A.J. Soares_2012

Injuries, suspensions leave NE short of center backs

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Just two games into his professional coaching career, Jay Heaps is faced with his first major lineup quandary ahead of this weekend’s home opener against the Portland Timbers.

Stephen McCarthy’s absence through suspension coupled with injuries to Darrius Barnes (L calf strain) and John Lozano (R hip flexor strain) leaves the Revolution severely shorthanded in central defense. With recently-signed German defender Florian Lechner still waiting on his U.S. P-1 Visa, A.J. Soares currently stands as the only healthy, available central defender on New England’s roster.

Rather than overreact to the situation, Heaps is taking a wait-and-see approach with regards to Barnes’ and Lozano’s injuries and is using this week’s training sessions to map out a potential solution.

“We’re working on that and we’re looking at it,” Heaps said. “We just don’t want to rush and jump into conclusions but we’ll see how the injuries shake out and we’ll see how the week kind of unfolds. We have some ideas and we’re going to test them out throughout the week.”

Shalrie Joseph dropped into a central defensive role to partner with Soares following McCarthy’s ejection in Kansas City and the Revolution’s captain presents one potential option against the Timbers. Left back Chris Tierney also has minimal experience as a center back, having played there in U.S. Open Cup matches in 2010 and 2011, as well as the friendly against Manchester United last year.

Scrapping the second center back and employing a three-man backline presents a more unconventional alternative, but regardless of the direction New England pursues, it’s evident that Soares will be a key figure against Portland.

“A.J. is very important,” said Heaps. “He’s important not only for this game, but this entire season. He just continually has to be a vocal leader back there and someone who leads by example.”

“Defense is just about working hard, being in the shape and working as a team,” Soares said of potentially playing alongside a less-experienced partner. “So it’s not a hard thing to pick up. You just have to have the right mindset and whoever does it is going to do a fine job.”

Heaps echoed that confidence, declaring that his side “will be willing to go through a wall” regardless of which names are jotted down on the lineup card. In any case, the Revs won’t be overly concerned with defending if all goes according to plan against Portland.

A watchful eye will need to be kept on brawny Timbers target man Kris Boyd, but the Revolution hopes to spend the bulk of the game building attacks as opposed to snuffing them out.

“We’ve got to really just control the game,” said Soares. “We want to play our game plan and if we are doing that, we’re going to be keeping the ball hopefully, so it won’t be as big of a deal who’s [playing] center back.”