FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – Priority number one for the New England Revolution this past offseason was strengthening a backline that conceded 54 goals in 2016, sixth-most in Major League Soccer.
“It’s critical that we don’t give up soft goals this year,” said head coach Jay Heaps, entering his sixth season at New England’s helm. “Last year we gave up a lot of goals that we shouldn’t have.”
A late-season switch to a 4-4-2 diamond formation addressed some of the Revolution’s defensive frailty last year, as they conceded just eight goals in their last nine league games. Heaps attributed the turnaround largely to the role of the holding midfielder, more defined in the diamond setup.
But the departure of Jose Goncalves and a relative lack of depth in central defense still left the Revs in search of help on the backline. They addressed the need in late January with the additions of Benjamin Angoua and Antonio Mlinar Delamea, a pair of center backs acquired with Targeted Allocation Money.
“It was critical this offseason that we added some players that were going to impact our team,” said Heaps. “The signings of Ben and Toni have been really good. We feel that they complement each other well.”
A hamstring injury kept Angoua sidelined through the first half of preseason, but the 30-year-old Ivorian has gotten up to speed quickly since returning to full training early last week. He played alongside Delamea in central defense for a total of 92 minutes in the Revolution’s final two preseason games, and New England didn’t concede a goal with the pair on the field.
Those 92 minutes represent a limited sample size, and there’s likely to be a learning curve through the early part of the season, but initial signs have New England’s new duo trending in the right direction.
“Now it’s getting up to speed with our league,” said Heaps. “They’ve shown in preseason that they have all the right tools, but now it’s a matter of putting it all together.”
Their first real test will be this Saturday when the Revs kick off the regular season against the Colorado Rapids at Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, and it will be quite the test; Angoua and Delamea are both expected to make their MLS debuts on the road, at altitude.
Still, Saturday’s opener represents a new beginning not only for the Revolution’s new central defensive partnership, but for a club looking to reestablish itself as a postseason club in MLS.
“We’re definitely a playoff team if we follow what we want to do every day, and that is build the week the right way, focus one game at a time, and keep that consistency,” said Heaps. “If we don’t have the consistency, then anything happens.
“We want to control our own season this year. It’s really important that we do that starting in Colorado.”