Donnie Smith vs. Philadelphia Union

Fleet-footed Smith learning the ropes at left back as Revs search for depth

BRADENTON, Fla. – Andrew Farrell’s impressive turn as both a central defender and deep-lying midfielder have garnered much of the attention through the New England Revolution’s first two preseason matches, but another 2013 SuperDraft pick has also quietly displayed effective versatility.

Donnie Smith, who featured as a left-sided midfielder throughout college and his first professional season, has spent 105 minutes playing on the left side of defense through the Revolution’s first two preseason contests. Smith said he’s felt comfortable with the switch, although he admits plenty of work still remains if he’s to establish himself as a reliable option at left back.

“Going forward, it’s easier for me to get the ball under my feet and go one-v-one,” he said. “Obviously I’m still working on the defending aspect because I haven’t done that a lot, but it’s something that I talked with Coach about and we’re going to look into it this preseason.”

‘Coach’ is of course head coach Jay Heaps, who himself made the transition from attack-minded midfielder to left back – and right back, and center back – during his own playing career. In Smith, Heaps sees a set of attacking strengths which may be perfectly suited for a two-way left back, particularly within a system in which the fullbacks provide much of the width.

Chris Tierney is expected to fill that role once again in 2014, but a foot injury has kept him sidelined throughout the first two weeks of preseason, presenting the chance for Smith to make his case as the Revs search for depth at outside back.

“Donnie has strengths and has shown them as an attacking player, so we’re just trying to add a little bit more to his game,” said Heaps. “With the injury to Chris, we need to have a little bit of depth at left back and Donnie is so fast he can get forward.

“[Against Philadelphia] I thought he did a nice job defensively, so that’s what we’re really working on with him. Offensively, he understands the game and what he needs to do, but defensively we’re just getting him connected to the back four.”

Smith, who played sparingly as a left back in his youth Olympic Development Program and “one or two games” while at UNC-Charlotte, said he’s still learning when it’s appropriate to make an overlapping run and when to hold. His ability when he does get forward is unquestioned, however, as he displayed by assisting on Evan Melo’s equalizer against the Union.

Even from his first appearance against Malmo FF to his second run-out four days later against Philly, Smith said he’s feeling more and more comfortable with each passing day. That’s a progression the Revs hope will continue as Smith adjusts to an increased set of defensive responsibilities.

“Defensively, obviously I’m still working on that,” Smith said. “But [against Philadelphia] I felt pretty good getting forward; when to go, when not to go. I’ve got to keep working defensively, because that’s the major thing.”