TUCSON, Ariz. – Antonio Delamea and Claude Dielna entered preseason as the only two natural center backs on the New England Revolution roster, but the Revs addressed their need for depth in central defense late last week by officially signing Jalil Anibaba and Nicolas Samayoa.
“We were looking for an experienced, domestic center back, and we were also looking for a young, domestic center back,” said head coach Brad Friedel. “We got both of those in Jalil and Nico.”
Anibaba certainly fits the bill as an experienced center back, having featured in more than 170 games over seven seasons with the Chicago Fire, Seattle Sounders FC, Sporting Kansas City and the Houston Dynamo. In four of those seasons Anibaba featured in 29 or more games, including in 2016.
The ninth overall pick in the 2011 MLS SuperDraft, Anibaba played significant minutes in all three of the Revolution’s preseason matches in Bradenton, Fla., after joining camp as a trialist, and he impressed Friedel not only with his poise and leadership on the field, but also in the locker room.
“You want a leader, you want a guy who’s comfortable playing in the league, and you want a guy who’s comfortable playing in different positions if need be,” Friedel said of the 29-year-old Anibaba, who can feature anywhere across the backline. “He came in from day one completely fit, and fit in with the club and the guys straightaway. That’s a tribute to his overall personality.
“He’s a true, true professional, and a true gentleman.”
Samayoa, who also featured in all three matches in Bradenton – at times playing alongside Anibaba – was similarly impressive. A fourth-round SuperDraft pick out of Florida Gulf Coast University, Samayoa faced an uphill battle to earn his place on the Revs’ roster, but Friedel believed from the outset that the Revs had found themselves a steal in the late rounds of the draft.
In fact, Friedel said the Revs avoided selecting a center back in the early rounds of the SuperDraft because they were confident that Samayoa would be available at 78th overall.
“It’s not normal that fourth-round draft picks get signed,” said Friedel. “We were told by some of the scouts that they were surprised that he didn’t get invited to the Combine. People were pushing (for) him. Maybe it’s because he was at a smaller college.
“He was better than the [center backs] we saw at the Combine, which is why we didn’t draft one (earlier). We’re very, very happy to have him.”