season finale against the New York Red Bulls on Oct. 21. For diehard fans, it feels like forever.

But don’t worry. Relief is on the way.

The 2011 adidas MLS Player Combine kicks off this weekend in Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., with more than 70 top prospects heading to Central Broward Regional Park to showcase their talents in front of technical staffs from around the league. It’s all in preparation, of course, for next week’s 2011 MLS SuperDraft, which will take place on Thursday, Jan. 13, at the Baltimore Convention Center.

With the Revs currently holding five selections in the three-round SuperDraft – which will be followed by a three-round Supplemental Draft on Tuesday, Jan. 18 – now seems like a good time to analyze where the club’s current roster stands before additions are made. While this is purely my personal opinion, an evaluation could help determine precisely what needs the Revolution could be looking to fill in the next two-and-a-half months before the 2011 season kicks off.

(Before I begin, I do want to clarify that I’m not saying the Revs should or will be looking to fill all of their needs through the SuperDraft. It’s rare for rookies to make an immediate impact in MLS, so in the short term the draft process typically serves to supply role players until they’re provided a chance to develop. I’m well aware that impact players are more likely to arrive via trade or signings.)

During the course of the next three days, I’ll sift through the Revolution’s roster position-by-position and highlight which players currently on the roster could fill those positions. By deduction, this should make clear where the most pressing needs exist.

Today I’ll start in the back and take a look at the club’s goalkeepers and defenders.

Goalkeepers (Matt Reis, Bobby Shuttleworth, *Tim Murray)

Unlike last year when the Revolution’s goalkeeping situation was uncertain as the calendar flipped to 2010 – the club ultimately acquired veteran Preston Burpo to serve as a temporary replacement for the injured Matt Reis – the Revs appear to be settled between the sticks for 2011.

Reis recently re-signed with the club and after October surgery on his right ankle, looks likely to serve as the starting goalkeeper for an eighth straight season in Foxborough. Meanwhile, 24-year-old Bobby Shuttleworth is in line to fill the backup role after being promoted from the Revolution’s developmental roster to the club’s senior roster.

Former Providence College goalkeeper Tim Murray is marked with an asterisk because he’ll enter the Revolution’s 2011 preseason training camp without a deal in place, but after serving as the club’s third-string goalkeeper for much of 2010, he’ll have a leg up on any potential competition.

Left Backs (Seth Sinovic, Chris Tierney)

In terms of personnel, the Revs found little consistency on the left side of defense in 2010, with five different players starting at least one game at the position. Seth Sinovic made the most starts (17) at left back, followed by Chris Tierney (7), Cory Gibbs (4), Darrius Barnes (1) and Khano Smith (1).

Luckily for the Revs, both Sinovic and Tierney are more than capable at left back and proved as much by accounting for 24 of 30 starts at the position last season. Perhaps most promising is that both players are still young (Sinovic turns 24 on Jan. 28, while Tierney turns 25 on Jan. 9).

With that said, the addition of a veteran left back would allow Sinovic to continue his development and the versatile Tierney to focus more on his preferred left midfield role.

Center Backs (Darrius Barnes, Ryan Cochrane, Emmanuel Osei, Pat Phelan, Chris Tierney)

Since the 2010 season came to a close last October, the Revs have lost one center back (Cory Gibbs) and added one (Ryan Cochrane), with both moves happening via the Re-Entry Process.

I have five current Revolution players listed as capable of playing central defense, but the figure is really more like three upon closer evaluation. Pat Phelan played center back in college and has made the occasional appearance on the backline with the Revs, but he’s much preferred the switch to central midfield and has admitted being a bit uncomfortable in the back. Tierney makes the list simply because of his versatility (which allowed him to play center back in outside competitions last season), but like Phelan, he would likely be used in emergencies only.

That leaves Darrius Barnes, Ryan Cochrane and Emmanuel Osei as the three natural center backs fighting for what will likely be two central defensive positions. Barnes and Osei paired up to good effect during the Revolution’s unbeaten summer stretch last season, while Cochrane is another solid option should he return to the form which made him an MLS Cup champion with the Houston Dynamo in 2006 and 2007.

Both Barnes (seven games) and Osei (eight games) missed time with injuries in 2010, however, and the Revs conceded a league-high 50 goals, so additional reinforcements in central defense might be welcome.

Right Backs (Kevin Alston, Emmanuel Osei, Chris Tierney)

There’s little doubt that Kevin Alston is the first-choice right back after spending his first two years in the starter’s role. After an All-Star nod, a pair of U.S. National Team call-ups and recognition as the Revolution’s top defender in 2010, the future looks bright for the 22-year-old.

But Alston has been plagued by nagging hamstring injuries in his first two professional seasons, forcing him to miss four games in 2009 and seven games in 2010. He’s spent the current offseason working extensively on strengthening his hamstrings to limit his time off the field in 2011.

Of course, there is still the question of cover on the right side of defense, an area which the Revs lacked in 2010.

Emmanuel Osei and Chris Tierney served as the makeshift right backs in Alston’s absence last season, but neither would be considered a natural right-sided defender. Osei is more suited to a central role, while Tierney – although versatile – is a predominantly left-footed player and has claimed it’s “awkward” for him to play on the right side.

With that said, natural cover on the right side of defense could be a priority for the Revs, and that’s a void which could possibly be filled through next week’s draft.