BRADENTON, Fla. – Jay Heaps always planned on giving Andrew Farrell some minutes in central defense this preseason, he just hadn’t expected to do it quite so early.
But with center backs Jose Goncalves and Stephen McCarthy held out of Friday night’s preseason opener against Malmo FF for precautionary reasons with minor knocks, Farrell’s name was called. The second-year defender – who played exclusively as a right back in his rookie season – was told shortly before game-time that he’d be partnering A.J. Soares in the middle of the backline.
Farrell slid rather seamlessly into central defense, displaying strong positioning, strength in the air and an ability to play the ball out of the back on the ground. It was a relatively smooth transition for a player who spent extensive time in central defense during his three-year stint at the University of Louisville, but Farrell admits there are still some kinks to be worked out moving forward.
“I liked it,” he said. “A.J. was helpful back there, and [O’Brian Woodbine] and Kevin (Alston) and Bobby (Shuttleworth), all of those guys on the backline helped me feel accustomed to it. I felt alright. I think I did some good things out there. I’ve still got to clean it up and be simple, but if I play there a little bit more, I’ll probably get a little bit more experience.”
Farrell acknowledged that one of the biggest differences between central defense and outside back relates to attacking responsibilities; while he’s encouraged to get forward down the wing while playing right back, center back is more of a defense-first position.
That shift can be difficult, particularly without much advance notice, but Farrell’s goalkeeper was thoroughly impressed with how the 21-year-old’s maturity shined through on Friday night.
“He looked good,” said Shuttleworth. “He’s athletic, he’s in good spots, he listens. That’s what Andrew’s all about. I don’t think there’s a position on the field you could put him in that he wouldn’t do well. He’s that type of guy.”
Heaps likely agrees, lauding Farrell’s versatility while at the same time cautioning against “going overboard” by bouncing players around to too many different positions. Friday night’s run-out at center back was partially out of necessity, but should Farrell continue to show the kind of form he’s displayed recently at both right back and in central defense, Heaps will have a decision to make come early March.
“Andrew’s versatility is something I’m looking forward to – this preseason – just seeing where he is in a couple different spots,” said Heaps. “I liked him a lot at center back tonight and I’ve liked him a lot at right back, so those two positions are areas where he has strengths.”